The three-book series The Agricola Solution is now complete.
Book 1, A Barbed Wire Peace, picks up Philip’s story three years after the end of In the Shade of a Willow and goes through to 1932. Book 2, None So Deaf finds him and his family in Berlin in the 1930s, sent by Sir Wilfred Bembridge to take the political temperature and report back secretly to him. In the third book, A Matter of Dishonour, he battles with an Establishment casually throwing Czechslovakia to the wolves.
(Many people have asked me why the series is called The Agricola Solution. That question is answered about two-thirds of the way through None So Deaf.)
In the first book of this series, A Barbed Wire Peace, we saw Philip’s inability to settle at anything after the war, and his obsession with avoiding any risk of repeating it. We were also introduced to Philip’s family. Emma was the war widow he met right at the end of Willow; they did not delay in producing the twins, Georgina and Toby, because I have plans for them in World War Two. (Sometimes an author can play God – although that can also mean slavery to the characters one has created.) In A Barbed Wire Peace we caught a glimpse of the twins’ characters, and in None So Deaf we met them in greater depth, seeing more of their characters as they were growing up. They feature yet more in the final book of this series as they are now young adults, ready to play their part in the forthcoming war. And as I said above, I have plans for them.
The Matter of Dishonour in the third book’s title refers to the extraordinary contortions that an increasingly dictatorial Neville Chamberlain went through over the Sudetenland crisis. The background to Philip’s story in this period is of course Chamberlain’s ‘management’ of Central European affairs, as though he were managing Queen Victoria’s Empire. Philip’s story, however, concerns those things that Chamberlain so glaringly neglects – not least what the poor old Czechs felt about their very existence being determined in faraway countries by people who know nothing of them (to paraphrase Chamberlain himself).
By this time Philip regards the Agricola Solution as no longer an option, particularly with Toby approaching military age and showing the same annoying tendency his father once possessed – a yearning for excitement. This redoubles Philip’s efforts to avoid the ever-looming prospect of war, and he has a plan which might, just might, save Europe from the Agricola Solution which refuses to die. It’s touch and go, of course…
What of the future? I am now so entwined in the story of the Oakley family that I know how the second European war (WW2) will affect them and what they will do. Suffice it to say that for each of them the war goes in unexpected and unusual directions, throwing light on some of its lesser-known corners and creating heart-stopping moments for each of them. The seeds of much of this were planted way back in A Barbed Wire Peace, and some of the minor characters turn out to be not so minor after all.
I realise of course that I have strayed away from the sort of books I started out writing. Maelstrom was conceived as a straight thriller, as was The Cyclops Ransom; but the latter inevitably indulged my fascination in geopolitics. Although Willow was not itself concerned with such things it saw Philip’s comfortable parochial life shattered and his horizons broadened beyond his wildest imagination. The Agricola books watched him trying to shape Britain’s foreign policy as he fought tooth and nail to save Europe from catastrophe. How close he came, and how possible it might have been in real life if only… The Afterword in A Matter of Dishonour explains how close Philip’s story was to real life events.
I have found it difficult to categorise my books. Why should I bother pigeon-holing them? I wish I could avoid doing so, it would make my life a lot easier, but I must. Let me give you an example of why. Someone told me once that they had searched for Cyclops in the thriller section of their library, only to find it in the General section, alongside Rose Tremain, Graham Greene and Leo Tolstoy. Exalted company indeed, but not the best of bedfellows for guns, bullets and RPGs. Although it was broader than just thrills and spills, I was unconvinced that a reader searching through Tremain, Greene and Tolstoy would stumble across Cyclops and say, ‘Ah yes, this is the sort of thing I was looking for.’ So I must give libraries (and others) some guidance where I think they should place my books, and so I must indicate their ‘genre’. Willow and its successor books, I have decided, fit best in Historical Fiction, but even that I feel is a bit inadequate.
So have I morphed from a writer of thrillers to a writer of historical novels? And – more crucially – have I let some of my earlier readers down in so doing? If I have, should my next book be a straightforward thriller (got to have boats or ships in it; couldn’t not) – or should I go directly on with exploring the less well known heart-stopping moments of WW2 as experienced by Philip, Emma, Gina and Young Toby?
Why don’t you contact me and let me know what you’d like to read next. I would love to hear from you on this or on anything else.