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Oral history: writing and publishing

The British Library Sound Archive holds many oral history collections covering a cross-section of those involved in all aspects of the British publishing world. Interviewees include those involved in the press and book trade, as well as authors themselves.

Writers, authors and illustrators

  • Authors' Lives (C1276), a National Life Stories project, collects in-depth interviews with Britain’s leading authors, poets and writers, together with technical and specialist writers, campaigners and literary journalists. The interviews encompass memories from childhood to the present day, including family background, education, and working life, and address key shifts in authorship over the past half century. They explore the relationship between writers, agents, editors and publishers. The project encompasses interviews with Man Booker prize short-listed authors.
  • Children's Book Illustrators: 'Magic Pencil' (catalogue no: C1045) comprises a series of interviews with illustrators of children’s books, which accompanied an exhibition at the British Library and Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle in 2002-2003. The British Library online feature Magic Pencil: Children's Book Illustration Today (not updated since 2003 – preserved by the UK Web Archive) allows a further exploration of the collection of artwork used in the exhibition.
  • The David Gerard Collection (catalogue no: C129) comprises a broad-ranging series of oral history interviews with people in and around Nottingham. Most notably it includes a series of interviews with people that knew D.H. Lawrence including his brother George, schoolfriends, neighbours and teachers from Eastwood, boyhood friends, Rebecca West and Compton Mackenzie. The collection also includes Reg Simpson (cricketer), Laura Knight and William Gear (painters), Stanley Middleton, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe, Laura Knight, Madge Hales (poet), Helen Ryan (actress), Stan Barstow, Witjold Kawalek and Hilda Lewis.


  • Book Trade Lives (C872), a National Life Stories project, features 118 in-depth interviews with those who have worked in publishing and bookselling between the 1920s and the present day.
  • Talking Print: Oral History of the Book Trade (catalogue no: C700) was a small project undertaken by the Book Trade History Group.

Journalism and the press

  • Oral History of the British Press (C638) is a National Life Stories project that collects the life stories of newspaper journalists, editors and art directors.
  • An interview with the journalist Phyllis Deakin is also included in the Fawcett Collection (C468), a National Life Stories collection of recordings funded by the Fawcett Society and the Friends of the Fawcett Library which focuses on the lives of pioneering career women.

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)

External links

The Man Booker Prizes