Letters to Strabo — Shakespeare and Company, Paris


On the train from Nice to Paris, my main protagonist Finn Black meets a solitary, short dapper man called George.

“I guessed he was in his early sixties, with a moustache and rakish grey goatee and a large leather satchel filled with books… He asked me a few questions about my travel experiences and then reached into his satchel and handed me a battered paperback. It was a copy of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

“‘You should try this. I’d be interested to see what you make of it. No one was quite sure about it at the time, but it’s still hot stuff,’ he said chuckling.”

It turns out that George owns and runs a bookstore on the banks of the Seine near Notre Dame. He invites Finn to stay there for a few days. “He only had two rules: to work in the store for two hours a day and to write something, anything, every day.” That suits Finn down to the ground: while his girlfriend Françoise is busy dealing with her art gallery friends in preparation for an exhibit she’s organising, he can get down to some serious writing.

But Finn soon finds out that this bookstore has history, specifically an earlier incarnation was run by a lady called Sylvia Beach who was a friend of Joyce and Hemingway, amongst others. The original Shakespeare and Company was closed in December 1941 during the German occupation of France. It’s been suggested that it may have been ordered shut because Beach denied a German officer the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. When the war ended, Hemingway “personally liberated” the store, but it never re-opened on this site. It was only when George Whitman started the present day store in Sylvia’s honour that the name was restored.


Anyway the history and the things he discovers inspires Finn to begin his own story about his experiences in the south of France. It also leads him to discover more about the exact nature of his relationship with Françoise and his increasing doubts about its sustainability. I won’t give any more spoilers on that here!

Anyway, after I wrote this part of my novel, I came across by chance the section of the film Before Sunset that is set in exactly the same bookstore. So I’ve incorporated this scene in an imaginary interview between the store manager and the writer Adam Black below which links together my own story and the story in the film.

Bookstore Manager: So Adam Black, welcome back to Shakespeare and Company, it’s been almost thirty years, hasn’t it?

Adam Black: It has indeed, but it’s great to be back. I see you still have the famous sign upstairs.

Manager:  “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise?” Yes, of course.

After some more background on the writer’s work, the bookshop manager opens the floor up to questions

French Journalist 1: So do you consider the book to be autobiographical in any way?

Adam: Well I guess everything is autobiographical in a way. There are bits of me in there, but bits of a lot of other people I’ve met too.

French Journalist 1: And the section set here in Paris, in this very bookstore. Was that about you?

Adam: Well, I was here about the same time as Finn visited yes, but the events are of course completely fictional…

French journalist 2: So there was never a girl called Françoise that you met in Spain and travelled with by train to Paris?

Adam: Well, that’s not important; it’s just a story after all

French Journalist 1: Do you think they ever met again after they split up? In real life I mean?

Adam: No. I’m afraid that I don’t think they ever did, sorry, I don’t think they ever would have done.

French Journalist 2: Maybe a subject for your next book?

Adam: Maybe.

At the back of the room he notices a face in the crowd, a beautiful woman wearing dark glasses. He leans over to the bookshop manager and whispers.

Adam: Look, I’m terribly sorry but I’ll have to leave now. I have a plane to catch and still have to shop for my wife.

Manager: No problem…Well thank you Adam, we really appreciate you coming here today. I hope you won’t leave it so long next time!

Adam gets up, talks to one or two admirers and then goes over to the woman waiting patiently.

Adam: Françoise?

The woman: I said you’d include me in one of your books one day.

Adam: And I said I wouldn’t ever do that

The woman: Menteur, I think you already did. Do you want to go for coffee somewhere?

Adam to himself: I think I’m gonna miss that plane.

Letters to Strabo



Love in Lindfield — Jane Burden and the Oxford Union Murals


The Pre-Raphaelite murals in the old Library at the Oxford Union were painted between 1857 and 1859 by a team of young artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.  The paintings depict scenes from the Arthurian legends. My own novel Love in Lindfield incorporates the painting of the murals in a scene where Burne-Jones wife, Georgina, relates how she first met Charles Eamer Kempe at Oxford:

“You asked if I had any recollections of Mr Kempe. Well I certainly do but it was quite a long time ago. The first time I met Mr Kempe was nearly fifty years ago in 1857, about the time he went up to Pembroke. He was a very handsome young man, artistically inclined although he’d gone up to study for the ministry. He was a few years older than me. Ned and Topsy had introduced him to me one day while they were painting murals at the Oxford Union and we dined together that evening.

