One of the reasons I started writing novels was that I simply couldn’t find enough of the kind of fiction I wanted to read in the shops. It turned out that there were a lot of readers who shared my taste for tightly plotted mystery thrillers and we’ve enjoyed a very happy relationship over the years.
From the outset, I resisted the format of a serial character, because I wanted the freedom stand-alone stories would give me. I could range widely both geographically and historically, exploring themes that interested me, wherever and whenever they were set. I believed that would mean I could retain storytelling freshness. And it’s felt like that’s worked. The object of the exercise is to enjoy writing what other people enjoy reading.
Plotting is the aspect of the craft of writing that seems to get least critical attention. Yet it’s probably the most demanding part of the process. A lot of it is – or should be – invisible to the reader. It’s about the scenes that don’t get written as much as those that do. It’s about what’s happening elsewhere during a scene – the consequences and complications of the unfolding action.
The trilogy I embarked on with The Ways of the World and have continued with The Corners of the Globe is a classic case of that. The greater scope offered by a trilogy means I can explore the interactions of characters and events at greater length. I hope the result will be an immersion in the joy of plot.
This is not a traditional saga-style trilogy. In fact, whereas my previous stand-alone novel, Fault Line, was a thriller spread over more than forty years, these three books cover no more than four months in the spring and summer of 1919. There are two natural breaks in the story, making it particularly suitable for splitting into three, and each book is self-contained in many ways, but at the end of each a window opens naturally into the next.
The other reason a trilogy seemed fitting for this story was the scale of the event that gave me the idea for it in the first place. The Paris peace conference of January-June 1919 carved up most of the globe at the end of the First World War. I’ve always been interested in the intrigues and machinations surrounding the event and felt sure there was a book to be set amidst them. The character of Travis Ireton, pedlar of secrets between the different delegations, is representative of the sort of fixers and chancers who hung around the shadowy margins of the conference proper.
The Treaty of Versailles has been blamed by historians for many of the ills of the twentieth century – not to mention the twenty-first. I saw these books as a chance to come to grips with some of the extraordinary things that happened in Paris while the conference that culminated in that treaty was under way.
It also meant I could use as my central character, James Maxted (known as Max) someone who, rather than being traumatised by the war he has just survived, rather misses the thrill of combat. As an RFC pilot lucky to emerge intact, he is used to taking risks with his own life. This gives me the freedom to see just what can be accomplished by a man with that kind of background.
In fact, one of the real pleasures of this trilogy of connected novels has been the development of the characters, many of whom are more important to the final outcome than appears to be the case at the start. Malory Hollander, Ireton’s secretary, is a case in point. She will repay watching.
The Ways of the World is set largely in Paris, but in The Corners of the Globe, as the title implies, the story goes further afield. All the while, the momentum is building towards the climactic third book, in which I’m happily immersed at the moment.
The conclusion, I promise, will be unforgettable. Meanwhile, enjoy the journey!
The first part of the trilogy, The Ways of the World, was published in paperback on 5th June and the second part, The Corners of the Globe, is published on 4 July.