Q&A with Nick Davies, longlisted for his book Hack Attack
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
Of course, I’m happy to be long-listed. Beyond that, this has been a long struggle to tell the truth in the teeth of some very aggressive dishonesty, and the long-listing gives me a little extra credibility and profile, a little extra muscle to help in that struggle.
What research did you do for writing your book?
I’ve spent six and a half years on this - digging out sources among journalists and private investigators who knew about crimes being committed by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers; finding sources in the police and government who could talk about the way in which very powerful institutions had compromised themselves for fear that those newspapers might expose their private lives or destabilise them as organisations. It helped that Murdoch had alienated a great many people on his road to power.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
Personally, I read far more non-fiction than fiction. The world is a complicated place. We have no chance of solving its problems unless we understand them. Long-form non-fiction is not just an optional extra - it is essential for us if we are to have any chance of controlling our destinies.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
I have read and re-read Harry Evans’ memoir of his time as editor of the Sunday Times - Good Times Bad Times. That is partly because, as a journalist, I learned a lot from reading his account of how he and his journalists landed those enormous stories which made the Sunday Times in those days the greatest newspaper on Earth. More than that, his book is a guided tour of the world of power. As a single example, look at how the Foreign Office and government tried to sweet-talk, bully and cajole to stop him exposing the truth about Kim Philby. You read that - and you understand the way the wheels turn.
What are you working on next?
I’m going back on the road, looking for projects for the Guardian. I’m not yet sure what they’ll be. The simple formula is to find human stories which tell you something important about the world. (And if they should happen to take me to interesting places with a good climate, that would be fine by me.)
Nick Davies is the author of Hack Attack (Chatto & Windus)