This weekend, I had the pleasure of reading – yes, actually reading, not writing – two novels, both of which I’ve agreed to write introductions to the new editions coming out in 2012. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. Night Falls on the City by Sarah Gainham is a rediscovered classic of WWII, set in Vienna between 1938 and 1945. Sarah Ames (Gainham was the surname of her maternal grandmother) was an English journalist who moved to Austria in 1947 and lived there, with one or two brief escapades, for the rest of her life. She was a respected European correspondent, wrote many novels and works of non fiction, but this was her major work. First published in 1967, it was a huge international bestseller for many months when it was first released, but has been out of print for some years. Gainham herself died in 1999. The second novel is one of Ian Fleming’s fourteen 007 novels – The Spy Who Loved Me - the only one of his thriller, spy novels not told through the eyes of James Bond himself.
Reading the novels and researching the authors themselves, the context in which each novel was written, it was amusing to discover than not only had Gainham written spy thrillers herself, but also that her second husband and Fleming were friends, colleagues, and they had known each other well. It was an interesting – surprising – reminder of how most authors are not, first and foremost authors. At least, not at the beginning. Mostly, we have other jobs and use the experiences of our ‘real’ working lives to fuel our fiction and our writing interests. The Fleming is short – quick, pacy, a single episode – whereas the Gainham is a substantial, beautiful piece of writing that covers many years and many pages. But both were a treat on a (mostly) wet weekend and I hope when they are reissued, you will find as much pleasure in them as I did.