The Diplomat's Wife
I am interrupting my Icelandic saga to tell you about my new novel which has just come out: The Diplomat's Wife.
It’s not about Magnus, or Iceland, it’s a stand-alone thriller. It's part road trip around Cold War Europe and part pre-World War 2 spy thriller.
For the last ten or so years, I have been alternating my Icelandic crime novels with thrillers on other subjects. I find the change stimulating, and my publisher seems to like it too.
A visit to Iceland provided an important spark for The Diplomat’s Wife.
I knew I wanted to write about the 1930s. In my previous researches I had been amazed at how little education many of the daughters of the aristocracy received - a lot of them didn’t even go to school - and also by how young they were when they married. I wanted to write a story about a highly intelligent, completely uneducated aristocrat, who married young and became involved in some kind of espionage.
I wanted to write about her from the perspective of her old age, when she could look back at her life, her follies and her successes. This suggested a classic front story/back story structure, with maybe the 1970s or 80s and the Cold war as the front story, and the 1930s before World War II as the back story.
But how to link them? A diary? A novel (I had used that in Amnesia)? Two parallel stories?
In November 2018 I attended Iceland Noir, a wonderful crime fiction festival, of which I am sure I will write more in future posts. A speaker couldn’t make it, and so the president of Iceland’s wife’s brother stood in at the last minute. The President of Iceland’s wife is a Canadian named Eliza Reid, and her brother is the author Iain Reid.
He told us about a wonderful book he had written, a true story about a road trip with his grandmother which due to unforeseen circumstances took place in his basement. Over five days, she told him all about her life.
That was the answer! It’s 1979. An 18-year-old schoolboy has to cancel his trip around Europe because he crashes his father’s car. His grandmother comes to the rescue, and suggests he drive her around Europe so she can visit the places she lived as a young diplomat’s wife before the war.
As they cross the channel together, the grandson discovers she has a revolver in her suitcase. And she used to have plenty of dodgy friends for whom capitalism seemed broken and communism seems the answer.
I loved writing the book. I was an 18 year old in 1979, and I well remember my own trip hitch-hiking and Interrailing around Europe that year. I also fondly remember a wicked aunt and a grandmother with a penchant for scandalous stories, and so I roped them in too. I enjoyed spending many months in the company of my younger self, and of my aunt Sarah, and grandmother Beryl.
The result is The Diplomat’s Wife, which is out all over the place: the UK, Australia, Canada and the United States. There are different covers in the UK (at the top of this post) and the US (below).
Back to Iceland next post!