Edward Glover

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.

The pleasure of writing

I still work part-time as a Director (Communication), editing a FCO-related magazine Inside Out and sit on three boards. But writing books is my greatest pleasure. The themes come easily and the words without difficulty. I write when I can – no set daily routine. And wherever I go, I carry with me a small notebook to capture – possibly for later use – sudden thoughts about storylines, snatches of overheard conversations and observations of the world around me. A sign hangs on my study door in Norfolk:

Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel

As for my next novel, let’s see what inspiration I get from the world in which the unthinkable, upheaval, has become the daily norm.

While I still get a buzz from working in London two to three days a week – with colleagues in King Charles Street at the heart of the UK’s 21st century foreign policy machine – it’s always good to return to north Norfolk for the space and opportunity to write.

Six in Six

I published my first novel – The Music Book – in 2014, the year I ran the London Marathon and two years after ending a full-time diplomatic career. I never intended to write more than one. I simply wanted to prove to myself that after years of Foreign Office drafting I was capable of writing something completely different. Six years later I’ve completed my sixth novel – Dark Obsession. Thus, one story each year.

And each book has strong female characters and each a musical thread.

Different genres

The six comprise four genres – historical chronicle (The Herzberg Trilogy); espionage (The Executioner’s House); fantasy (The Lute Player); and now fixation (Dark Obsession). Each of the six books draws not only on my knowledge of history and but also upon my experience of human nature during my diplomatic career. Most of what you want to know about someone can be discovered through observation.

Though the latest book is set in the latter part of 19th century France and Indo-China, its tale possibly has a 21st century resonance in the age of social media, particularly its darker side.

The Next Chapter

I have recently finished my latest novel – the sixth in six years.

It’s now in the hands of my highly-professional copy editor. I hope it will be published in the latter part of April/beginning of May, to be followed shortly afterwards by my first story for children between the ages of five and seven. Once that too has been copy-edited and I have found a suitable illustrator I intend it should appear to the public in the summer.

Back to my new novel – different in genre from my previous books in The Herzberg Trilogy, and The Executioner’s House and The Lute Player.

Here is how I would describe it:

Sunday the 22nd of August 1875. I saw today an enchanting young woman on the river, bathed in golden sunlight. I cannot remove her from my mind.”

So begins the obsession of a man of wealth and influence, its darkening shadow spreading from southern France to Paris, to Cochin China and Spain, altering lives. For some it will be fatal; some will find freedom. A former detective, a society beauty, an imperial concubine, a painter, as well as the girl herself, are all subject to its thrall – and each have passions of their own. Victim or agent. Guilty or innocent. You decide.

All of my books reflect three important aspects:

  • My long career in the Foreign Office with much experience in drafting
  • An unshakeable commitment to writing stories featuring strong female lead characters (I greatly enjoy writing decisive parts for women) and
  • Blending into each tale drama, perfidy, musical threads and of course costume.

As a diplomat, I was taught – amongst other things – the importance of observing (as another source of information) human nature with its lighter and often darker side, the latter often concealing secrets and destructive frailties.

From the many I’ve encountered in my long diplomatic life I have been able to assemble – by picking and mixing – a rich array of players to appear in my stories. This latest tale of obsession and the dark place to which it can often lead has enabled me to delve once more into my personal treasury of recollections of those I’ve met over the years to paint yet again the good and the bad in human behaviour.

As the sign outside my study door in Norfolk states:

Careful or
You’ll End Up in 
My Novel.

Not the retiring type…

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.

You can read the full piece online.


Reflecting on five novels in five 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 (the Herzberg trilogy) 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 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.

Why diplomats make good authors

As a former diplomat and strong advocate of the long view in history, I think I’ve got more experience than most of the good and bad in human nature amongst the many people I’ve met in my career. Like many authors I draw extensively on this experience in my writing, and A Motif of Seasons is no different.

For example, many things I learned and witnessed during my four-year posting to Berlin from 1985-89 made their way into the German settings in the book. In particular, I drew on my knowledge of diplomacy and how it works (little has changed in its principles and basic application over the past 200 years). It also informed the development of one of the main characters, lawyer Charles Hardinge, whose shrewd ability to observe events, people and their motives would have made him a good diplomat.

My diplomatic background also meant that I was able easily to draw on forty years of being part of the British foreign policy-making machine: of meeting particular historical figures (such as Henry Kissinger, US President Ford and Margaret Thatcher); as well as brave young Iraqis risking their lives to come to work in the Foreign Ministry I was helping to reform after the fall of Saddam Hussein; and not least the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iraq at the time, a close personal friend who was assassinated.

Above all, however, it is my first-hand experience of the extent to which fate – the unexpected – often has an impact on human affairs that has influenced my writing the most.