The chief reason is quite simple. In October 2010 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Although fairly advanced, it was still localised, and treatable by surgery and twelve rounds of chemotherapy. All of which were free at point of delivery, by the way, thanks to the NHS. For seven months, I became a battleground between my own rebellious cells and the chemical weapons of modern medicine. Luckily, I remain in remission, and although I'm now a permanent resident of what the late, great Christopher Hitchens called Tumortown, I'm more or less recovered, and back at work.
The diagnosis came just after I had submitted the manuscript of In The Mouth of the Whale to my publishers, and I managed to deal with the editing process (including, as is my habit, a final draft) during the early stages of chemotherapy, before the cumulative effects of chemical warfare became too debilitating. Evening's Empires is the first novel to have been conceived, completed, and published since then. Hence my gratitude:
I have the great good luck to be able to thank a whole village of people who saved my life: Mr Austin O’Bichere, his surgical team, and the doctors, nurses and staff of the chemotherapy unit of University College Hospital. My profound gratitude to all of them, and to my partner, Georgina Hawtrey-Woore. If it hadn’t been for their treatment, care and support I would not have survived to write this novel.
My thanks also to Simon Spanton and Marcus Gipps for editing suggestions, Nick Austin for his thorough and lucid copy-editing, and Simon Kavanagh at the Mic Cheetham Literary Agency for his help, support, and coffee hit points.
I first read about the epic of Pabuji, and the Story of the She-Camels, in William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. The poem ‘I shall not coil my tangled hair . . .’ is adapted from a traditional song of the Baul minstrels of Bengal. ‘On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances’ is a line from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘On The Seashore.’