Richard and Judy's Blog
Richard on his new novel Some Day I’ll Find You
Friday 5 July 2013
Hi everyone – thanks for dropping by. A lot of you have been curious to know what my first novel, Some Day I’ll Find You, is about, and it’s tricky to summarise it in 140 characters on Twitter – so I thought I’d blog it here, especially as quite a few have already pre-ordered it. I don’t want you buying a pig in a poke!
Fundamentally it’s a psychological thriller, but it starts deceptively as a love story set against the backdrop of the second world war. I say love story: only one of my two central characters is genuinely in love. That’s Diana, a Cambridge student with extremely wealthy parents.
James – James Blackwell – is a fighter pilot in the same squadron as Diana’s brother, and from the day he meets her, he is determined to marry her. Not because he is smitten: James is incapable of love. He is a true psychopath; manipulative, controlling, and dangerous. But he hides his true character behind a mask of charm, wit and guile. Only we know the inner man; I reveal something of what he is capable of in a flashback to his grammar school days. We see him blackmailing his headmaster, and doing it extremely effectively, too.
The first third of the book takes place in England between September 1938 and the summer of 1940. That passage ends violently and tragically.
Parts two and three of the novel take place ten years later, in the spring and early summer of 1951, on the French Riviera, where Diana has gone to live with her second husband. While post-war Britain England is cold, dirty, bombed out and bankrupt - and still in the iron grip of rationing – life in the South of France is in utter contrast; warm, luxurious, and impossibly glamorous.
In fact the short prologue of the book opens there, before we flash back to 1938 and the beginning of Diana’s story. So here is the prologue now. I hope it gives you a flavour of what is to come.
Some Day I’ll Find You, by Richard Madeley.
Diana sat at her usual table outside the pavement café reading her morning paper. There were still many words she didn’t understand, but after two months her French was definitely improving. Everyone told her so.
She searched the pages for the weather forecast. Not that she needed to: it was obviously going to be another beautiful day. The sky above Nice flower-market was an unbroken blue and even though it was early April, the air was warm and still. The cut flowers on the stalls packed into the square around her would be impossible to find anywhere back home, this early in the year.
It had been below freezing for weeks in shivering, rationed-to-the-hilt England. She’d spoken by telephone to her father in Kent the night before.
‘You’re much better off down there, Diana,’ he told her. ‘Lots of sunshine and plenty of food. Rationing here goes from bad to worse. You wouldn’t think we’d won the bloody war.’
A taxi came slowly round the corner, past a little grove of orange trees that lined the centre of the road. It was a shabby brown pre-war Citroen, all the windows down in the spring warmth. She stood up to hail it, before realising it already carried a passenger and wasn’t going to stop.
As it passed her, she saw the silhouette of a man sitting in the back. He was leaning forward and speaking, in English, to the driver.
‘No, not here. I told you - it’s much further up. Keep going all the way to the Hotel Negresco. And get a move on – I’m late enough as it is.’
Diana swayed and gripped the back of her chair. Impossible.
‘Stop!’ she called at last as the taxi reached the top of the square and began to turn on to the Promenade des Anglais. ‘Oh please, stop!’
But the Citroen entered the flow of traffic and disappeared down the long curving road that bordered the sparkling Mediterranean.
‘Madame?’ It was Armand, the patron, solicitous. ‘Do you have a problem?’
‘No, no…’ She sat down again. ‘Everything’s fine, really.’
But she was lying.
Everything was wrong.
So that’s the prologue. Then, as I say, chapter one starts 13 years earlier, in England in 1938. Diana is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Arnold; he is a successful libel lawyer, she is an artist, a painter (but not as talented a one as she thinks).
The Arnolds live in the beautiful Dower House on the edge of the Weald of Kent. Diana is away at Girton college, Cambridge and her older brother John is at Cranwell RAF College, training to be a fighter pilot.
He befriends another young officer, James Blackwell, and one fateful weekend brings him home to Kent for Sunday lunch with his parents and sister. James is extraordinarily good-looking, charming, and funny.
He is also, as we the reader swiftly learn, what today we would call a psychopath; profoundly manipulative, emotionally detached, and ruthless. He is a super-bright grammar school scholarship boy from a dirt-poor East End background who has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Now, at the Arnold’s dining table, he coolly decides to make a play for Diana. The Arnold’s are very comfortably off, Diana is bright and breathtakingly beautiful: the family will provide him with his next step up in life.
Part one of the book is the story of James and Diana’s affair set against the backdrop of gathering war clouds. John and James get their wings and are posted to a Spitfire squadron in Essex. War comes and they see battle over the beaches of Dunkirk. This is in no way a ‘war novel’, by the way, but the war obviously impacts deeply on my characters’ lives.
I do not romanticise the boys’ experiences towards the end of part one of the book; their desperate air combats are bloody and brutal and both young men are traumatised by killing and seeing others killed. James himself is very nearly shot down over Calais and barely makes it home alive.
But everything has its use for James: he uses the fact that he faces great dangers to convince Diana to marry him on a special ‘war’ licence (you could get one in three days). Not that she needs persuading: she is head over heels in love with him. Only we know how coldly calculating he is behind his smiles and honeyed words. A psychopathic Spitfire pilot indeed.
Their small ceremony in Sevenoaks registry office with only the Arnold family present is followed by a little reception at the Dower House before John and James receive telegrams calling them back to base immediately. France has fallen and the Battle of Britain is at hand.
On the very afternoon of the wedding there is a shocking double tragedy that closes part one of the book. I won’t give it all away, but enough to say that James is shot down over France. His burning plane explodes when it hits the ground, and other pilots in the air above report that there was no sign of a parachute. On the very evening of Diana’s wedding day, RAF officers arrive at The Dower House with the worst possible news.
Together with the other tragedy that afternoon, the Arnolds – mother, father and daughter – are pitched into a terrible, agonising grief.
Part two of the book opens in the South of France ten years later. Diana, now 30, has remarried, to Douglas; a rather stuffy millionaire Scottish businessman who is much older than her. It is a marriage, for her, of comfort and convenience. She has a ten-year-old daughter, Stella, by James (they slept together secretly at the Dower House a few days before the wedding) and above all, Diana wants security for her. Douglas is besotted by Diana – everyone says she resembles Vivien Leigh at her most beautiful – and has brought his new family to the Cote d’Azur where he is running his businesses from offices in Cannes and Marseilles.
Part two contrasts strongly with part one – the greyness of the wartime years set against the vivid, glamorous life down on the Riviera. Diana is very happy in her new world, although a day does not pass without her thinking about James.
And then he seems to return from the dead. Was it really him in the taxi that morning at the old flower market? Diana is sure of it. So she sets out to find her latter-day Lazarus. But the consequences of her obsession will be terrible – and not just for her.
What, precisely, happened to James Blackwell? Was his destiny to die in his blazing cockpit in a French field? Or does fate hold a different outcome for him, his wife, and the daughter he has never met?
Some Day I’ll Find You. Published by Simon and Schuster. Out in hardback July 4th, 2013.