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About Francis Spufford
Officially, I was a writer of non-fiction for the first half of my career, and I certainly enjoyed scraping up against the stubborn, resistant, endlessly interesting surface of the real world. I like awkwardness, things that don't fit, things that put up a struggle against being described. But when I was excited by what I was writing about, what I wanted to do with my excitement was always to tell a story. So every one of my non-fiction books borrowed techniques from the novel, and contained sections where I came close to behaving like a novelist. The chapter retelling the story of Captain Scott's last Antarctic expedition at the end of "I May Be Some Time", for example, or the thirty-page version of the gospel story in "Unapologetic". It wasn't a total surprise that in 2010 I published a book, "Red Plenty", which was a cross between fiction and documentary, or that afterwards I completed my crabwise crawl towards the novel with the honest-to-goodness entirely-made-up "Golden Hill". This was a historical novel about eighteenth century New York written like, well, an actual eighteenth century novel: hyperactive, stuffed with incident, and not very bothered about genre or good taste. It was elaborate, though. It was about exceptional events, and huge amounts of money, and good-looking people talking extravagantly in a special place. Nothing wrong with any of that: I'm an Aaron Sorkin fan and a Joss Whedon fan, keen on dialogue that whooshes around like a firework display. But those are the ingredients of romance, and there are other interesting things to tell stories about. My new book "Light Perpetual" (February 2021 in the UK, May 2021 in the US) is deliberately plainer. It's about five twentieth century lives – the lives that five London children might have had, if they hadn't been killed in 1944 by a V2 landing on a branch of Woolworths where their mothers were shopping for saucepans. I follow Ben and Alec and Jo and Val and Vern onwards through the decades, catching up with them for a day every fifteen years as they pass through the stages of adulthood and the city changes around them; and changes again; and changes again, this being an era of endless metamorphosis. It's a book dedicated to the proposition that there aren't any ordinary lives. It's a book about how we live in time.
Biography: I was born in 1964, the child of two historians. I'm married to an Anglican priest, I have two daughters, and I teach writing at Goldsmiths College, London, just next door to the place where a V2 fell on a branch of Woolworths.
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From the critically acclaimed and award‑winning author of Golden Hill, an “extraordinary…symphonic…casually stunning” (The Wall Street Journal) novel tracing the infinite possibilities of five lives in the bustling neighborhoods of 20th-century London.
Lunchtime on a Saturday, 1944: the Woolworths on Bexford High Street in South London receives a delivery of aluminum saucepans. A crowd gathers to see the first new metal in ages—after all, everything’s been melted down for the war effort. An instant later, the crowd is gone; incinerated. Among the shoppers were five young children.
Who were they? What futures did they lose? This brilliantly constructed novel, inspired by real events, lets an alternative reel of time run, imagining the lives of these five souls as they live through the extraordinary, unimaginable changes of the bustling immensity of twentieth-century London. Their intimate everyday dramas, as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, grandparents; as the separated, the remarried, the bereaved. Through decades of social, sexual, and technological transformation, as bus conductors and landlords, as swindlers and teachers, patients and inmates. Days of personal triumphs and disasters; of second chances and redemption.
Ingenious and profound, full of warmth and beauty, Light Perpetual “offers a moving view of how people confront the gap between their expectations and their reality” (The New Yorker) and illuminates the shapes of experience, the extraordinariness of the ordinary, the mysteries of memory, and the preciousness of life.
Unapologetic is a brief, witty, personal, sharp-tongued defence of Christianity, taking on Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great.
Its argument is that Christianity is recognisable, drawing on the deep and deeply ordinary vocabulary of human feeling, satisfying those who believe by offering a ruthlessly realistic account of the bits of our lives advertising agencies prefer to ignore. It's a book for believers who are fed up with being patronised, for non-believers curious about how faith can possibly work in the twenty-first century, and for anyone who feels there is something indefinably wrong, literalistic, anti-imaginative and intolerant about the way the case for atheism is now being made.
Fresh, provoking and unhampered by niceness, this is the long-awaited riposte to the smug emissaries of New Atheism.
“Gorgeously crafted…Spufford's sprawling recreation here is pitch perfect.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“A fast-paced romp that keeps its eyes on the moral conundrums of America.” —The New Yorker
“Delirious storytelling backfilled with this much intelligence is a rare and happy sight.” —The New York Times
“Golden Hill possesses a fluency and immediacy, a feast of the senses…I love this book.” —The Washington Post
The spectacular first novel from acclaimed nonfiction author Francis Spufford follows the adventures of a mysterious young man in mid-eighteenth century Manhattan, thirty years before the American Revolution.
