IT’S always one of the first questions you’re asked when you produce a new book: “How long did it take you to write?”
Sometimes in more flippant moments I’ve felt like saying ‘I knocked it out over the weekend.’ But I’ve never had the guts, fearing a putdown along the lines of ‘Oh, it read like that.’
How do you quantify the time spent writing? Is it from the moment you sit down to write, or from when the idea first comes into your head and you spend hours, days, weeks thinking about what you can do with it which is all part of the writing process.
If that’s the case, IN PURSUIT OF PLATINUM took me more than twenty years.
It’s so long ago that I can’t remember the date and I have since mislaid the original press cutting from The Observer newspaper in London that told the story of a very special Bentley that was up for auction to wealthy collectors of classic automobiles.
The car, which at one time had reportedly been part of Ralph Lauren’s collection, was known as ‘The Bullion Bentley’ and part of its provenance was that it had been used by the director of the Banque de France to smuggle platinum out of Paris in 1940 as the Germans were about to invade. The newspaper report went into more detail which I won’t go into here lest I spoil your enjoyment should you ever read it.
The story gripped my imagination and every so often I would take out the cutting and read it again and it stayed with me and with every reading I added another layer to my version of the story. But the demands of international travel and daily deadlines for newspapers and magazines and, more probably, my doubts about being able to capture the atmosphere of the period meant the project was delayed.
But a couple of years ago I decided I could put it off no longer and the writing of it was in itself a journey of discovery and an education about the amazing courage and perseverance of brave people who fought a tyrant and won.
The more I researched the more it evolved into an amazing secret that the government didn’t want you to find out – buried in archives and not to be revealed until 2045.
The Bentley, driven by an American Ben Peters, was carrying an even more valuable human cargo, a mysterious Frenchwoman escaping with her young son and a secret that could change the course of the Second World War.
Alena and Ben were the targets of Adolf Hitler’s ruthless investigator Ludwig Weber, whose family would be executed if he failed. His orders were to silence Alena before she could reveal her secret; capture her young son and take him back to Berlin; and recover the Banque de France’s platinum.
While the story is about the stark and tragic realities of war and the raw emotions of two brave people living on the edge of fear, it is also about Ben and Alena’s developing relationship.
But not everything was as it seemed. Who was Alena and what was her secret that could destroy everything the Nazi movement stood for?
My research took me to three countries and it caused me to experience one of the most surreal moments of my life. I had written several scenes about a specific location never having been there and in subsequent research visited the area. And the first time I walked in it took my breath away – it was as if I had just walked into my own book.
So if you have any ideas hidden away for a book, dig them out, and write them and find a good book cover designer like Stuart Bache, who has also designed covers for the likes of Stephen King and John Le Carre. It’s never too late.