Craig Brown longlist author interview
Craig Brown, author of One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time explains the bands fascinating impact.
What does it feel like to be longlisted?
A peculiar combination of tense and reassuring - reassuring, because it means that a small group of intelligent people have appreciated what you have written, and tense, because the moment you are long-listed you start to wonder if you'll make the short list.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
I love diaries - Pepys and Kilvert and Fanny Burney, of course, but also Joe Orton and Kenneth Williams and Simon Gray and Alan Clark. Among history books, Alethea Hayter's A Sultry Month, about the goings-on in Literary London in June 1846, should be read by anyone thinking of writing a work of non-fiction in a sharp, original way.
Recently, I've been re-reading Jan Morris's Pax Britannica trilogy, which I first read forty years ago. It's even better second time round - so full of colour and character, with a beautiful style that somehow manages to be both sweeping and particular, at one and the same time.
How did you conduct your research?
Virtually everyone who was alive in the Sixties had some sort of emotional connection with The Beatles, ranging from rage to adoration. In Indonesia in 1964, President Sukarno banned Beatles hair-styles, and ordered the heads of any youths sporting them to be forcibly shaved. President Gorbachev told Paul that the Beatles “taught the young people of the Soviet Union that there is another life”. This meant that my research might have encompassed the whole world, and I could have ended up like poor old Mr Casaubon in Middlemarch, forever wondering where to start.
The abundance of Beatles literature, much of it very good, meant that I was released from the burden of writing another big fat chronological history.. I could follow my own peculiar interests - tracking down the stories of odd-bods like The Singing Nun, for instance, or leafing through old copies of The Listener magazine to find out why Anthony Burgess loathed their music with such a passion. And I went to Hamburg, of course, and to Liverpool, where everyone you meet is a Beatles expert, and/or a second cousin to one of them.
What new light does One Two Three Four shed on the Beatles journey to fame and as individuals?
That's for others to say, but my aim was to convey the fun and excitement of the Beatles' era, and the speed at which the four of them changed, both for better and worse. Even now, it strikes me as bizarre that they were all under the age of 30 when the Beatles came to an end, and that the gap between I Want to Hold Your Hand and Why Don't We Do It In the Road? was just four years. I was also keen to show their effect on everyone from HM the Queen to Charles Manson. I felt that all this would be best conveyed in a multiplicity of short chapters juxtaposed like prisms, to form a kaleidoscope.
What are you working on next?