Three years ago Carmen Callil, until recently powerhouse and presiding genius at the publishing house of Chatto and Windus, insisted to me at some drinks party to celebrate or drown an author’s masterpiece that it was time I wrote another novel. I hadn’t – haven’t – published one in more than a decade. Carmen was one of the few who remembered that in my eager youth, between 1971 and 1980, I had published half a dozen, and three collections of stories. She’d been goading me on the subject for a year or more, saying I was wasting my time as a literary agent – which, in my experience, pays the mortgage and feeds young mouths more than writing novels does. But to be invited by a publisher to write one is, of course, immensely flattering.