Francis Spufford: ‘I felt that to call myself a writer would be a boast’

The author of Light Perpetual on a childhood spent hiding in books, dropping a V2 on a fictional London borough and giving up church politics

Francis Spufford, born in 1964, is an uncommonly gifted, adventurous and versatile writer. He began with nonfiction that included a powerful apologia for Christianity, Unapologetic, in 2012. He published Golden Hill in 2016 and it was golden: an outstanding debut, set in 18th-century New York, it won the Costa prize for a first novel. Light Perpetual, his second novel, was longlisted for the Booker prize and is a bold departure in fiction that imagines how it might have been if people who died when a German V2 rocket fell on south London had been able to live their lives.

Tell me about the starting point for Light Perpetual.
I’ve been walking to Goldsmiths [where he teaches writing] every Wednesday for the last 14 years and there’s a small, round memorial plaque on the branch of Iceland on the corner of the New Cross Road. There’s no reason to look at it, it’s part of the south London landscape. The plaque says 168 people were killed on that spot, one November lunchtime, in 1944, when a V2 fell on Woolworths and destroyed it. As well as beginning a fascination with that story, it began a train of thought about the extraordinary things cities ordinarily contain, then lose. I wanted to find a way of remembering the event that was faithful but not literal, so had to invent a London borough and drop a V2 of my own on to it, not to trample on anybody’s real grief.

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