Keith Jones and John Preston had a fascinating conversation with a full audience at the Ipswich Institute – our first 'in real life' event since lockdown. A long-lost cousin told John about his Aunt Peggy (Piggott), one of the archaeologists who unearthed the Anglo-Saxon cache at Sutton Hoo in 1939. John suggested that The Dig is about three characters finding gold but, concurrently, discovering treasure of a less material kind. He talked about the irony of having to pack the ancient hoard back into the earth to protect it from World War II bombing and noted that ‘Everything ends up in the earth’. John’s early reading was about adventure; he mentioned Moonfleet and Treasure Island as favourites.
John talked about the adaptation of The Dig which had taken fourteen years to make, during which time both Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman had begun and then left the project. He thought formidable and ‘tricky’ Peggy ‘looked nothing like Lily James’; Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan ‘did a good job’ and that his book was ‘well served’. On set, John was moved to find that the actor playing Robert, Mrs Pretty’s son, resembled himself as a boy. The designer on the film, John’s first wife, based the house on his own childhood home. He was disappointed that, because of Covid, the film had not opened in cinemas but acknowledged that Netflix had secured a huge worldwide audience, perhaps seeking comfort from a gentle story.
During question time John talked about Fall: the Mystery of Robert Maxwell (2020) which in 2022, since John's visit, won the Biography category for the Costa Books Award. He regards Maxwell as a tragic figure, obsessed in competition with Rupert Murdoch. John imagined that, if they had fought in a boxing match, Murdoch ‘would have won every round’. John is currently working on a book with Elton John about Watford Football Club.