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July 1, 2016 / peoplesbookprize

Long live our public libraries and down with the Booker Prize!

Quentin letts⌈ Vote Now 

In the lead up to The People’s Book Prize 2016 we caught up with author Quentin Letts to talk about his book

The Speaker’s Wife

Parliamentary sketch writer and theatre critic for the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts introduces his latest novel The Speaker’s Wife published by Little Brown Books – a novel with gravity and a force to be reckoned with in 2016 The People’s Book Prize. Gloucestershire-born Letts, now lives in the City, but when he’s not in London, he lives in Herefordshire. His wife Lois, a former Times obituarist, is a church organist, and the couple has three fine children. I am a deputy church warden, the only public office I have ever coveted.

When did you start writing?

This novel took me more than three years to complete – agony. And just when I thought I had finished it, my agent told me to take out lots of rot and do a complete re-write. Writing of one form or another has been my primary occupation since the mid-1980s when I caught the end of Fleet Street as a journalist, and nearly sank under all that lunchtime booze.

As an Author, What Influences You the Most?

I am tempted to say ‘my bank manager’ but any hopes of financial fortune from books soon fade. The main influences on me for ‘The Speaker’s Wife’ were my late father, who died shortly before I started jotting down thoughts; the corruption of modern Westminster; and Thomas Cranmer, who created that peerless expression of English identity, the Book of Common Prayer.

Where did the idea for this book originate?

I was on my creaking knees in church one Sunday, thinking about arch-atheist Richard Dawkins, when I wondered what would happen if he walked through a haunted graveyard late at night. Would he be spooked? Would he be quite so keen to destroy the Church if rational thought let him down and he felt the presence of a ghost?

The People’s Book Prize nominees are voted for by the readers, how important are your readers to you?

I have almost daily interaction with people who read my newspaper articles, and they are a great link to the sensible world outside Westminster. I am less aware of who my fiction readers are. I tried to make the story read fluently, but I fear the truthful answer is a selfish one: I wrote this book to try to work off my chest certain things I feel very strongly about our politics and our neglect of traditional Anglican prayers and hymns.

We like to think there’s a voice for everyone in Publishing – what is your opinion?

I hope every reader can find a writer who expresses his or her feelings, but I would not agree that every author should be published. Good grief, no! In the late 1990s, I wrote a novel which was rejected by publishers and agents. I was terribly upset and cross at the time but can now see that they were quite right to spike it. The manuscript was over-long, and it was a muddle. The editorial process is a valuable filtering procedure which saves us from our own – and other authors’ – stinkers.

Little Brown publishes a variety of brilliant authors, what is it like to be in the company of talented writers?

It is like one of those dreams where you find yourself pedalling along in the middle of the leading peloton of the Tour de France – on an old sit-up-and-beg bicycle.

What book influenced you most as a writer and what are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading a collection of Country Talk essays by the late JHB Peel, a newspaper columnist in the 1960s. He is in some ways a poor man’s Betjeman but still jolly good. I have just had my socks blown off by Paul Kingsnorth’s ‘The Wake’, written in old Middle English about resistance fighters after the Norman invasion of 1066. Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Way We Live Now’ was another stonker.

What can we expect from you in the future? What are you writing at the moment?

I may try to write something about English self-identity after the EU referendum. My publisher wants me to do another non-fiction book, maybe about cliches. Non-fiction sells better, as my editor keeps telling me.

Find Quentin at: wquentinletts.co.uk

Twitter: @thequentinletts


home pageThe People’s Book Prize is the unique literary competition that is judged by the nation and open to all UK publishing companies.

You Be the Judge: The People’s Book Prize – “The home for new and undiscovered works.”
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