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Peter Ackroyd Q&A

(35 Posts)
RebeccaMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 26-Aug-11 14:56:26

To celebrate the release of Peter Ackroyd's anticipated new book, Foundation: A History of England Volume I on 2 September, the award-winning historian and novelist will be answering your questions.

Known for his diverse, inventive writing, Peter is also a poet, broadcaster and biographer. Gaining acclaim for London: The Biography (2000) described as 'this decade's finest work of non-fiction' by The Word, Peter has penned a number of non-fiction historical accounts of London including Illustrated London (2003), Thames: Sacred River (2007) and London Under (2011).

Described as 'the biggest non-fiction project of our times (The Bookseller),' Peter's newest and most ambitious work yet A History of England is the first volume in a six-part account of English history. Chronicling English history from over 15,000 years ago to the first Tudor king Henry VII, Peter weaves vivid narrative with detailed insight describing the food, customs, superstitions and even the jokes of the ordinary people and aristocracy.

We have two pairs of tickets up for grabs for an evening talk with Peter at the Southbank Centre on 8 September and two signed hard-back copies of Foundation to give away. For your chance to win, post your questions for Peter on the thread below before the end of Thursday 1 September and we'll link through to his answers from this page the following week.

Winners will be notified on Friday 2 September.
Foundation: A History of England Volume I will be released in hardback by Pan Macmillan on 2 September 2011 or can be pre-ordered now on Amazon

wearingpurple Fri 26-Aug-11 15:26:49

Brilliant competition! Here's my question for Mr Ackroyd:

During this month's rioting and looting I was reminded of your London biography, in which much was made of London's barely suppressed violent and semi-anarchic 'spirit'. How would you frame the recent unrest within the context of London history?

pinkthechaffinch Fri 26-Aug-11 16:20:40

What's your favourite wine? wine wink

Ungratefulchild Fri 26-Aug-11 16:53:55

What's your favourite area of London?

Tenebrist Fri 26-Aug-11 18:20:50

I'm unlikely to be make it to the Southbank on the 8th because I don't live in the UK. However, being an expat gives you an interesting perspective on the country you come from by comparison with where you live. How would you assess the British attitude to their own history and their own country? Is it overly idealistic or fairly realistic?

I think there is an enormous emphasis on the past in GB, even in popular culture, by comparison with other European countries. TV is packed with historical dramas and archaeology programmes, for instance. Yet at the same time the UK has been quick to change many core aspects of its society during the process of deregulation, suggesting that this interest in the past does not hinder 'progress'. What role has people's attitude to history played in these changes, if any?

pinkthechaffinch Fri 26-Aug-11 19:43:11

Are we limited to one question only?

If not, this is my preferred question:

Are the themes of fire,civil unrest and disorder which occur in your interpretation of London's history reflective of aspects of your own personality?

GetOrfMoiCarbsClaire Fri 26-Aug-11 20:42:59

Peter Ackroyd? <awed>

How brilliant. Am going to go away and put my brain in gear to think of a question.

BiscuitNibbler Fri 26-Aug-11 22:55:17

I'm abroad on the date in question, so have nothing to win or lose.

I think you are amazing. Love London: The Biography, Thames: Sacred River, Hawksmoor, and am struggling through The Life of Thomas More.

Just wanted to say thank you. I am a bit drunk ('tis Friday night after all) but would appreciate you when sober all the same.

Do you believe the London Stone is the real deal?

Hardgoing Sat 27-Aug-11 13:21:47

I love your fiction work as well, Hawksmoor in particular (note to self to read this again). I can never go into Trafalgar Square and see the church there without thinking of your work (and looking at all the gargoyles/signs in them). My question would be: are you at all religious yourself and how do you see the militant atheism of Dawkins in the historical context (if that is not too personal)?

I don't want to win the tickets (not in London) but wish I could!

HerMajestysSecretCervix Sun 28-Aug-11 22:33:58

Do you have a favourite period of history?

SugarSkyHigh Mon 29-Aug-11 20:38:19

Peter, I read Chatterton quite some time ago and enjoyed it very much. How, initially, did Chatterton the character come to life in your imagination? Did something physical spark it off - perhaps a biography of him, or the painting itself - or did you make a conscious decision to write something around Chatterton?

crochetcircle Tue 30-Aug-11 11:42:54

How will London and londoners respond to the olympics? Will it matter if we don't 'medal' well? What does history tell us about the impact of sporting tragedies on the metropolis' psyche?

