My first novel, Past Caring, was published twenty-five years ago this month, in August 1986. So, these notes aren’t just any notes, but a celebratory silver anniversary set of notes.
I suspect many authors have their first work published in August, traditionally the quietest month of the publishing year after January. It’s a good time for new authors to get a little bit of attention. And boy do they need it! But how are they to get it - particularly if they’re not already a celebrity in another field? Fortunately, newspapers were quite generous with review space for first novels back in the eighties (even the Financial Times gave Past Caring a write-up – I knew mentioning the paper in the second paragraph of the book was a good move) and more than a few people liked what they read about it to the extent of actually going out and buying a copy, something I’d regarded in my more insecure moments prior to publication as wildly improbable. It did well enough to net me a paperback contract and Past Caring went on to become one of the most successful paperbacks of 1987.
Its success was both surprising and unsurprising – surprising because that’s always the way such things feel and unsurprising because one of the reasons I wrote the book was that I couldn’t find enough fiction of the kind I wanted to read and strongly suspected a lot of other people wanted to read as well. My big idea was thus very simple, like all the best ideas: why not write that kind of fiction myself? It’s what I set out quite consciously to do. I planned the story thoroughly before writing a word of it, shaped the characters until I felt I knew them closely and enjoyed writing the book so much I was confident others would enjoy reading it.
I wrote partly about what I knew (twentieth century English political history) and partly about what I imagined – a mystery linking events of the Suffragette era with the 1970s. Like most first novels, Past Caring contains quite a lot of autobiographical material, albeit heavily disguised. The circumstances under which I visited Madeira bear little resemblance to those under which my 1970s narrator, Martin Radford, goes there. But little, of course, isn’t the same as none.
What I ended up with was the kind of book I could live and breathe in. And that’s the kind of book I’ve gone on writing since. Those twenty-five years have flashed by and the stories keep coming. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I finished Past Caring. What I didn’t realize was that I hadn’t really finished anything. I was just beginning.
1910: Distinguished MP Edwin Strafford resigns at the pinnacle of his career, removing himself from the public eye. The woman he loves, and for whom he was willing to sacrifice everything, suddenly and coldly rejects him. All the reasons for his fall from grace are shrouded in darkness.