I’m often asked what leads me to a subject for a new novel. It seems to particularly interest readers that I seldom stay with one theme for more than one book. But why would I write a book about a subject I already understand? For me writing a novel is an exciting voyage of discovery. How will my character behave? How will their stories turn out?
My latest novel, War Babies, began as a memoir. There’re still hints of my life remaining, but not in the principle characters, three sisters and a seriously difficult mother. It begins in the year of my birth, 1942, hence the title, takes place in locations where I have lived, London, New York, LA, Vietnam during the war there (which I’ve never actually been to but marched the Manhatten streets in protest) and life inside English prisons. It is a fast moving book, told from multiple points of view and covering seventy years.
My next novel, Clouds of Love and War was published by Unicorn Publishing in the summer of 2020. It follows the story of Eddie Chaffey, a young Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain. He is loved by Eva who knows that Eddie’s dangerous world in the sky is always the most important part of his life.
Glory- A story of Gallipoli was published in April 2015, the centenary of the first allied landings on the Turkish peninsula. My interest rose out of my family’s history: my father’s father was killed there in August 1915, three months before his fiftieth birthday. In the novel I tell the story of the campaign mainly through fictional younger soldiers and two sisters but have also created Brigadier Fitzpaine who has the same military experiences as my grandfather.
.My 2012 novel Maria and the Admiral really was my first truly historical novel with two real people, Maria Graham and Admiral Cochrane as my protagonists. It covers Chile’s dramatic fight for independence from Spain, and the extraordinary relationship between a disgraced Napoleonic hero and a newly widowed blue stocking. I began my research in Valparaiso, where these two remarkable people met in 1822, and I continued my work in libraries in London, Oxford and Edinburgh.
The Missing Boy, published in 2010, is the story of a thirteen year old boy who runs away from home. Starting with the horrible fact that 100,000 children are reported missing each year, I found myself more interested in how and why this happens. There were times when I regretted choosing the suffering of a child as a central theme. . In some ways I felt more like a voyeur than the author.
On the other hand it was a new way for me to look at the importance of a loving family and the miseries cause by its breakdown. Love is much written about in our society but I found myself questioning whether it is often another word for selfishness.
The Missing Boy followed Lies and Loyalties which, although about very different circumstances, has linked themes. It is about a family of four brothers and one sister, an MP, a QC, a Catholic priest, a brother who suffers from mental problems and his wife who at the beginning of the novel is resident in Her Majesty’s Prison Holloway.
I’ve always been interested in the gap between the haves and have nots, between the comfortable and the disturbed. I may have caught that interest from my father, Lord Longford (see Longford Trust) who spent most of his later life trying to help prisoners. Now I’m involved with my work for Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners, in 2018 I edited our seventh volume of Inside Poetry-Voices from Prison
Lies, loyalties and love are the themes of most of my novels – obsessional love, serious lies and (mostly) family loyalties. To which I guess I’d have to add violence. Previous novels have included: the story of a random act of violence in which the attacker leaves prison and searches for his victim, Bodily Harm; a passionate love affair partly set in Chile, One Summer; a sequel to Jane Austen’s, Emma, called Perfect Happiness (Emma & Knightley in US) which is the not very convincing last line of Austen’s superb novel. Then there’s The Space Between which examines the prospects of a young widow (lies) and A Woman’s Life which is a study of friendship (loyalties) between three women over forty years. They come from America, Ireland and England but their lives interweave over those forty years.
Thirty years ago, I wrote a saga novel called A Woman’s Age which followed the lives of three generations of Englishwomen, kicking off in 1910.Feminism was a major subject then and now and I tackled the same theme with Occasion of Sin, a tragic love story which was actually an up to date telling of Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina. In my version Anna gets back on the train.It was re-issued by Endeavour Media (now Lume) in 2018. I shan’t go through all my novels here but there are a couple more I’d like to mention. The Garish Day has a repressed man, a diplomat, at its centre and deals with four decades and as many countries. Magic and Fate is my stab at magic realism, although in fact a lot of it, particularly the super model heroine took a great deal of research. Luckily, the doyenne of the catwalks, Suzy Menkes, took me under her glamorous wing.
I began writing childrens’ books to entertain my own children – they did the first illustrations as I read them aloud and now I’m looking to my grandchildren. My novels are for the 8-12 age group. Far-Out and There’s More to Life are both adventure stories with a touch of fantasy. My two later children’s novels Poppy’s Hero and its sequel Poppy’s Angel although adventure stories, tackle some gritty subjects. Poppy’s father, Big Frank, is in prison. Through him, she meets Angel and confronts a different kind of inner-city life.