I'm quite grumpy about all the money that's been spent on quite a dull sporting event, and suspect I won't be the only one given the dire financial straits we're told the country is in. In many ways, not so different to the last time London held the games.

Really loved London Orbital.

FannyBrawne Tue 30-Aug-11 13:08:56

Did you see/will you be seeing the play "Jerusalem"? Any observations?

teahouse Tue 30-Aug-11 21:22:32

How much do you think English history has been shaped by religion? I would suggest it has played a central role (and continues to play a significant role even now) in English culture and tradition, but I would be interested in your thoughts.

Mandy2003 Wed 31-Aug-11 13:36:38

Loved Hawksmoor. Read London The Biography and Thames Sacred River over the years following Hawksmoor.

It gave me a so far lifelong interest in Psychic Geography. Do you have any plans to cover that subject further as a non-fiction in the future?

Fryn Wed 31-Aug-11 14:41:28

Many children drop history at school as it's "boring" and has no relevance to them (I'm a history graduate, so I totally disagree!) - what period in English history do you think should be taught at school to persuade more children that actually it's a totally fab subject and far more relevant than they think?

Punkatheart Wed 31-Aug-11 16:53:49

Is there a risk (and a pleasure) in being caught up with the fascinating research when you are meant to be writing? How do you discipline yourself to 'keep within the lines'?

wompoopigeon Wed 31-Aug-11 20:00:35

Which is your favourite museum in London? Is it the Museum of London?- I'm always surprised by how overlooked this museum is in favour of the South Ken ones.

And if you choose one museum, could you let us know your absolutely favourite artifact in it?

Blueberties Thu 01-Sep-11 03:30:41

Thank you Peter. Excellent.

By what age had you read all of Dickens? Where did you start? Do you have a favourite? (Really hoping you won't say Pickwick.) You must have lived and breathed him for a period - didn't you find yourself absorbing his language and attitudes for that time so they become part of your own expression and personality? Did that stay with you?

Blueberties Thu 01-Sep-11 03:31:26

Also I like Flyn's question and would like to hear more.

Thank you.

tabbaz105 Thu 01-Sep-11 14:05:56

I love History BUT don't you think we could all learn so much more from it then we already do? What do you think it the best way to help everyone learn from history?

mammamic Thu 01-Sep-11 14:20:52

I love history but feel that, compared to continental and American friends, I am quite ignorant of English and British history blush I believe that this is a result of what history is taught at school and how (I was one of the bored, disengaged pupils referred to in this thread wink )

Do you think that the History curriculum in UK schools needs a complete overhaul and, if so, do you have any suggestions?

hester Thu 01-Sep-11 14:42:46

Ooh, I do love a bit of Ackroyd. So many questions to ask...

OK, here's one close to my heart, as my dp writes historical biography/social history:

How do you as a writer bring things alive in a way that speaks to a modern audience, without warping historical veracity? For example, I love reading historical accounts or historical novels that celebrate the existence of black or gay people in 18th century London - and it's important that people know that there WERE black and gay people in 18th century London, but the overall mass of these accounts can give quite a misleading picture.

So: how conscious are you of the judgements involved in selecting from your material in order to connect with the concerns of a current reader? Are there any conflicts or compromises, or is this one of the joys of creative discovery?

What a verbose question: I think it's clear that I am myself no Peter Ackroyd...

MrsHairyWhitemouse Thu 01-Sep-11 20:02:13

As a William Blake fan just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed your work about the man and his poetry and have just ordered my father Thames:Sacred River; he is walking the length of the Thames and thought it would make an ideal companion.

However, that was entirely irrelevant to my question! My indulgent reading pleasures are Our Mutual Friend or Persuasion - what are your indulgent pleasures, reading or otherwise? smile

julen Thu 01-Sep-11 20:13:49


As a foreigner from a small continental country, I was taught to see the history of my own country very much as part of a wider picture, as being connected to developments in the rest of Europe and the world. It strikes me that British history writing/teaching sometimes fails to see Britain as a country amongst others, connected to the rest of the world, and describes the country's history as something set apart from the rest of the world, or even above the rest of the world. What is your view?

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