I have been bogged down in a writing frenzy to finish and edit The Jewel of St Petersburg - already way over its deadline. For me that's the toughest aspect of writing, the need to meet your publisher's schedules, though I have to emphasise that both Little Brown UK and Berkley US have been sweetness itself in accommodating my tardiness. It's just that some books take longer to emerge than others and it's hard to know quite why that is. I met someone at the RNA Awards Luncheon in March who writes three books a year and I was nearly sick with envy at the speed of her writing!
I've loved the shift of mood in this book. So different from the harsher Stalinist regime of my last two books. I relished the delight of immersing myself for a change in the lavish lifestyle of the final glory days of the tsarist regime in Russia. It was an extravagant and decadent world of self-indulgence and gaudy excess, of Imperial balls, glittering diamonds and romantic sleigh rides - a sharp contrast to the privations of the underpaid workforce.
The Jewel of St Petersburg opens in 1910 with a catastrophic event in the life of young Valentina Ivanova and progresses to the moment when the Russian Revolution explodes throughout the elegant city of St Petersburg with the firing of the signal gun from the ship, Aurora, in 1917.
The book explores how Valentina, a privileged young woman and talented pianist, fights for her independence and falls in love with a Danish engineer, instead of the Russian Count her parents have planned for her. Valentina tries to protect her young sister from the tumult sweeping the city, as Tsar Nicholas, the Duma and the Bolsheviks are at each other's throats. But tragedy strikes and she is forced to look at her world and herself with new eyes. I could go on - but then you wouldn't bother to read the book! Suffice to say it's a story of passion and treachery set against a backdrop of danger, of secrets and lies interwoven into the fabric of a Russian society about to tear itself apart.
And isn't the cover gorgeous? As lush and lavish as the world it describes. Berkley have promised me a preview copy of it this week, and however many books I write, however many times I repeat the experience, holding that first copy of the book in my hands gives me a visceral thrill that doesn't dim. This business of writing is truly an addictive occupation.