Later, I thought ‘because I can’.
And then I added ‘because I can’t’.
What I mean is that, beyond the thrilling shock of recognition when one happens on a story which aches to be told – the ‘did that really happen?’ moment – it’s the whole complicated, frustrating, rewarding, tiring, invigorating process of the thing that keeps me going. That, and the fact that beyond the obvious hurdles of Idea, Proposal, Sale, Research, Write, Deliver, each book is a kind of revelation, with its own energy, challenges and rewards.
Someone else asked recently how I know whether an idea will work. Deconstructing what had formerly been simply instinct, I realised that I believe that really great stories all end up being more than the sum of their parts. As a historian, this means that – so to speak – they punch a hole in time, enabling us to get closer to the past, imaginatively and sympathetically to hold hands with our ancestors while understanding a little more closely how their world really worked.