Meet Baillie Gifford Prize Finalist Ben MacIntyre
The Author of The Spy and the Traitor on Writer's Block and MI6
It’s almost here: the winner of the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the “very best in high quality non-fiction” published in English in the past year, will be announced this Wednesday. The author of the winning book will receive £30,000, and each of the other shortlisted writers will receive £1,000.
Ben MacIntyre’s The Spy and the Traitor, a true-espionage Cold War story, is a finalist for the Baillie Gifford Prize. Lit Hub asked MacIntyre a few questions about his writing habits, his life, and making it into the shortlist.
What was the greatest hurdle for you in telling this story?
Official secrecy. MI6 does not release its files or make them available to researchers, and the MI6 officers involved in the case were, in some cases, initially reluctant to describe events since they have taken a pledge of secrecy, even though these took place more than 30 years ago. Eventually, they all agreed to speak to me, enabling me to write about the story in depth and detail.
Who was the first person you told about making this list?
My son Barney. He was almost as pleased and surprised as I was.
Do you ever turn to fiction as a respite from the research-heavy world of nonfiction? If so, who?
Frequently. Most recently I have enjoyed William Boyd’s Love is Blind and Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks.
How do you tackle writer’s block?
Thankfully, I seldom suffer from it. But if I don’t have enough to write, that means I have not done enough research.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best way to keep readers invested is by maintaining jeopardy. Never speculate, “imagine” what might have happened in the past, or embroider. Readers spot it.