10 December 2013

Nothing Wasted

by Janice Law

Thanks to Dale Andrews and Terence Faherty, who have kindly given up space so I can announce the publication today, Dec 10, of Prisoner of the Riviera, the second volume of my mystery trilogy featuring that campy bon vivant and artistic genius, Francis Bacon.

Surprisingly, since I rarely plan anything in fiction, I knew from the start that I wanted to do three novels with this character. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the trilogy involved me in the same sort of plot problems that individual novels have caused. Namely, I had a wonderful idea for the beginning: a mystery set against the London Blitz– the Blackouts, sudden death from the sky, spectacular, if dangerous, light effects, and the disorientations of a totally disrupted urban geography. Who could ask for a better setting?

And then Bacon was a character that I found irresistible if rather foreign to my own experience. He was irrepressible and pleasure loving, but hard working, too. And he lived with his old nanny, the detail that convinced me to use him in fiction.

I also had a pretty good idea about the third novel. Painful experience has taught me that it is folly to embark on a project without some idea of the ending. It’s good, if not essential, to know who the killer is, but I find I absolutely need some idea of how the concluding events are going to go down. And I did know, because, just on the cusp of real success, Bacon embarked on his great erotic passion with a dangerous ex-RAF pilot. In Tangiers, no less, the exotic height of romance. How could I go wrong with that?

The problem, as perspicacious readers will have already divined, was the dreaded middle, the getting from the brilliant idea of the opening (for who ever starts a project without the delusive conviction that this idea is really terrific?) to the clever and satisfying (we do live in hope) ending. The solution was not immediately forthcoming and volume 2 might still be just a faint literary hope if not for personal past literary history.

Over every writer’s desk, in addition to Nora Ephron’s mom’s: “Remember, dear, it’s all copy,” I would add, “Remember not every project works out” and “Nothing is wasted.” Years ago, I wrote a novel called The Countess, which borrowed some of the exploits of a real WW2 SOE agent, a Polish countess in exile. I did a lot of research. I read a lot of books. I visited the Imperial War Museum in London. I even made an attempt at beginning Polish.

But just as sometimes a piece one dashes off turns out to be very good, so sometimes one’s heart’s blood is not enough. The Countess was published to small acclaim and smaller sales and I was left with a working knowledge of the French Underground and SOE circuits, plus acquaintance with the toxic politics of Vichy and the right-wing Milice.

Years passed. Although I forgot, as I tend to do, the names of agents and the dates of significant actions, a notion of the infernal complexity of war time France remained, along with the conviction that the post-war must have been a very confusing and often dangerous place.

When I recalled that Francis’s lover had promised him a gambling trip to France after the war, I had the ah-ha moment. The real Bacon, his lover, and his old Nan had actually gone to France. That was good. And what was better was that I could invent a whole range of people who had scores to settle and secrets to hide. What better environment for Francis, who does have a knack for smelling out trouble?

The French setting of Prisoner of the Riviera also enabled me to add one of my passions to the story, as very soon after the war, the French resumed the Tour de France, still the world’s most glamorous bike race. Handsome young men in bike shorts seemed to me to be just the ticket for a vacationing Francis Bacon, and having given him all sorts of obstacles and miseries, it seemed only fair to let him indulge in a little romance.

Finally, we had spent holidays in France, a number of them in the south, and the sights and sounds of the Riviera have lingered in my mind. With both the physical and emotional setting of the novel well in hand, it remained only for me to trust to the Muse to come up with the incidents. She complied and Prisoner of the Riviera, in which in best mystery novel fashion, the hero, having survived Fires of London goes on vacation and finds himself in the soup, was the result.

11 comments:

Robert Lopresti said...

Congratulations, Janet! Terrific backstory, and I just LOVE the title of the book.

Leigh Lundin said...

Your first Bacon novel impressed me, Janice. And just in time for Christmas!

Fran Rizer said...

Janet, I've been looking forward to this article, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. The journey of this book is interesting and shows the many sources that come into producing great books. I'm looking forward to reading it!

David Dean said...

Congratulations, Janice! Fires of London was terrific and I look forward to Prisoner. Best of luck!

Good piece on the process, too!

Perhaps the next time you go to the Rivera for research, I could be of some assistance. I take good notes...very legible.

Eve Fisher said...

I can hardly wait to read it!
Eve

Dale Andrews said...

Congratulations! Sounds like a "must read."

Terence Faherty said...

Congratulations on the new book, Janice! And thanks for the day off.

John Floyd said...

Sincere congratulations, Janice! I know already, from your stories, that this'll be a great book.

Dixon Hill said...

Janice, I’ve long thought Fires of London is an excellent example of how to write a gripping book, based in the past, without letting us (the readers) feel that everything is old hat. Further, speaking as a WWII history buff, you pegged the Blitz far better than any contemporary fiction writer I’ve encountered—and that’s high praise from a guy who nit-picks anything from that time period!

More importantly, you penned your book with a daring choice for the protagonist. And, that choice could not have been better! You not only pulled it off, you made me want to read the entire series. Hurry up and finish number three—will ya’? I’m dying to read that one too!

--Dixon

Janice Law said...

Thanks for all your kind comments.
Dixon, I really appreciate your kind words as I know you know your history. As a matter of fact, the third novel, Moon over Tangiers, has already been bought by mysteriouspress.com

A Broad Abroad said...

Gratulacje!