“When we were introduced, I remember he immediately made a very good impression on me – he was both serious and shy; but as I later learned, had an ever-curious manner and an amusing and avuncular humour. I remember him telling me over dinner that his chosen course had been to go into the Church. It was his first love, he said. Indeed his only ambition had been to follow the ministry of Christ. But he’d found that his speech problems were a great impediment, preventing him from easily preaching in public. Fortunately, at Oxford he’d come across a whole series of new influences. An alternative course of action had begun to open up to him. Inspired by Ruskin’s ‘Seven Lamps’, he’d started a detailed study of local ecclesiastical architecture.”

Unfortunately the painting of the murals had proved to be a bit of a disaster. As the letter goes on to explain: “Ruskin and Rossetti had organised the whole project. But unfortunately there’d been a forced pause in the proceedings while unexpected technical issues were resolved, so they’d temporarily returned to London.” In fact, the attempt by the painters to paint onto freshly applied distemper had resulted in the images fading as they were exposed to light from the upper windows of the library.

“The need to work in distemper at height between large whitewashed windows meant that the chalk and size-tempered paint was already fading. They’d originally planned to have the job finished by the end of the Long Vacation, but it was October and still the murals were nowhere near done. 

But after a while I could tell that he was ill at ease. We were standing next to Topsy’s nearly finished mural: ‘How Sir Palomydes Loved La Belle Iseult’. He looked somewhat disturbed by it, but pretended politely to admire the brushwork.

‘It’s most remarkable in form,’ Kempe volunteered. Topsy frowned and Ned laughed. I could tell Topsy was annoyed.

‘The young man’s right Topsy, quite remarkable!’

Cropped_Oxford Union Mural_Morris (1 of 1)

‘I believe it has some merits as to colour, young man, but I must confess I should feel much more comfortable if it had disappeared from the wall as I’m conscious of it being extremely ludicrous in many ways,’ Topsy whispered between his teeth. He turned to look at Rossetti who was inspecting his own less complete work, ‘Sir Launcelot’s Vision of the Sanc Grael’, on the other side of the room.

‘How are you pleased with it, Gabriel?’ he shouted.


‘It’s beginning to be unintelligible,’ Rossetti replied, cursing. Indeed, the glare of the sunlight from a gap in the whitewashed windows made the detail almost impossible to see. Only the radiance of its variegated tints gave any great impression of its rendering. You could just discern the face of his new muse, painted in the form of Guinevere standing amongst the branches of an apple tree. She was staring down at the sleeping Launcelot with the Holy Grail by his side. There was no mistaking her dark, crinkly hair, her slightly tilted nose, enormous dark eyes and sublimely long neck.

This woman of course was the famous Jane, who later became Morris’s wife. The paintings were repainted and survive today.

Jane Burden was born in Oxford, the daughter of a stableman. Her mother Ann was illiterate and probably came to Oxford as a domestic servant. Little is known of Jane Burden’s childhood, but it was poor and deprived.

In October 1857, Burden and her sister Elizabeth, known as “Bessie”, attended a performance of the Drury Lane Theatre Company in Oxford. Jane Burden was noticed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Struck by her beauty, they asked her to model for them. Burden sat mostly for Rossetti as a model for Queen Guinevere and afterwards for William Morris. During this period, Morris fell in love with Burden and they became engaged, though by her own admission she was not in love with Morris.


She remains one of the deepest inspirations for the pre-Raphaelite movement.

Letters to Strabo — poets and painters in the South of France


Finn and Francoise continue their rail journey over the French border stopping at the town of Collioure. Here they stop to take in the setting painted so often by the likes of Matisse:

“The town is French, but has a distinct Catalan feel. At the time of our visit, it was recovering from its annual Saint Vincent festival. As we descended through medieval streets from the station towards the sea, we caught glimpses of the royal castle and lighthouse luxuriating confidently around a picture-perfect Mediterranean bay. I felt instantly relaxed as we wandered the narrow alleyways soaking in the comfortable conspiracy of its street life, as if I had shed a northern skin. The tint of azure water, the deep terracotta roofs, the colorful mix of scruffy children and bourgeois old-timers has inspired a myriad of iconoclasts over the years, including Braque, Picasso and, of course, Matisse. It seemed a lovely, tranquil place.”

