Second Thoughts: Choosing to play at Wembley: Robert Harris recalls the uneven road that led to Fatherland (Arrow, pounds 4.99)
I had always loved the storytelling part of journalism and fiction seemed a logical next step. Working for the BBC had taught me the importance of structure. People watching a television film cannot skip back a few paragraphs as they can with print: they must understand everything at every point. I know literary bores tend to castigate television for corrupting young writers, but the medium does a lot to foster clarity and economy.
I spent the whole of 1989 researching Fatherland, then wrote the first 15,000 words, only to find myself with no real idea who my characters were or what was to happen to them. I abandoned the manuscript in despair and wrote a biography of Bernard Ingham instead.
Perhaps this gave me the insight into a totalitarian regime I had been lacking. At any rate, I did what I should have done at the outset: structured the story through to the end. I did not stick to my plan - on one grim day, I remember, I had to discard almost 20,000 words - but I had a path to follow and six months later I had finished.
There are now 2.5 million copies of Fatherland in print around the world. I did not set out deliberately to write a bestseller although, in retrospect, it was obviously implicit in my approach. I see all forms of writing - print and television journalism, non-fiction books and novels alike - as a kind of public speaking, the aim of which is to reach as many people as possible. To me, the prospect of packing Wembley Stadium is infinitely more exciting than talking to a half-empty hall, even if it is at the ICA. This is considered rather a shocking and vulgar thing for a writer to admit, yet, curiously, nobody would criticise a musician for expressing such an ambition.
My second novel will be more severely judged. Critics who were indulgent of my faults this time will, quite properly, be more demanding next. So be it. I console myself with the thought that I never expected any of this, that I had a lot of fun, and that at least I played Wembley - once.
Arts & Ents blogs
There is a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refle...
The opening titles squeal ‘Never Can Say Goodbye…’. Oh Lord how I wish I could heave this series off...
Even though there was a complete absence of our favourite odd couple Brienne and Jaime, we got anoth...
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
Hollywood practices random acts of red-carpet kindness
The Freemasons' Code: Dan Brown reveals the message that told him the door to the lodge is open
World's most concise short story writer Lydia Davis wins Booker International Prize 2013
Cannes Film Festival 2013: And why exactly are vous here?
- 1 Woolwich attack exclusive: Man in bloody video - named 'Mujahid' - was known to Anjem Choudary's banned Islamist group Al Muhajiroun
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the mother-of-two hailed as a hero for confronting Woolwich attackers, thought: 'better me than a child'
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.