I am delighted to announce that Harper Collins have acquired the rights to my next book, The Very White of Love, which will be published as a novel in 2018.
They are the perfect fit: a big publishing house, with a strong vision of how they want to promote the book. The editor working on it, Charlotte Mursall, said she was “utterly thrilled” to acquire the book.
I have worked on this book, on and off, for about five years. It’s a very different book from the P&M, and a very personal one, and I do hope that you will all like it as such as you like the Poet and The Murderer. Here’s the back story:
As I was sorting through my mother’s possessions after her death in 2005, I found a battered, cardboard chocolate box at the bottom of her wardrobe. It was decorated with red roses and tied with a piece of red ribbon. Inside, I found bundles of faded love letters, tightly bound with string and fastened with tiny knots.
The letters were from my mother’s fiancé, Martin Preston, the nephew of the poet, Robert Graves. They had met at Oxford in 1938 – she was working as a secretary in London; Martin was at St. Edmund’s College – and they had fallen madly in love. They little time to be in love, though, because with the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Martin enlisted with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, travelling to northern France in January 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force. At age 20, he was the youngest Lieutenant in the battalion. Shortly before he left, they got engaged.
The Bucks Battalion ended up at Hazebrouck, in May 1940, fighting a rearguard action to try and prevent the Germans from annihilating the retreating British army, which was heading pellmell towards Dunkirk. Surrounded and outgunned, they fought almost till the last man standing, eventually holed up in the basement of an orphanage in the centre of Hazebrouck. Shortly after midnight, on May 30th. 1940, Martin was sent out on patrol to try and make contact with the remaining forces on the outskirts of the town. He never returned.
I had always known of Martin’s existence. Right up to her death, under the glass on her dressing table, next to pictures of my father and her three children, she kept a faded photograph of Martin, sitting on a bench in Oxford, in a cricket blazer, his thick, brown hair swept back off his forehead.
Yet she had never spoken much about the story of her love affair. Who was this dreamy-looking, young man, who looked up at us from under the glass? What happened to him? What was his -and their – story? The more I read his letters to my mother, the more I wanted to find out.
The box of letters propelled me on a journey of discovery that took me from the house in Beaconsfield where Martin lived to the lanes around Penn where he and Nancy walked; from the battlefields of northern Europe to historical archives and abandoned blockhouses on the Maginot Line. Each letter unpacked a bit more of the story. Each letter threw up new questions. Piecing together the narrative, I discovered the story my mother never fully discovered: the truth about Martin’s disappearance.