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Here We Go Again …!

There’s a vacuum when a novel is finished, manuscript dispatched to publisher, synopsis, book blurb and AI (advanced information that goes out to bookshops et al) all written. It’s a kind of empty nest feeling – and I’ve been experiencing that restlessness when there is no clear reason to sit down in front of the computer screen each morning to pick up characters and help them on their way to a resolution of sorts.

And for the first time since I started writing novels, I have not fully formed the ideas for my next – which will be my fifth.

Always in the past, I’ve even started the opening chapter of the subsequent book before completing the previous so there’s been something nagging at me to pick up and propel on its way.

But this time is different.

I do have some inkling of the direction in which I want to head, but the project is very much at the teething stages ….

For a start, it’s going to be set or relate heavily to WW2. My characters are going to be born pre-war or in the interwar years. London as always will be a catalyst although I am also searching for another location and am not entirely sure where that is yet.

As a child and teenager, it was WW1 which fascinated me. It was my grandparents’ experiences that I wanted to know about, the war poets I read and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth certainly confirmed my curiosity and attachment to those years.

But now it is the war that only preceded my birth by barely a decade that holds my attention. The war that hovered over and shadowed our childhoods for, after all, it was so very recent. My father was born in 1920, my mother in 1925 and the frustrating thing now is, of course, that I did not ask them enough about their experiences of living through the war. I do remember my mother mentioning how her teenage years were robbed by wartime and failing to have sufficient – if any – sympathy and interest in the fact. I do have some scanty diary entries that she made during 1942/43 and only wish she had been a little more dedicated and committed to her diary-keeping so that I could now make valuable use of her entries!

But fortunately, we live in a time when information is accessible via a keyboard. Already this morning, I have watched a propaganda film made during the blitz while drinking my coffee at my desk, another of the celebrations on VJ day in Piccadilly Circus and looked at numerous photos of shelters and bombed buildings, maps of London bomb sites and ….well, you can imagine – the wealth of material available is endless.

Which brings me to the London Library where this week I gained my readers’ ticket and began to appreciate what an extraordinary treasure trove the place is. I have been late to the party with most things in my life and I am going to add the London library and the ease of access to their endless collections to that list. Endless – since the library houses somewhere in its collections copies of every single book ever published – including mine!

My previous four novels have all been set in times I have lived through. Now, I am tipping my toes into uncharted waters and the need to collect information, to soak up the nature and mood, the very recipe of an era is essential if I am to write with some attempt at authenticity.

Persephone books are a great aid to this process, of course, and in addition to Molly Panter-Downes’ wonderful London War Notes, I will be reading Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of 1940 – 1945. Fortunately, her diaries, unlike my mother’s, run to some 590 pages!

So here we go again. Novel 5 is currently untitled with only the very sketchiest ideas about protagonists – or even plot – but I do know that its pages will not feature mobile phones, the internet, social media, microwaves, decimal currency …nor bananas or oranges, of course!

If you have any stories or anecdotes of family or friends’ experiences during the war, passed down through generations, do let me know: such stories might just find their way into my fifth novel!

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