Contemporary Literature 47.1 (2006) 1-29
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An Interview With Alan Judd
Conducted by Joseph Wiesenfarth
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|Alan Judd. Photo credit: Jerry Bauer|
Alan Edwin Petty adopted the pseudonym Alan Judd when he published his first novel, A Breed of Heroes (1981), while working for the Foreign Office, which he joined after taking his degree at Oxford University in the mid-1970s. Drawing on his career as an officer in the British Army in Northern Ireland, Judd's novel was an immediate success and won the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for the best regional novel of the year. It was also later filmed by the BBC and short-listed on the Booker Prize "alternative list" (there was a split in the judging panel that year). Various postings with the Foreign Office led to his writing Short of Glory (1985), drawing on his service in South Africa, and to Tango (1989), shaped by a shorter stay in South America. Between these two simultaneously serious and satiric novels mixing diplomacy with espionage, Judd wrote The Noonday Devil (1987), an Oxford novel without a diplomat or a spy to be seen anywhere. His later discovery of Ford Madox Ford led to Judd's taking a two-year leave of absence from the Foreign Office to write the W. H. Heinemann Award-winning biography of Ford published in 1990 (Ford Madox Ford) and a novel that drew on his immersion in Ford's fiction, The Devil's Own Work (1991), a spine-tingling tale of supernatural possession that won the Guardian Fiction Prize. After writing The Quest for "C": Sir Mansfield Cumming and the Founding of the British Secret Service (1999; short-listed for the Westminster Medal for Military History), Judd returned to the fictional world of espionage with Legacy (2001). The Kaiser's Last Kiss (2003) brought his readers an imaginative reconstruction of the Nazi occupation of Holland, where [End Page 1] Kaiser Wilhelm II lived in exile until his death in 1941. Judd has now immersed himself in the end of the Nazi era with his new novel, which has the working title "Dancing with Eva."
I first met Alan Judd when he came to Madison, Wisconsin, to speak at a conference, "History and Representation in Ford Madox Ford's Writings," in September 2002. I had already read—indeed, I had reviewed—his biography of Ford, but I knew that a proper introduction of a novelist, which I was asked to give before his lecture, required my reading at least a few of his novels. I began at the beginning with A Breed of Heroes and simply kept on going until there was nothing left to read.
The talk Judd gave at the conference focused on Ford's influence on his writing and the difficulty that he had in shaking it off—on how he had to exorcize Ford from his imaginative writing by writing, in Patrick O'Brian's words on Judd's novel, about "the very nature of the creative act and the influences to which the creative mind may be subject." Alan Judd managed to do that by writing The Devil's Own Work, which drew directly on The Good Soldier in structure and style and indirectly on John Meade Falkner's supernatural thriller The Lost Stradivarius (1895) for its spine-tingling theme. The whole of the talk—subsequently published in volume 3 of International Ford Madox Ford Studies—held the audience spell-bound with Judd's elucidation of the way that he as a novelist worked to achieve the kind of effect that led fellow novelist Stephen King to pronounce The Devil's Own Work "wonderful": "The best book I've read all year."
Alan Judd had recently finished a draft of his novel on Hitler's last days in the Berlin bunker and was considering revisions to it when we met at the Reform Club in London on September 26, 2005, to talk about his work.
Q. May I begin by asking you how you go about your writing? Rumor has...