I was delighted to be interviewed recently by Amanda Loose for a piece in North Norfolk Living. The area is not only home, but also features heavily in my books, so has an extra special place in my heart.
Amanda was very interested in my background in The Foreign Office, and the inspiration that led me to write five novels in as many years.
To write five novels in five years has been – for me – a remarkable journey of discovery. I’ve found a new and deeply rewarding profession that complements my other ongoing activities (diplomacy, the environment and the preservation of buildings in King’s Lynn of historical and architectural merit) and provides a new and refreshing means of expression after years of writing dry policy papers and briefs.
Moreover, my storytelling since 2013 has provided the opportunity to draw afresh on my memories and experiences of a deeply satisfying and varied career with the Foreign Office (pictured) and to recall observations of human nature – at its best and at its worst. In addition, each book not only has strands of history, drama and music intertwined with my love of art in all of its forms but also – just as important – strong central female characters.
And the five books have spanned three genres – historical chronicle (theHerzbergtrilogy) spread over 153 years of European history ending in 1918; a modern story of betrayal in war-torn Berlin in 1946/7 against a backdrop of British and Soviet intelligence rivalry (little has changed since then); and now – in The Lute Player – fantasy and obsession.
What to write next? There’ll be a decision about that before too long…
My wife and I went to Jerusalem and Palestine in November 2017 as part of a study group.
In the city we saw sites familiar to many – including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Golden Gate, the Garden of Gethsemane, St George’s Cathedral, the Western Wall and Yad Vashem the Holocaust Memorial. Even more special was a unique opportunity to be guided by scholars into the Dome on the Rock and the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque. In Palestine our journey included Bethlehem (the other side of the wall of separation), Masada, Be’it Shean, Magdala, the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights.
The journey left a deep impression, made even more so by our remarkable and thought-provoking guide in Bethlehem – Khadra.
Back in Norfolk, the rich, evocative images and sounds of Jerusalem’s old city and the biblical sites of Palestine lingered long in my mind. They were further stirred by looking yet again at the elephants, camels and horses depicted in the background of a Dutch 16th painting in our possession featuring the Adoration of the Magi – originally part of a much larger altarpiece. The final element was to hear the melliferous sound of a lute in The Queen’s Gallery in London. Inspired, I decided to weave these three strands into a story – The Lute Player.
In one sense the story is about obsession – its impact and where it can lead. It’s also about things not always being what they seem.
And if you’ve ever wondered what a lute sounds like, wonder no more…
Last year, I sat watching some grainy film footage of the Nuremburg war crimes tribunal in the building where it all happened. It was 27 years since I had left my Foreign Office posting in Berlin, during the last years of a city split by a hateful wall. Playing my part in exercising Allied right of access to East Berlin, the entire city became part of me – as it still is.
As I sipped a late afternoon coffee, not far from the mediaeval executioner’s house, I couldn’t stop thinking about the tribunal and what it must have been like to have been part of the prosecution teams.
On my train journey back to Munich, I conceived a story that explored just that. I decided that it would play out in Berlin, a city I knew well, and one where, after dark – along shadowy cobbled side streets away from the noise and bustle of the main thoroughfares – the ghosts of a once shattered and then divided city still lurk.
The final character profile from A Motif of Seasonscompares two people, one with a strong sense of discretion, who hides their feelings and keeps secrets, and another with a strong and emotional openness and the rebelliousness of a new generation forged in war.
Count Frederick Paul von Deppe
Frederick is Count Joseph von Deppe’s younger brother, and is a courtier at the Royal Palace. He is discreet, enigmatic and hides a deep secret.
Countess Arabella Elisabeth von Eisenwald
Arabella, not yet in her 20s, is beautiful, precocious and rebellious. A gifted singer, a lover of Shakespeare and English poetry and isolated in conflict-torn Germany she seeks sexual pleasure, only to fall deeply in love in the midst of the tragedy of war.
The penultimate character profile from A Motif of Seasonscontrasts a man of enterprise whose character is undermined by greed and disloyalty with a young man from a similar unorthodox background but who does not succumb to the same petty human weakness.
