Female characters in my writing

Fictional women have been the central characters in all six of my books.

First, in the Herzberg Trilogy, which spans the period from 1765 to 1918, there are three generations of musically gifted and ambitious women, crucial to what happens against the backdrop of peace and war. Then there is Karin Eilers – a young attractive German woman with a hidden past in 1945 war-torn Berlin – featured in The Executioner’s House. And the mysterious Khadra in The Lute Player, which begins in 18th century Palestine.

In the foreword to A Motif of Seasons, the last part of the Herzberg Trilogy, I wrote that I enjoyed writing about women – their fascinating interaction both with other women and with the opposite sex and the delightful complication they add to life through their presence, manifest in their gestures, their voices, their expressions and their tastes and opinions. Together with the scope that costume provides, women offer me a broader canvas on which to paint my stories.

Nothing has changed in my latest book Dark Obsession. The two central female characters – polar opposites – play decisive parts in a very human story.

My writing method

People often ask me about my writing method. Of course, each writer has his or her own but here is mine (please remember I’m relatively new at the game).

First, I set myself a completion deadline and stick to it. This approach probably reflects my diplomatic career in which every task – writing a brief, a policy paper or a speech – had a firm deadline which had to be met.

Second, I decide a working title for the book. It may not remain the title at the end but during the writing it provides a valuable focus – the end point. I’ve only changed a title once at the end, but on the advice of my copy editor reverted to the one I had chosen at the start. She was right.

Third, I then decide how many parts the book should have and once that is done I list the provisional chapter headings in each part. These headings (and the part headings) sometimes get changed as I go along. Nonetheless the list acts a road map.

Fourth, I don’t write every day as I have other things to do but I will certainly do so when I am free, whether it be during the day or evening. I have a notebook with me all the time so that on train journeys, bus rides or when I’m just having a coffee in London I can write down quickly any thoughts about the storyline that suddenly occur to me – as a consequence of what I might observe, overhear or read. I am fascinated by human nature and it’s all around us when we are out and about.

Fifth, towards the end of writing a book I try not to become obsessed with tying up too many loose ends. Some I do but others I leave, knowing that they will always be there if I want to follow up with a new book later.

Last, how do I know if I’ve got to the end of the story I am telling? The answer is I know I have when I get there. I just get a feeling that it’s time to stop.

If I didn’t I might miss it.

Remembering Private Charles Alfred Lawrence

With World War 1 as part of its concluding backdrop, I have decided to dedicate A Motif of Seasons to Private Charles Alfred Lawrence of the 9th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. The Royal British Legion gave me his name as part of their programme to have members of the public remember individually every British and Commonwealth soldier killed in the four year conflict.

Lawrence was killed one hundred years ago today, 15 September 1916 – the same day as Lieutenant Raymond Asquith, son of the then serving Prime Minister Herbert Asquith – in an offensive against German lines during the Battle of the Somme (1 July–18 November). He has no known grave but his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in northern France.

I visited the memorial on Sunday 10 June this year during a short tour of the Somme battlefields with a military expert to check facts about the battle, and saw Lawrence’s name inscribed on one of the sixteen pillars. It was a moving moment.


Music as a source of writing inspiration

writing-789835_1280All three of my books contain a significant number of musical references: the baroque period in The Music Book; baroque and classical in Fortune’s Sonata; and the classical and romantic period in A Motif of Seasons.

The performance of music in all three books – either by a fictional chamber orchestra or by fictional soloists or singers – is an integral part of each story line. It not only reflects my affection for classical music but has been a literary tool occasionally used to help convey the context of a scene I am writing about. To put it another way, I seek to translate into words the music which depicts what I see in my imagination.

For example, the second movement of Ludwig Abeille’s piano concerto for four hands underpinned a sexual scene in Fortune’s Sonata. It was equally the case with the second movement of Bacarisse’s guitar concertino to convey in the same book a scene in Andalusia of impending and poignant finality.

In short, for me there are times where music has provided inspiration for the conveyance of particular images in words.