Imagine my astonishment when I opened a newspaper culture section at the weekend and found a Clare Mulley review of The Lost Pilots by Corey Mead.
Astonishment… and joy, consternation, wonder, alarm, despondency… I could go on.
My head, in short, has been spinning like an airscrew.
Why? Well, because, for the last few months, I have been trying to interest the trade in a book set in a very similar line of country.
The Lost Pilots is the tale of two interwar era aviators, the immortal Bill Lancaster and Jessie Miller. Whereas my book, Flying Over Ruins, is about the exploits of two interwar aviators, the obscure husband and wife team of Anne and Charles Lindbergh.
There are major differences clearly (though I haven’t read The Lost Pilots yet): my book plays out rather more on the ground than in the air. It’s a blend of political thriller, love tragedy and a portrait of the artist as a young woman. More complex and, dare I say it, more ambitious.
But yes, the book definitely sports flying goggles.
Anne Lindbergh was easily the most glamorous female aviator of the interwar years, not just in terms of looks, social connections (the Kennedys for instance) and the fact that she was married to the most celebrated man on the planet.
In my mind she was (and is) glamorous because she was one of the most intellectually accomplished women of the age. Her gift in conveying the terrors and thrills of seat-of-the-pants flying was unparalleled.
It was Anne’s fondest hope that one day she might be regarded as something of a poet. I believe she was. Absolutely she was.
I’ve been angling to write about her for years, ever since I contributed a piece – on Arthur Christiansen’s fascination for the pioneers of the first Golden Age of aviation – to an Express anniversary supplement.
Imagine my joy when, in reading more about her, I stumbled on a rattling good yarn. I almost pinched myself. If you have any interest at all in the era, it’s sensational stuff.
Thus Flying Over Ruins, a work of historical fiction about Anne and Charles’s relationship with Harold Nicolson (and Vita too, of course, but mainly Harold) in England in the late 1930s.
It turns out that Charles Lindbergh (with Anne an increasingly unhappy observer of events but still guilty by association) ended up doing the bidding of the US Government in dirty intrigues against a friendly ally. Charles was the man, in an episode of extraordinary drama, who betrayed British interests during the second Czech Crisis. The man whose actions almost certainly guaranteed that Britain’s subsequent disgrace at Munich was inevitable. The man who, not to put too fine a point upon it, unwittingly set the start date for the Second World War.
The whole amazing tale is there in the public domain just waiting to be gathered up but only one person has previously (as far as I’m currently aware – and this in a now-obscure political memoir) managed to join the dots.
And oh how I thanked my lucky stars when I realised I had lots of other strands of richly suggestive material to work with. Harold and Anne were among the most accomplished diarists of the era and there’s a wealth of secondary sources too.
(And as an added hook, I’d add, meretriciously, that Anne was a dead ringer for Meghan Markle, the recently elevated Duchess of Sussex.)
My style may be third-rate (but I don’t believe it is) and my structural craftsmanship inept (ditto) but I reckoned Flying Over Ruins would tick enough boxes to merit some level of book trade interest.
Well, dang me, but it hasn’t. It just hasn’t.
Three agents have responded to my submissions emails. The rest haven’t even bothered to send an acknowledgement. The sole constructive reply I’ve had seemed to imply that the subject matter was not of sufficient interest to “the general reader”.
It’s a notion that has been confirmed to me by the editor of a history magazine and, separately, by a former colleague who knows a thing or two about how the book business works. No-one, apparently, is interested in the interwar era any more – and especially not the Thirties. The War, yes. Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, D-Day. Churchill. The only interesting thing that happened in the Thirties was the Abdication, and goodness knows that has been done to death.
Thus, to cut a long story short, my astonishment at finding Clare Mulley’s review. Especially when she revealed that The Lost Pilots has at least one major flaw. It’s the sort of flaw that, I’ve always assumed, agents and editors were minded to leap upon with a savage intensity.
“This is a hugely entertaining book,” writes Mulley… “But in the end, it all feels a little inconsequential.”
Well, having read a little around the subject, I can’t say I’m hugely surprised. And having been a journalist, I know how rare it is to be gifted a story where the stakes just keep on getting higher and higher.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no feelings of ill-will towards Corey Mead or The Lost Pilots. I really don’t. How on earth could I?
If it succeeds it will merely make it extremely difficult for me to find a publisher for Flying Over Ruins. If it fails, it will be impossible.
But I’d still like to know. One day, perhaps not tomorrow or next week, but soon, I’d like to understand this. How the blue blazes has Corey Mead managed to pull this off?