“However, we soon discovered the town had a grittier side too. It was the death place of one Antonio Machado, an exiled Spanish poet, who crossed the border with his elderly mother in 1938, in the face of Franco’s advancing Republicans. Poignantly, his last homesick poem: Estos dias azules y este sol de infancia (These blue days and this sun of childhood), was found on his dead body, buried in the pocket of his tattered overcoat. I bought a book of his poetry in the town to read later in his honor.”

After a brief stay in Nice, our couple continue on to the Cap d’Antibes, where they spend a day in the shadows of the rich at the magnificent Hotel du Cap:

“If the hotel was astounding, the clientele were even more so. I didn’t dare look at the waiters in case I was presented with a hundred buck magnum. It was as if it was still inhabited by the likes of Fitzgerald’s Dick and Nicole Diver and their glittering friends. Murder, incest, neuroses…the setting contained more than enough to inspire any writer!”

“That evening, we returned back to the bright lights of Nice where we stayed one more night. We made love on the balcony looking out at the stars across that enchanted garden. There were crickets and lemon trees and ivory strains from the piano bar below; what further encouragement could I guy get? It was a long and passionate night.”

The next day our couple take the morning express to Paris.

“The train was one of those beautiful streamlined machines the French do so well. In our smart compartment there were a number of classy-looking couples and a solitary short dapper man sitting opposite. I guessed he was in his early sixties, with a moustache and rakish grey goatee and a large leather satchel filled with books.”

George owned a bookstore on the Left Bank, the setting for the next stage of Finn’s adventures in Paris…parisnice

Letters to Strabo

Death in Leamington — a poem by Sir John Betjeman


She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev’ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa

The opening lines of Sir John Betjeman’s poem Death in Leamington, gave me the inspiration for both the title and one of the characters in my crime novel based in this elegant town in the English Midlands. The murder of an elderly foreign visitor sets off an intricate chain of events, surprising literary encounters and one too many unexplained and gruesome deaths. For those who are interested there is a great YouTube video of Kenneth Williams and Dame Maggie Smith reading the poem on the Parkinson Show:

In addition to the name of the poem itself, I incorporated some of the idea of the poem with my character Winnie Norbury, a once-famous Shakespearean actress languishing in a Leamington nursing home who is suffering from early onset dementia. After the murder in Clarendon Square she witnesses from her upstairs window the subsequent road accident in which the murdered foreign businessman’s assailants are mowed down on their moped by a mysterious black car. She provides the vital clue in tracking down the car. The clue is hidden in the interchange below, between her and the nurse Izzie who finds her in a state of some distress:

‘MAB, MAB, busy old MAB!’ Izzie heard Winnie crying.

‘Winnie, what is it? Calm down love,’ she shouted at her down the corridor of the nursing home.

‘MAB! MAB, busy old MAB!’

‘OK, OK, Winnie, I’m coming!’ she called.

‘I don’t know what’s come over her – she’s just this minute started screaming her head off,’ shouted the bemused Czech nurse as Izzie ran down the corridor towards Winnie’s bedroom. It was nearly the end of her shift, what had seemed like the longest shift ever and she was looking forward to meeting Penn at her bedsit in less than an hour.

‘MAB!’ something in Winnie’s cry curdled Izzie’s blood.

Death in Leamington

You’ll have to read on I am afraid to understand what happens to both Winnie and Izzie next as I don’t want to give away that plot point, however you can be assured that Death in Leamington continues unabated just as in Betjeman’s poem! The book is available directly through Troubador publishing or on Amazon:


I will leave you with the closing lines of Betjeman’s poem.

“Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
At the gray, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev’ning
Drifted into the place.

She moved the table of bottles
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.”


Letters to Strabo — Being Barcelona

After visiting Seville, Finn and Francoise carry on by train to Barcelona. They were told the cathedral might take a further fifty or sixty years to finish. It was as if it revealed the very synapses of Gaudí’s mind in its raw incompleteness:

“Of course, Barcelona didn’t disappoint. How could it? Even then it had a sophistication that made it feel like it belonged to another country. If Madrid was the regal but sterile wife, Barcelona was the fertile and fecund mistress.”

