This is the question I am asked by readers: if you intended to write a trilogy about the Ivanov family, why not write them in the correct historical order? Why write the first part of the story last?
A simple answer: when I sat down to write my first book, The Russian Concubine, I had no plans to make it a trilogy. You have to understand that the convoluted processes that go on in an author's brain are mystifying even to an author! I had no idea when I wrote it that Lydia Ivanova would come to play such a large part in my life or that I would fall in love with her beautiful damaged mother, Valentina.
So when I finished the second book - The Concubine's Secret(UK)/The Girl From Junchow(US) which follows Lydia's search for her father - two things kept elbowing out all others in my mind.
1) Firstly, how did Valentina Ivanova become the woman she did? What happened? What gave this private, secretive pianist such strength and yet such crippling weakness?
2) Secondly, what was Russia like to live in before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution? I had shown Russia during its grim repressive regime under Stalin's communism and now I wanted to show the other side of Russia. The glamorous side. The world of the Russian Court, the most extravagant and decadent in all Europe, with the final days of glory of Nicholas II, Emperor and Tsar of all the Russias.
It sounds a straightforward task, doesn't it? No such luck. I quickly discovered there are even more pitfalls in writing a prequel than in writing a sequel.
Throw-away references to the past in the other two books plagued me and had to be shoe-horned into the new one - which meant two characters both called Nikolai (argh!) and Valentina aged 15 years old when she first met Jens, not 17, as I needed her to be in Jewel (aargh!). Constantly I was tripped up. Harder still was planting in my portrayal of Valentina the seeds of the person she was to become.
Nevertheless I loved writing The Jewel of St Petersburg and exploring Valentina's world, displaying the magnificence of Russia as well as its suffering. Giving a glimpse of how the two are twined inexorably together. So now I shall sit back and keep a sharp eye on Valentina as she flashes her red skirts in the bookstores.