Throughout the 1990s I kept writing pieces of a story about an unusual group of “students” in the English countryside. I was never quite clear who these people were. They lived in wrecked farmhouses, and though they did a few typically student-like things – argued over books, worked on the occasional essay, fell in and out of love – there was no campus or professor in sight. Some strange fate hung over these young people, but again, I didn’t know precisely what it was. (In those days, my mind kept turning to nuclear weapons.) On a shelf in my study, there’s a box file marked “Students” stuffed full of these short pieces, the earliest going back to 1990. I’d really wanted to write my students novel, but I’d never been able to get beyond a certain point, and I’d always ended up writing some other quite different book.