My initial idea for a novel usually comes from a character or place, a striking image, a question to which I’d like an answer or some intriguing moment from history. But once a novel is underway, I’m often amazed by the direction the story takes.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t already formulated some sense of plot and the characters who will inhabit it. Before I wrote a word of A Stone for Bread, I had decided it would be about a writer and a controversy over a manuscript.
When I began the novel some years ago, I had just completed a very long work set in 12th century France, which was still vivid in my mind. So I decided to locate some of A Stone for Bread in Paris, but in the 1950s. This proved to be a consequential choice for how the story would eventually unfold. As I began researching the time and place, an image came to me, seemingly from nowhere, of a little boy who in the innocence of childhood causes the death of his brother.
This became the opening chapter of the novel. From that tragedy–its true culprit not the child but war–the novel evolved into a tale of human evil, corruptibility and weakness, courage and resilience and the place of art as witness and interpreter of horrific events.