Sir Jonathan Bate on His Journey to Ted Hughes
From the Read Smart Podcast, Presented by the Baillie Gifford Prize
To mark 21 years of rewarding the best non-fiction writing, The Baillie Gifford Prize has launched a new podcast generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation. On the second series of the podcast, host Razia Iqbal will explore the increasingly popular world of non-fiction books. Each episode includes discussions and interviews with prize-winning authors, judges and publishing insiders, with guests including prize winner David France (How to Survive a Plague, 2017), publishing director at John Murray Georgina Laycock, 2020 prize judge Simon Ings, 2019 shortlisted author Hannah Fry, and many more.
On today’s podcast, Razia explores writing biographies with Baillie Gifford Prize alumni Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013 winner), Sir Jonathan Bate (2015 shortlisted) and William Feaver (2019 shortlisted). They discuss the joys and challenges that come with studying and portraying other people’s lives. Hughes-Hallet won the prize in 2013 with The Pike (Fourth Estate), Bate was shortlisted in 2015 with Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, and Feaver was shortlisted in 2019 with The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth. This episode was recorded and produced completely remotely.
From the conversation:
Razia: Jonathan, you said that you were born to write this book. Why?
Sir Jonathan: Ted Hughes was really the poet that made me passionate about poetry and literature. I always fell in love with his work. Then, over the years, I slightly reacted against him, partly because learning things about his relationship with Sylvia Plath and other women.Also, his later poetry was not as good as his earlier poetry.
Then I spent a lot of time working on the Romantic poets of the 19th century, particularly a biography of the great nature poet John Clad. When I finished that, I was like, I love writing biographies. Who should I do next? At that exact moment, The Selected Letters of Ted Hughes were published, and a little after that his manuscripts all became available. I began to go back to Hughes’s work and explored the range of all his activities as an environmentalist, as someone who was passionate about Shakespeare, as someone who translated the classics, and I thought, these are all my interests too. It was as if all my literary interests came together in Ted Hughes.
Read Smart Podcast is commissioned by The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction and is generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.