Q&A with Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd

Acclaimed historian and novelist Peter Ackroyd celebrated the release of his new book, Foundation: A History of England Volume I, by joining us in September 2011 for a hotly anticipated Q&A. He answered your questions on everything from history and its place in the modern world to his favourite museum artefact.

Foundation, the first volume in his six-part account of English history, is out now.

History | Research | London | Miscellany


Q. mammamic: Do you think that the history curriculum in UK schools needs a complete overhaul and, if so, do you have any suggestions?

A. Peter: I don't know that the current curriculum is. I would only say that the student should know about all phases of English history, of course with some generality.

Q. HerMajestysSecretCervix: Do you have a favourite period of history?

A. Peter: Not really. For me the centuries and generations follow a pattern, like a tapestry. To choose one particular period would be to create a fissure in that tapestry.

Q. Fairy7: When I read history at university, I was enthralled by Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Do you think the comparisons being made with your latest work are correct?

A. Peter: I do not think I am in the same class as Gibbon, but I share his intuition that good history can only be composed by a good writer. 

Q. tabbaz105: What do you think it the best way to help everyone learn from history?

A. Peter: By encouraging them to read the great historians of the past.



Q. marymod: How do you find the time to do all the research on your books and how long on average does it take? Having read quite a few, I'm amazed at the detail and information they contain and always read them twice - once for enjoyment and then again to absorb them properly.

A. Peter: The research generally takes as long as the writing - about 14 months. I find the time because I really have little else to do. 

Q. Punkatheart: 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'?

A. Peter: No. I always finish the research before I begin the writing. 



Q. wearingpurple: 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?

"Rioting is an essential aspect of London's history. Journalists always say, after a riot, that 'London will never be the same again'. It is always the same again."

A. Peter: I can hardly think of a decade when there have not been riots in London. Rioting is an essential aspect of London's history. Journalists always say, after a riot, that "London will never be the same again". It is always the same again.

Q. Ungratefulchild: What's your favourite area of London?

A. Peter: My favourite area is still Clerkenwell, the home and haven of radicals for many centuries.

Q. somanymiles: What, in your opinion, is the defining moment in history for London, if one exists?

A. Peter: It does not exist.



Q. manybirdsnests: Did you watch the Royal Wedding? What's your view of the Monarchy in the 21st century?

A. Peter: I did watch the Royal Wedding. The monarchy affords a level of stability. It is an obvious answer but a true one. 

Q. wompoopigeon: What is your favourite museum, and your most favourite artefact in it?

A. Peter: John Dee's magic crystal ball in the British Museum.

Q. MrsHairyWhitemouse: My indulgent reading pleasures are Our Mutual Friend or Persuasion - what are your indulgent pleasures, reading or otherwise?

A. Peter: My indulgent pleasures are drinking and writing, not necessarily in that order.

Last updated: 7 months ago