The first time someone bent my ear on the subject of my author’s note was at the Italian launch of In Love and War in Florence. The reader was a rather strident older lady in something blousy and floral. She fixed me with narrow, sceptical eyes as we spoke. ‘Why,’ she asked, ‘was there no author’s note at the front of the book? I couldn’t tell what was true and what wasn’t. It’s confusing.’ I told her that Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child had been the model for my approach. I’d been impressed, I said, that in a novel so dense with historical detail, clearly so richly researched, the only words from Hollinghurst which precede the book are of thanks – for the use of Passa Porta writers’ apartment in Brussels.
The author’s note has become an amorphous, baggy thing. It can appear at the beginning or end of the book, can be a single line (my favourite is Danielle Steel’s for Five Days in Paris, which reads, ‘Never give up hope, and, if you can,