John Preston longlist author interview
John Preston, longlisted author of ‘Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell,’ talks to us about his upcoming work, as well as what his protagonist would make of the book itself.
How does it feel to be longlisted?
I’m thrilled about it, especially as it’s such a strong list. I’m also delighted given that the prize’s motto is ‘All the best stories are true’, which I’ve long believed to be the case.
How did you conduct your research?
I tried to talk to as many people who had known Maxwell as possible. I’ve always operated on the assumption that the people with the best stories are often those who tend to get overlooked. With Maxwell, I was able to talk to his former valet, his chauffeur and his personal chef, all of whom had fascinating things to say. On the other end of the scale, I was extremely fortunate to be able to talk to Rupert Murdoch with whom Maxwell was locked in an almost 30 year struggle to become the world’s foremost media baron. I guess the lesson here is that sometimes – if you’re lucky - the most unlikely people will talk. In Murdoch’s case, I managed to get an email address for someone in his office. I wrote off explaining what I was doing, thinking that the likelihood of my ever getting a reply was about a million to one. But then about an hour later, much to my astonishment, I had an email back saying that Murdoch would be delighted to talk to me. That’s the great thing about research – a lot of the time you sift away without any joy, but every once in a while you look down at your prospecting pan and find a big nugget of gold.
What do you think Maxwell would think of your book, if he were alive to read it?
I suspect he would hate it because the book explores all the areas in Maxwell’s life that he tried his hardest to keep hidden – his insecurities, his sensitivity to criticism, his survivor guilt and his compulsive need to make an exhibition of himself. That said, though, he was so vain that I think he would love the fact that anyone had written a book about him, no matter what’s in it.
What are you working on next?
I’ve just written a three-part drama for ITV about the former Labour MP, John Stonehouse, who faked his own death back in 1974. Having travelled to Australia on a fake passport, Stonehouse was only caught because, in a particularly cruel twist of fate, the Australian police thought he was Lord Lucan.