bookblast philip mansel

Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or diplomat.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. Alfred Duggan’s and Rider Haggard’s historical novels. The Greek myths. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy.

Why do you write?
I love excercising my brain and trying to make sense of, and trace motives and patterns in, the past and the present. To understand people. To meet challenges. To show links between nations, peoples and cities.

Your advice to new writers just starting out?
Follow your passions; at the same time listen to advice from publishers, agents and friends.

As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
I am proud of having written a life of Louis XVIII, when he was totally forgotten; it is still in print in French, thirty years after publication.

What is your biggest failure?
Failing to convey to the public the importance of subjects I have written about, for example the key role of guards, in a book noone read, called Pillars of Monarchy.

Your views on success?
Use it while you can. It can facilitate many tasks and pleasures.

What are you working on at the moment?
A life of Louis XIV.

Your views on book publishing?
Wonderful, full of clever people; very transitory, people don’t stay in their jobs. Grab them while you can.

Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life?
Good for fact checking, terrible for concentration.

Your views on social media?
I don’t use them much, except email, which I love.

Do you enjoy reading ebooks?

If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Paris in April 1814, to see the interactions of armies, nationalities, epochs and parties, after liberation from Napoleon.

What hope for the Middle East?
Not much until there is an international, UN authorised army in northern Syria; and until certain Muslims stop trying to live in the seventh century.

Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Lord Byron; Gore Vidal; Nancy Mitford; Balzac; Churchill.

Which characters in history do you like the most?
Those who improve the world: William III, Voltaire, De Gaulle, Adenauer

Which characters in history do you dislike the most?
Warmongers, Robespierre, Napoleon, Bismarck, Bush, Kissinger, the twentieth century dictators.

Your idea of happiness?
The light in a lover’s eyes.

Your greatest unhappiness?
Hurting others.

Your bedside reading?
The diary of the Marquis de Dangeau a courtier of Louis XIV – less hysterical than Saint-Simon.

Your greatest achievement?
To have helped found and maintain two international societies dedicated to breaking down barriers between countries, epochs, disciplines: the Society for Court Studies, which shows the importance of courts and dynasties in global history; the Levantine Heritage Foundation, which rethinks the eastern Mediterranan through its cities, peoples and cultures.

Your favourite motto?
Know yourself.

Interview © BookBlast Ltd, London. Questions format © BookBlast Ltd, London.

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Published by

georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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