“We started at La Sagrada Família and were immediately left in awe at its sheer verticality, its tangled and absurdly swollen outlines. A furtive combination of lifts and spiral staircases took us inside the narrow pinnacles of the Nativity Façade, decorated with jewel-like glass and mosaics, some of which the guide told us ‘only the angels would see’. Back at ground level, we cowered under the forest of marbled columns that soared into the vibrant canopy above.”

“After our iced drinks, we headed purposely towards the area called Las Ramblas. As soon as we got there we noticed a crowd gathered in one of the squares and for a while watched a curious happening performed by a man made-up as a clown. He was parodying a Holy Week parade with papier-mâché figures, supported by what appeared to be members of the local gay community, tattooed and dressed in wild, flamboyant clothing. Françoise asked one of the spectators who the man was. He was apparently Ocaña, a painter and street artist who was very popular.”

But that wasn’t, however, the end of our romantic adventures for the day. The bar we chose was full of young kids, many of them hosts and hostesses from the trade fair. It had recently been refurbished with modern art dotted amongst the original oak furniture and wrought-iron balustrades. We were about to order when a group of young Spaniards on the next table invited us to join them. I wasn’t sure given they were speaking Catalan, but of course Françoise accepted without hesitation. My doubts were confirmed, however, when one of the prettier boys started hitting on her straight away. She didn’t seem to discourage him either. There then followed another of those conversations that seemed to follow me around everywhere I went on that surprising peninsula.

‘Eres Americano?’ asked one of the girls seated across the table from me, when she saw I was temporarily free of my own chica.

‘Yes, is there a problem with that?’ I replied probably over-aggressively. I was on my guard and getting mighty hacked-off about the other guy coming on to Françoise.

‘Be calm, you are too serious, my friend. Que sólo están jugando – they are just playing. You are deep with una pasión, no?’

We were young and that, after all, was what Barcelona was all about. Politics could wait.

Letters to Strabo


Searching for Amber — finding Jade

“Jade lies stretched out on a towel on the beach, studying the silver rings on her fingers, the sheen of drying moisture on her faintly tanned skin, the ripples of toneshadow
around her ribs. Thoughts pass through her mind like quicksilver, grains of new ideas bright as magnesium. She is brave shining fortune, newly crafted on this bitter
shore; she feels torn between humility and delight. She is determined and her ambition plain for there is a knowing smile written across her face.”

Searching for Amber is an engaging exploration of love, violence, betrayal and loss, told through beautiful writing, natural imagery and poetry. When Jade, a passionate young photographer, is attacked by drug pushers and saved by the brooding shipwright Martin, she becomes increasingly obsessed with her reluctant hero’s tragic back-story. Her pursuit of Martin’s affection and her consequent obsessive search for Martin’s lost sister, Amber, ultimately leads Jade to discover the truth about her own mother, who abandoned her as a baby in the late 1950s, and the tragic events that led to her disappearance.

I chose the name Jade initially as a counterpoint to the name of the tragic main character Amber. But as I began to develop her character, I found a strong young woman in her own right. A talented young photographer, who is determined the help her new friend Martin find out what really happened to his mother. Her inspiration is both love and curiosity. She is meticulous in her craft and her search, like the lens of a camera, looking for clues, for perspective.

“The shredded scenery flapping around her dances in the rising wind, moving with the giddiness of an incomplete plot. She re-runs her earlier thoughts in her mind to confirm
her own understanding of the next stages of her plan. Between hers and the profile of any child there is virtually nothing; but she is already attractive, desired, exciting. She
brushes the silk of her scarf away from her eyes, takes her faithful camera from the denim bag lying by her side, lifts it and begins to work methodically again, as if physically stretching the pebble ridges of the beach like calico with her lens.”


In fact, I have since used Jade’s character in each of my first four novels. She played a small part as a photographer in Death in Leamington and as one of the two fracking protesters in Love in Lindfield and we meet up with her as a young art student on the steps of  Sacre Coeur in Letters to Strabo. Never waste a good character!

“The girls, Jade, Sally and Lucy, were art students on their first trip to Europe. They were mighty excited. Inevitably, unworthy thoughts began to form in my mind as the stars pierced the twilight. OK, it really didn’t take much to put those sorts of ideas into my head in those days.”