New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat arrives at a countinghouse door on Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money. Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?
Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill is “a remarkable achievement—remarkable, especially, in its intelligent re-creation of the early years of what was to become America’s greatest city” (The Wall Street Journal). Spufford paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later metropolitan self, but already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love—and find a world of trouble. Golden Hill is “immensely pleasurable…Read it for Spufford’s brilliant storytelling, pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, and gift for re-creating a vanished time” (New York Newsday).
Children's books - from Narnia to The Hobbit - are celebrated in this enlightened examination of the joys of childhood reading.
Fairy tales and Where the Wild Things Are, The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books, Little House on the Prairie and The Earthsea Trilogy. What would you find if you went back and re-read your favourite books from childhood? Francis Spufford discovers both delight and sadness, in this widely celebrated memoir of a boy who retreats into books, faced with a tragedy in his family.
'A beautifully composed and wholly original memoir, sounding the classics of children's literature.' David Sexton, Evening Standard
'Exuberant and serious, funny and sophisticated, this memoir of reading and childhood is a delight.' Andrea Ashworth
The Soviet Union was founded on a fairytale. It was built on 20th-century magic called 'the planned economy', which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the penny-pinching lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late fifties, the magic seemed to be working.
Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came and went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan, every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche and sputniks would lead the way to the stars. It's about the scientists who did their best to make the dream come true, to give the tyranny its happy ending.
Francis Spufford’s welcome first volume of collected essays gathers an array of his compelling writings from the 1990s to the present. He makes use of a variety of encounters with particular places, writers, or books to address deeper questions relating to the complicated relationship between story-telling and truth-telling. How must a nonfiction writer imagine facts, vivifying them to bring them to life? How must a novelist create a dependable world of story, within which facts are, in fact, imaginary? And how does a religious faith felt strongly to be true, but not provably so, draw on both kinds of writerly imagination?
Ranging freely across topics as diverse as the medieval legends of Cockaigne, the Christian apologetics of C. S. Lewis, and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, Spufford provides both fresh observations and thought-provoking insights. No less does he inspire an irresistible urge to turn the page and read on.
A brilliant, beautiful account of how British boffins triumphed across the decades in creating everything from computer games to Martian landers.
The book contains chapters on the Beagle II, Elite - the 80s computer game, the Blue Streak missile, Concorde, mobile phone technology and the Human Genome Project, among others.
Britain is the only country in the world to have cancelled its space programme just as it put its first rocket into orbit. Starting with this forgotten episode, 'Backroom Boys' tells the bittersweet story of how one country lost its industrial tradition and got back something else. Sad, inspiring, funny and ultimately triumphant, it follows the technologists whose work kept Concorde flying, created the computer game, conquered the mobile-phone business, saved the human genome for the human race - and who now are sending the Beagle 2 probe to burrow in the cinnamon sands of Mars.
'Backroom Boys' is a vivid love-letter to quiet men in pullovers, to those whose imaginings take shape not in words but in mild steel and carbon fibre and lines of code. Above all, it is a celebration of big dreams achieved with slender means.
1746 in einer kleinen englischen Kolonialstadt an der Spitze der Insel Manhattan: Neu-York wirkt auch Jahrzehnte nach der Eroberung durch die Briten immer noch recht holländisch; die alteingesessenen Familien reden Englisch mit Akzent, am Hafen weht der Union Jack über schmalen Fachwerkhäusern, am anderen Ende der Stadt ist der Broad Way (vorher Breede Weg) auf Höhe der Wall Street durch ein Tor versperrt. Draußen hängen Skalps: Verbündete Indianerstämme haben sie französischen Soldaten abgenommen.
Eines Tages steigt ein Brite namens Smith im Regen von einem aus London kommenden Segler. Der junge Mann scheint über Geld zu verfügen, er trägt den Wechsel einer Londoner Bank mit sich. Schnell findet er Zugang zur Gesellschaft, wird er zu einer Berühmtheit in der Stadt. Leider auch bei den Falschen: Smith wird überfallen und ausgeraubt. Niemand darf von der prekären neuen Lage erfahren, das Schuldgefängnis droht. Und dann kommt Smiths Affäre mit der Frau eines hohen Offiziers ans Licht. Ein Duell ist unumgänglich, und ausgerechnet sein bester Freund fordert ihn, ein exzellenter Fechter. Doch dann nimmt das Schicksal unseres Helden eine weitere überraschende Wendung – es wird nicht die letzte sein in diesem phantastischen, geistreichen, spannenden Wunderwerk von einem Roman.