The point is, I can’t write about a place unless I’ve been there. There are few things in life more exciting than visiting a place that has become part of my fictional landscape. By the time I visited Balaklava, I’d half written the book. If anything, the Crimea was even more evocative and haunting than I’d imagined. Since the Crimean War, other armies had trampled through, not least the Nazis, and Balaklava Harbour had been the secret hiding place for the Cold War Russian submarine fleet. Standing in that icy wind, understanding the lie of the land, and the sheer horror of camping out on such exposed plains - with inadequate equipment and all the great coats drowned in the harbour - added a deal of poignancy to that novel.
As I write, I can feel my fingers tingling. This is why I write and read historical fiction. It’s like when a modern painting has covered over an old masterpiece. Scrape away the surface, and there’s something wholly different underneath. But it was always there, so even in the modern world, the past lurks.
The Crimson Rooms was published in trade pb by Berkley on January 4th at $15. In the UK, it's available from Phoenix at £7.99. My review is here, if you missed it. The Rose of Sebastopol is out in paperback from Berkley ($15.00) and Phoenix (£7.99). At her blog, Katharine McMahon is recording the progress of her upcoming novel about the French Revolution. Her official website is www.katharinemcmahon.com.