Letters to Strabo — Columbus in Seville

The Archivo General de Indias, “General Archive of the Indies”), housed in the ancient merchants’ exchange of Seville, the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes, is the repository of extremely valuable archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. It forms the backdrop for the next stage in Finn’s journey round the Mediterranean after Lisbon:

“I was anyway determined to visit the famous Archivo de Indias while I had the chance, a treasury of maps and relics that was fabled to contain drawer after drawer of documents from Seville’s great period of exploration. I’d read that Columbus’s plan to cross the Ocean westward to India had been supported by several notions in Strabo; the passage that reputedly influenced him the most was a quotation from Eratosthenes.”


“It was mid-afternoon by the time the train finally pitched into Seville. Exhausted, we took a pony-trap to a small hotel in the Calle Rodrigo Caro, nestled in a courtyard near the cathedral. On one side our room overlooked a patio shaded by orange trees, on the other a balcony opened on to the street.

That evening, we ambled through endless alleys and squares till we reached a stone villa right on the outskirts of the city center. It was surrounded by a high brick wall within a small clearing in a grove of olive trees. There was a large, gaudily painted wooden gate at the front. She unlatched the gate as if she knew the place and we passed through.

Inside was a charming patio, fringed tidily with palms and bright geraniums. There were a number of docile-looking dogs lying chained and disinterested along one wall. I could hear the sound of running water from a fountain nearby and the clear and perfectly enunciated plucking of a guitar within the house. Françoise called out and the music stopped. A man in an open white shirt walked out of the shadows to greet us, holding the guitar. I recognized him at once.


‘Such a delight to meet you, Mr Finn,’ he said, kissing me on one cheek and then the other. ‘Of course I normally detest Americans, but for the delicious Françoise, of course, I will make an exception, just for this one evening.’

‘It’s just Finn,’ I replied testily. No ‘mister’ and we’ve met before, remember? I thought to myself. ‘My surname’s Black,’ I added, trying to ignore his rather strange idea of a welcome. 

‘Ah Black, that I can see already, mi amigo negro,’ he replied. ‘Does your girlfriend avoid pleasure, too?’

‘Raul, sois sage,’ she barked. ‘It’s well-known that most anti-Americanism has its roots in l’impuissance sexuelle.’

‘El beso de la mujer araña (the kiss of the spider woman),’ he laughed. But she seemed to have won that round. And it kinda set the tone of the conversation for the rest of the evening!”

Letters to Strabo

Love in Lindfield — Julia and Alice

‘My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real & Ideal & sacrificing nothing of Truth by all possible devotion to poetry and beauty.’
– Julia Margaret Cameron to Sir John Herschel, 31 December 1864

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 79) was one of the most important and innovative photographers of the 19th century. Best known for her powerful portraits, she also posed her sitters – friends, family and servants – as characters from biblical, historical or allegorical stories. Her photographs were rule-breaking: intentionally out of focus, and often including scratches, smudges and other traces of her process. In her lifetime, Cameron was criticised for her unconventional techniques, but also celebrated for the beauty of her compositions and her conviction that photography was an art form.

Love in Lindfield includes the story of a visit by Charles Kempe with his boyhood friend Skef Dodgson and his brother Charles (Lewis Carroll) to Julia Margaret Cameron at her home at Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight.  Mrs Cameron is photographing a woman named Alice Liddell (who as a girl was the inspiration for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) and her sisters for her King Lear series. Lear is played by Cameron’s husband. Also part of the party that weekend were the actress Ellen Terry (below left) and Cameron’s niece Julia, the mother of Virginia Woolf.

“At last, Mrs Cameron appeared, flowing into the lodge’s drawing room wearing her trademark red Ceylonese Chuddah shawl and flamboyant violet robes (fringed with dust). Up to that point, she’d been busy preparing the bedrooms for us with the help of her maid Mary. Unlike her famed sisters at Little Holland House, she is by her own admission no particular beauty, but she makes up for that deficit hugely with her extraordinary antique style. I noticed that her face was dirty and smeared and her hands were stained black (I later learned this was caused by the chemicals of her trade). I’d heard before that she was a most tender-hearted and generous woman, if a little unconventional. She is clearly fanatical about her photography too, a hobby that started when she was presented with a camera by her daughter ten years ago.

