Her second book Restitution is a love-across-the-lines story set in a dark period of history that shows how acts of love and kindness can resist cruelty and hatred.
The season has turned. Until the last few days I was almost able to persuade myself that we were still in the rump end of summer, a little chilly in the morning and evenings, but warm enough during the day.
Today I noticed that the leaves on the three oaks across the road from our cottage are now turning gold quite rapidly. The season is quite definitely autumn, and the year is on the wane. Each year I try and tell myself that autumn and winter are good for writers: the dark evenings lend themselves to burrowing down and getting on with it.
My work-in-progress is transforming itself, too. I wish I could say it was transforming itself into something more finished (I have to hand in 25,000 words by the end of the month). This isn’t the case, but some kind of corner has been turned. I’m trying to animate my characters, make them less cypher-like and more like real human beings. This has attendant risks. Once they start acting like people they’re apt to do unpredictable things, tossing aside my plans for them and stretching the narrative framework of the book. But they must be given the chance to change and grow or the book won’t live.
In Restitution, my second novel, which has just come out, Alix, a young German aristocrat assaulted by invading Russian soldiers, is forced to metamorphose from an entry in the Almanach de Gotha, (the European nobility’s directory) into a bleeding, suffering, ordinary young woman.
She’d start again, seventeen, without possessions, family ties, home or lover. Born in the ashes of downfall, baptized in the showers of the military hospital, fed by kindly GIs and sent out as a newborn into the unknown.
It’s a turning point in the novel and I need one like it in the new book: a moment in which the protagonists realize that they can never, ever return to being the person they were at the start of their story. I think I’ve identified the chapter where this happens and this will be the part of the book that receives most attention this week.
I can’t help feeling that we’re at a more general turning-point at the moment. There’s no ignoring the news: the world economy will affect everyone. My second novel has come out at a time when people seem to have even less spare cash to spend on ‘non-essentials’–though I’d argue that, for me, books are essentials.
The pressure’s on to transform our writing into ever more compelling fiction; stories that people simply can’t resist, even if they have to turn down the heating and postpone their vacation plans. I wonder if a particular kind of novel will become more popular now? Humor, perhaps? Maybe we’re in for a P G Wodehouse revival: we’ll all want to be back in that pre-lapsarian garden in perpetual June, with nothing but divine mischief to worry us and no concerns about fuel bills.
Yup, the season’s turned.