UK 2008 cover

Jonathan Coe writes:

“Before The Accidental Woman I had attempted to write two highly autobiographical novels. The first of these, The Sunset Bell, was completed in the early 1980s but never published. The second, Paul's Dance, was abandoned after I had written about 100,000 words. The Accidental Woman, with its female protagonist and deliberately experimental approach, was written as a conscious reaction against these two books.

With A Touch of Love, though, I returned to the autobiographical mode. The main character, Robin, is identifiably a version of myself, and several of the other characters are also based on friends and acquaintances from my time at Warwick University.

Besides the main narrative, the novel also contains four interleaved short stories, and the reasons for this technique were entirely practical. I was still an unpublished writer when I began work on the book, and after all the rejections I had received for The Sunset Bell and The Accidental Woman, I was beginning to despair of ever getting a novel published at all. I thought that if I also wrote four self-contained short stories to be included within the main narrative, I might be able to get them published separately in a small literary magazine like Stand or the London Magazine. Half way through the writing of the book, though, The Accidental Woman was accepted by Duckworth, who indicated that they would also take A Touch of Love, so I abandoned the idea of publishing any of it separately. The idea of incorporating four separate short stories into a novel recurs in my latest book, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim.

Anna Haycraft at Duckworth made it clear that she did not like A Touch of Love as much as she had liked the previous novel. For one thing, she did not like my working title, which was The Separatist. Numerous variations were tried (the only other one I can remember being In The Absence of Friends) until a chance encounter with a nice woman called Pip at a party led me in the direction of Simone Weil's book Gravity and Grace, from which the phrase ‘a touch of love’ was eventually taken.

Originally the whole of the first section of A Touch of Love (‘The Meeting of Minds’) was written in the first person, from the point of view of Robin's friend Ted. Anna Haycraft also objected to this idea, and asked me to change it to a conventional third-person narrative, which I did. I still have the original (first-person) manuscript somewhere, but have not looked at it for more than twenty years now, so I can't say at this distance whether I think her suggestion was right or not.

Like The Accidental Woman, A Touch of Love sold only about three hundred copies in hardback. The remaining copies were pulped, which is why first editions of this book appear so rarely on the second-hand market, and command such high prices.

Chiara Basciano, a wonderful artist based in Rome, has done a beautiful painting inspired by one of the scenes in A Touch of Love, called ”Ciò che guasta”. You can see it here, or visit Chiara's website.”

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jonathan coe portrait imageJonathan Coe was born on 19 August 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His father worked in the motor industry as a research physicist; his mother was a music and PE teacher.
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