The photograph on the cover of The Heroes' Welcome is everything I told my publishers I didn't want - a woman in a red dress, lots of flesh showing, and you can't see her face. A romantic period photograph, hand-coloured, emotive . . . it would only have needed a man in uniform hugging her, and a tiny early twentieth-century aeroplane way above, to give it the full contents of the drawer marked 'Clichés for use on a historical romantic fiction novel cover' - and by the way, it's not historical romantic fiction. It's set in historical times, it has its romantic aspects, and I made it up, but it's just a novel. Quite a modern one, actually. What's it about? Love, death, PTSD and maxillofacial reconstructive surgery.
And yet. I found this photograph myself, and sent to my editor, saying please: this one.
There's a magazine called Tatler, which has been published in London since 1901. It's a kind of society mag; pictures of parties and big houses and the English aristocracy. In the old days, each edition used to include a full-page soft-focus black-and-white photographic portrait of a nice young posh girl wearing her grandmother's pearls and a misty look, accompanied by the announcement of her engagement to a nice young posh man. It was a way for the upper classes to keep up with each other’s movements.
In November 1919, this engagement-portrait page showed something else. November 11 was the first anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. Europe - and the US - was full of widows, and of girls whose fiancés were dead. So, as a mark of tenderness, and an acknowledgment of the ferocious loss so many people were living with the magazine put in that slot this photograph, taken by a photographer called Hugh Cecil. Its title is Grief. If you look carefully, you can see that this grieving woman is wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of her right hand: where, traditionally, widows would wear their wedding rings.