Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
The Music Book was inspired by two 18th-century portraits and a 19th-century British passport in our family’s possession.
One portrait is of Frederick the Great of Prussia, believed to be by the painter Christian Friedrich Ziesenis (1729–1792). The other has until recently been called the picture of the unknown man: an older, well-dressed, good-looking man, apparently painted in 1765, according to a faded handwritten label on the back.
The passport, signed by the then British Foreign Secretary the Earl of Clarendon, was issued on 3 October 1853 to Mr Robert Whitfield, his wife and son for the purpose of “travelling on the Continent”. I found it in a Berlin flea market while rummaging through some German army travel warrants issued on the eve of the 1938 Munich conference.
Towards the end of 2011 I decided to write a fictional story linking the two pictures and the passport. The time span of the story – 1764 to 1766 – was arbitrarily set by the barely visible date of 1765 on the back of portrait of the unknown man.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or, in this case, historical fiction.