The Prodigal Daughter
At last! The Prodigal Daughter, the second novel in my Food of Love trilogy is finally done and dusted and will be out on September 15th. It’s my sixth book of fiction but was by far the most difficult to write. I guess I’d not realised just how hard it would be to keep track of a growing family of characters, making sure I didn’t give someone green eyes in 1972 when they had blue eyes in ‘45, and having to bump off characters to make room for new ones. I had a clutch of protests when, in the first book, one of the women dies. Even my brother texted me in indignation “How could you? How dare you? She was my favourite.”
And then it took plenty of re-writes until I felt I’d managed to give readers who haven’t read the first book, enough back-story for them to catch up and be engaged, without irritating readers who have.
Most tricky of all was making sure there were no anachronisms. It drives me mad when a character in a TV period drama uses some modern phrase like “No problem”, “You wish!” or “In your dreams.” I found the war period in the first book easier, because things like Spam, dried egg, gas masks and rationing were so clearly of the period, but distinguishing the sixties and seventies from each other for this book was much tougher. When was the Dansette wind-up record player replaced by an electric one? When did frozen TV dinners come on the market? Thank God for Google.
When I wrote The Gardener, in 2003 I spent happy hours in the New Bodleian Library in Oxford studying eighteenth century estate maps and gardening books and the list of people I had to thank for their expert knowledge was long. But now there are hardly any real people to thank, just the internet. Google is quick and efficient, and I’m told Wikipedia is more accurate than the Encyclopaedia Britannica so I’m duly grateful. But the web is not as much fun as a library or real people.
Many writers, myself included, find research for a novel one of the best things about writing. And even Google doesn’t know everything. For this trilogy I’ve talked to retired midwives in their nineties who were delivering babies in the forties, to sheep farmers castrating lambs before the war, to chefs who worked in the Savoy in the seventies. The temptation is to put all the fascinating information you glean into the novel, and the art is in only using what you really have to and which is necessary for the story. When I was writing A Serving of Scandal, about an alleged affair between the Foreign Secretary and a government caterer, it was almost impossible not to include political shenanigans in what is essentially a love story. But then my editor at Quercus, Jane Wood, is good at slapping my wrists and bringing me back to what matters: the characters and the story with demands to “dig deeper” and get back to the love story.
And The Prodigal Daughter is certainly a love story: about the love of a mother for her lost son, of a daughter for first one brother and then the other, of the long secret love of a good man for an unpredictable woman. I hope you like it.