Why I wrote The Harpist of Madrid

Front cover of The Harpist of Madrid
You may be wondering why a person of my background wrote this novel. First nuclear physicist, then fingerprint scientist in the Home Office, then administrator, then physical security scientist. Well, it’s like this. Back in ’99, a good friend of mine -Alfonso Bilbao,  – a security engineer, was organising a conference in Madrid. I was helping him but ashamed of the glaring fact that my knowledge of any foreign language was close to zero. So I set about learning Spanish.

A few years later, I decided to take Advanced Level GCE Spanish. I had to chose, from a range of options, a subject to study for the oral exam. I love classical music so I chose Spanish composers. Of those I considered, there was a 17th century composer called Juan Hidalgo. I discovered that he was also a harpist and that he wrote the music for first two Spanish operas. But that is where the easily accessible information about him seemed to stop. There was no book about him or his work. I decided to write a book about him.

I intended initially to write a biography about this fascinating character. Following the method Frederick Forsyth uses to research his novels, I spent two years – between doing other ‘retirement things’ like travelling the world with my lovely wife and playing golf – rooting around in Spanish library archives and plundering the internet to find out about him. I reached the point where I could do no more.

I reviewed what I had studied and soon concluded that if I wrote a biography it would be very short, not more than a hundred pages maximum, even if I included some microscopic, not very interesting  detail. So I wrote a novel instead.

The purposes of the novel are twofold. The main aim is to capture the reader, to enthrall him or her with the story of Juan Hidalgo, to produce a book that the reader will find utterly compulsive. The second, but equally important aim, is to bring knowledge of this great, almost forgotten, Spanish composer to a much wider public. There are many baroque music lovers who are familiar with his performed works. But my aim was to make him well known, as well known as his genius truly deserves. As well known as Beethoven.

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