I have been a writer and rewriter for forty five years. My first paid work was as the Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Critic in the late sixties. That must have involved a good deal of teenage rewriting since I cannot believe that I knew much of my own about Miles Davies. I knew more then about Horace and Virgil, authors I have reread all my life. Rereading and rewriting are both important to me. It is only because I have recently rewritten the book that became Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra that I have fresh memories of my Essex childhood among military engineers and my subsequent slouching through the classics curriculum of Oxford. My previous book On the Spartacus Road was a way to retell some student history alongside the remembering of the time when I was declared soon-to-be-dead from an obscure form of cancer.
At that time I had been Editor of The Times for eight years, moulding others’ words and my own, mostly about politics but sometimes about novels and history too. After being declared not-near-dead I stayed at The Times for another two years until becoming Editor of the TLS in 2002.
Until ten years ago, I wrote only journalism and notes to myself. My first book was Thirty Days: A Month at the Heart of Blair’s War, an instant diary that arose from the chance that I had agreed to write a magazine piece about Blair when the Iraq War began in 2003. Since then I have preferred to use old notes and diaries in more indirect ways, mixing memories of Latin, Greek and politics with present observation. I am just finishing a book that begins with Seneca the Younger in the 1960s and the first century AD – and ends, well, I’m not quite sure yet when it ends.
In 2012 I was Chair of the Man Booker judges and that year wrote scraps only by hand in an exercise book, rather as I had when once reading about jazz. Since then I have not read many new novels. I am reading Laughter in Rome, the new book by Mary Beard, who has played a big part in recharging my childhood classicism. I am about to begin The Dark Box, John Cornwell’s history of the confession. I am rereading Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt.
Sir Peter Stothard is the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement. From 1992 to 2002 he was Editor of The Times. He is the author of two books of diaries, On the Spartacus Road, A Spectacular Journey Through Ancient Italy (2010), and Thirty Days, A Month at the Heart of Blair’s War (2003). His most recent book, Alexandria (2013) is set in Egypt in the first century BC and in the final days before the Arab Spring. He was Chairman of judges for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2012.