On our return to England, I wrote about that experience in the Independent and received, to my surprise, many letters expressing interest. This encouraged me. After a good deal of uncertainty - I had not written a novel for some years - I finally took the dreaded plunge in 1985 and began to plot the destinies of the four families in Europe, South Africa, and finally England. The book became a sort of refuge. I would write, leave off and then return to it until in a final demonic outpouring it was completed in 1992.
I am now besieged by letters asking me what is true and what invented. Somebody reviewing the book in the TLS doubted the authenticity of the Russian episodes. Needless to say, these are the most authentic in the book, for I had access not only to living witnesses (Natasha's mother, for example, who still lives in Godalming) but also to diaries and notes left by Natasha's grandmother, Countess Vera Bobrinsky, whom I knew. The experiences of Natasha's father spring directly from what he told me and from family folklore, which is the chief source of the Jewish episodes - a tale remembered, an impression of an eccentric relative recalled, a scandal spoken of in whispers. But imagination also played a part. This is not now a faculty greatly admired but I can see no advantage in concealing the fact.Reuse content