‘You’re most welcome, my friends. When strangers take this house I keep the door between us locked; with friends never,’ she gushed, and invited us upstairs to see our rooms. After settling in, we heard the gong and went down to the dining room where a simple but inviting spread had been laid out for us.

We were joined for high tea by Mrs Cameron’s niece, Julia, and several other family members who were staying nearby at the time. After taking tea, we all went into the studio where we reviewed the first prints from the previous day’s photographic session.

Mr Kempe was fascinated to learn how they had all been printed on to finely grained paper coated with egg white, using light-sensitive nitrate of silver fixed with ‘hypo’ (the common name for sodium thiosulphate, I understand). We watched while Mrs Cameron carefully posed Alice into a series of new scenes. Her camera seemed quite an unsophisticated affair, consisting of a large exposure box which had a slot to take the glass plate negatives. These had been pre-soaked with the chemical called ‘collodion’ before being dipped into the silver nitrate in her dark room in preparation for the ‘exposure’. The box camera stood on a tripod that was fixed to the ground. Having arranged the light, she beguiled her patient sitter into standing stock-still, unable to bat even an eyelid, as she removed the lens cap and began to make the short exposure.

The new portrait was almost full length, her subject elegantly coiffed and dressed in a defiantly adult style, leaning pensively on her hand looking directly at the camera. The pose reminded me of my brother’s earlier and now famous photograph of her as the young Alice; the timeless Alice.”

Love in Lindfield

Letters to Strabo — Meeting Don Quixote at the Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon

After Finn and Francoise meet in Bilbao, they set off on an extended train journey to Paris. Their first stop is the pulsing city of Lisbon where they discover the famous Pastéis de Belém, still made in a bakery which has recreated the original recipe since 1837:

“We headed towards the Café Belém, famed for its patisserie. It was heaving. When we entered, the noisy interior was hot and sticky in the thick afternoon air. We had to wait in line to be served but it was well worth it. When we got to the front, the custard tarts more than made up for the wait; they were dripping exotically with sugar and cinnamon. We washed them down with strong coffee served in little paper cups, crossing our arms amorously as we did. She had a way of looking at me with those sapphire-blue eyes which made me feel I was all she wanted…”

Soon they come across a misfit Spanish-speaking couple arguing noisily. Finn draws the ire of the man as he admires Finn’s companion:

“‘You want to play with her, I play with you. Look, I compare you, because of our frightfully mechanized epoch, to a kind of Don Quixote, without any other windmill before you than your own head…’

Letters to Strabo

Death in Leamington — Mysteries, Enigmas and Variations

Death in Leamington

Elgar wrote of his Variations: “The Enigma I will not explain — its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed.” One theme – endlessly talked about – and fourteen variations on it. Each variation was the result of a parlour game between Elgar and his wife, Alice.

He’d played the theme to her, which he described as ‘nothing much, but something might be made of it’. He then proceeded to improvise how it might sound played either in the style of – or in tribute to – their closest friends. Between then and publication in 1899, the ‘enigma’ legend was added. Scholars have long since decoded the half-disguises to the various ‘friends within’ each movement, but the name and indeed the very nature of the central enigma itself endures.

Death in Leamington is also a mystery and an enigma, a ‘detective novel’ set in the genteel English midlands’ town. The murder of an elderly foreign visitor sets off an intricate chain of events (and further gruesome deaths!). Foolishly or maybe puzzlingly I chose to base the fifteen main characters on the original sources of Elgar’s own variations.

The easy ones are hopefully obvious: Eddie (‘E.D.U. — Elgar himself), Alice (C.A.E — Elgar’s wife); Hugh (H.D.S.-P — one of Elgar’s best friends) and Inspector Hunter (the best known of all — Nimrod). Others are a little more contrived: Richard Baxter — Eddie and Alice’s neighbour (R.B.T. — a rather colourful Oxford professor who the eagle-eyed among you may also have spotted as the young hippie Dickie Baxter in my latest novel Letters to Strabo); WPC Penny Dore (Dorabella) and Dan the Bulldog (the dog that falls into the water half way through variation G.R.S). The rest I will leave you to guess i.e. Pearl the Singer’s connection to variation ‘Troyte’. Only one variation is still in dispute that of the true identify of ‘Romanza’, fittingly so also in my story.

I’ll finish with the rest of that Elgar quote: “…further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played…the chief character is never on the stage.”