Kiefer is a devious fixer, chancer and thug who allows his principles, loyalty and honour to become misplaced by flawed ambition and the pursuit of money. Beneath a surface of self-confident malice lies a weak and insecure man in search of respect and redemption.
Florian, the grandson of Robert Whitfield, is a young Royal Flying Corps pilot, tested in battle on the Western Front in the Great War. Within a hard shell formed during his unusual childhood – shared between his Bohemian life-style parents in London and the more formal family structure of Meltwater in Norfolk – he is a man of great gentleness and sensitivity.
Today’s character profile from A Motif of Seasonsfeatures another mother and daughter: a woman, full of suppressed rage and unfulfilled revenge, who fails to see that her daughter, despite her contrasting happiness and success, is just as vulnerable and insecure.
Rebecca is a young English governess to Count Joseph and Countess Beatrice’s children. Betrayed early in her life, she seeks not only the warmth of true and loyal companionship but also to assuage her deep bitterness towards her betrayer. Despite achieving security her heart is forever stricken.
Alice is Rebecca’s daughter. Beneath her lustrous veneer of femininity, sexual allure and flirtatiousness which men find irresistible is concealed an earthy young woman whose instinct for survival is shaped by an east London childhood. She becomes an integral strand in the von Deppe family fabric and an accomplished pianist. But while she is outwardly bold she remains within deeply insecure and vulnerable.
Continuing the series of posts introducing new readers to some of the key characters in A Motif of Seasons, here is the third pairing. Count Joseph von Deppeand his wife Countess Beatrice offer a perfect juxtaposition of Prussian-style inflexibility against a woman’s determined and clever outmanoeuvring.
Count Joseph von Deppe
He is head of the von Deppe family and a senior official and counsellor in the Prussian (later German) Parliament. Though warm and approachable, he is overly principled, stiff in attitude and a strong advocate of German nationalism.
Countess Beatrice von Deppe
Joseph’s wife Beatrice is softly spoken. Yet behind her gentle exterior is a determined and strong believer in fairness and honour. She is a worthy opponent of her husband’s frequent inflexibility and a persuasive exponent of pursuit of the future rather than stuffy adherence to outmoded traditions and outdated attitudes.
Continuing the series of posts introducing new readers to some of the key characters in A Motif of Seasons, here are the second pairing. Charles Hardinge and Robert Whitfield typify the contrast between the good and dark sides of human nature and the damage the latter can cause.
Victoria Elise’s English husband, he is an admired barrister – fair minded, wise and clever – with a shrewd ability to observe events, people and their motives and to hide his feelings and inner thoughts. He is the perfect foil to his mercurial wife.
An only child, he is the patriarch of the family’s large estate – Meltwater – in Norfolk and rich investments in London. He is vain, manipulative, secretive and unprincipled. Yet beneath his overarching ambition and palpable self-confidence, he is weak – a coward driven by fierce inner demons of envy and greed.
But again, the question is: which would you rather be?
Over the next few days, I’d like to introduce new readers to some of the key characters in A Motif of Seasons. As an author, I’m fascinated by the different aspects of human nature, so I’ve decided to pair the characters up to compare and contrast them. Here are the first two.
Exemplified by a typical mother/daughter adversarial relationship (which many of you will be familiar with from your own experiences), today’s pairing introduces Countess Elisabeth Mariette von Schellenhorst and her daughter Countess Victoria Elise.
Countess Elisabeth Mariette von Schellenhorst
Granddaughter of the famed Countess Arabella von Deppe (the lead character in The Music Book and Fortune’s Sonata), family matriarch and fierce keeper of an old music book full of past family secrets, she is a formidable and duplicitous woman with a secret of her own. Now in her twilight years she considers the time may have come for Herzberg to let go of its much vaunted past but lacks the courage of her belated conviction to say so.
Countess Victoria Elise
Elisabeth Maritte’s daughter and only child, she is refined, striking and – in sharp contrast to her mother – unconventional and opinionated, leading sometimes to verbal duels. A brilliant pianist and a challenger of the past, she takes risks to her mother’s horror. Her love of music and her intense sensuality are her principal weapons to fulfil her ambitions; and she shares her great grandmother’s belief that the centuries old notion of the weaker sex is a malevolent means by men to enforce continued female inequality.