The writer on why his new novel is shot through with themes of mercy and forgiveness, and how a ‘self-procured’ personal crisis led to a renewal of faith
In the past 12 months since I started peeping into the homes of friends, colleagues and interviewees via Zoom meetings, there have been plenty of moments of envy over the views I have spied out of the window of their studies and home offices. Francis Spufford’s, though, takes top prize. He swivels his laptop round to show me mullioned panes, with a light dusting of snow, and beyond it Ely Cathedral, one of Britain’s most beautiful church buildings. His wife, Jessica Martin, is a residentiary canon there, and this is their tied cottage, shared with their teenaged daughter, Theodora – somewhere “out of the wind”, as he puts it.
To have such inspiration on hand each time you glance up seems tailor-made to nourish great writing, and in Spufford’s case it has certainly worked its magic. After a run of well-received non-fiction titles – including 2012’s Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, where as “a writer who happens to be a Christian” he took on Richard Dawkins and the angry mob of new atheists – four years later Spufford turned his attention triumphantly to fiction with Golden Hill, a pitch-perfect take on the eighteenth-century novel, set in New York. It won him a slew of awards, including the Costa First Novel prize.