26 Fruits

Meeting points

What seems random, seldom is. ‘Everything is connected’ has been a continuing theme of my life. There are always meeting points.

I was delighted when I was invited to speak at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival about my novels Spanish Crossings and The Good Messenger. Edinburgh is generally considered the leading festival of books in this country, so being asked to take part was a cause for excitement.

Then I was intrigued to have been paired in this event with another novelist, Clare Clark. Not knowing her work I ordered a copy of her latest novel In the Full Light of the Sun. I enjoyed reading it, in part because I was fascinated by the novel’s setting in Weimar Republic Berlin through to Germany in the 1930s.

That was the connection that had been made by EIBF’s programme directors. I had met Roland Gulliver in London last autumn and we had talked about Spanish Crossings and its background of the Spanish Civil War. Roland had been investigating Basque connections, including my book, that have now made their way into a number of festival events.

Add in the fact that my following novel, The Good Messenger, explores the aftermath of the first world war. With the final part set in 1927 it’s clear that the books by Clare Clark and myself share a common interest in the between-the-wars period of the 20th century. Our characters are witnesses to the rise of fascism in Europe at that time.

I suspect that neither Clare nor I wrote our books with a didactic intention to draw parallels and point out lessons. Certainly in my case I had the ideas for the novels in what now seem like innocent times before Trump and Brexit. And yet, perhaps there was something stirring that made it the right time for these books.

It’s still the story that counts. We don’t necessarily read or write historical fiction to compare other periods to today. History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes.

The historical effects of fascism in the 20s and 30s are not exactly mirrored in the right-wing populism of our age, but the echoes and chiming of similarities make us all pause for thought. At the very least, it adds a level of interest that a modern reader brings to such historical stories.

I hope this is an aspect of the novels that readers enjoy. As a writer I tried to put aside any obvious ‘compare then and now’ nudges in the ribs. But there was part of that found interest in seeing earlier times through an inevitably modern lens. Perhaps that’s what gave impetus to the writing of the books – and, if so, what also gives impetus to the reading of them.

Clare Clark and I will be talking about our novels in a conversation hosted by Jamie Jauncey. The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from 10 August till 26 August in Charlotte Square. https://www.edbookfest.co.uk My event is on Sunday 11 August at 3.30 and I hope to see some friendly faces there – though I’m also told that the event is now sold out. I might still see you around as I’ll be dropping into a number of events.


3 Responses

  1. Therese says:

    Congratulations John, it will be a fabulous event about fabulous books!
    Enjoy every second.

  2. An interesting and thoughtful post, John. I’m sure your conversation with Clare Clark and Jamie Jauncy at the festival will be fascinating. Hope it goes well, wish I could be there.

  3. Irene Lofthouse says:

    History certainly ‘rhymes’ John, as spheres of conflict and war keep repeating like a chorus in a poem, song or shanty. I’m sure your event, with Clare and Jamie will be enlightening and informative. Sorry can’t be there.

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