Not long ago Prospect magazine asked me to write a profile of Peter Ackroyd. This was not at all an easy task. For a start, it meant reading, or rereading, several of the books in Ackroyd’s multitudinous output (the 32-volume list in the prelims of this latest one is woefully incomplete, by the way). Then it meant browsing through the equally large number of teasing interviews Ackroyd has given to newspapers over the past thirty years, in which hardly anything of a personal nature is ever let out beneath the arc light. Finally, at the instigation of the editor, who conceded that it would be like getting blood out of a stone, I had to ring up the subject himself. Ackroyd was polite but noncommittal. The piece duly appeared: comprehensive, (mostly) admiring and – to use that ancient Fleet Street cliché – ‘rather light on the quotes’.