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Odette, Swan Lake’s enchanted swan princess, is still trying to break her spell in 2016

Odette, as a swan, flies into a gale that blows her across the North Sea from Russia to the university town of Cygnford, eastern England. Exhausted, she crashes through Mary Fairweather’s front window. The shocked Mary takes the injured bird to the vet and is advised to keep her overnight to make sure she recovers. At sundown, though, Odette’s spell transforms her back into human form…

Mary, a young freelance journalist, is battling bereavement, a failed relationship and a bullying boss. She also has to keep an eye on her bright yet feckless younger brother, Patrick, a would-be actor. Torn between disbelief and the wish to help her bizarre visitor, she is soon enchanted by Odette’s charm, innocence and passion for life – to say nothing of her extraordinary musical talent, which Odette insists was nurtured by Franz Liszt himself. But Odette is a swan by day and a woman by night, and to break the spell a man must swear to love her forever. Moreover, the evil baron who bewitched her is out to get her back.

As Mary and Odette try to hide the improbable truth, the web of deception grows ever more tangled. Mary finds herself attracted to an expert on the meaning of fairy-tales, while Odette pins hope on the all-too-human Patrick, who has no idea she is anything other than his sister’s lodger. Meanwhile Cyngford’s welcome to Odette – seemingly a stranger from the east, seeking refuge – is not always friendly. Cared for and encouraged by some, exploited and seduced by others, attacked by her own kind for her difference and excluded from human pursuits by her spell, Odette finds her quest to free herself has never seemed more difficult. Yet the process of transformation is not hers alone.

What happens when a sliver of fairy-tale beauty collides with the shattered muddle of real life? What does it take to become fully human?

Jessica Duchen’s writing on classical music, opera and ballet has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. Her first five novels have gathered a loyal fan-base and wide acclaim: most recently Ghost Variations (published by Unbound, 2016) was selected as Book of the Month in BBC Music Magazine and was among the Daily Mail’s Best Reads of 2016 (“A thrilling read” – John Suchet).  

Jessica grew up in London, read music at Cambridge and felt torn at first between the prospects of a musical career and a literary one. Her interest in cross-genre arts finds music playing a vital role in her fiction as well as her journalism, and she frequently narrates concert versions of three of her novels, Ghost Variations, Alicia’s Gift and Hungarian Dances. 

Current highlights include her first opera libretto, Silver Birch, for the composer Roxanna Panufnik – a commission from Garsington Opera for premiere in July 2017. Her output also includes two plays, biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré (both published by Phaidon) and her popular classical music blog, JDCMB (

Jessica lives in London with her violinist husband and two cats. She enjoys playing the piano (preferably when nobody can hear her), as well as cookery, long walks and plundering second-hand bookshops for out-of-print musical gems.

The wind began to rise in the night. By four the rain had started; by six the storm had worked itself into a frenzy that shook the house. Mary, awaking to unearthly rattles and shudders, opened the curtains to gaze, disbelieving, at tobacco-coloured clouds scudding by, twigs and litter bowling down the pavements and the chestnut tree bending as if under a dead weight, its branches reaching out for help.

The radio news admitted that the weathermen had underestimated the gale, while the editor of Nature Now, when Mary phoned, was late for work and breathless after cycling against the wind.

Mary had one day to finish her articles. The first needed little research beyond the Internet; at least she didn’t have to venture outside. At two, the raindrops hitting her window like paint flung by a furious artist, she prepared to make her calls for the corporate journal. She had to talk to the managing directors of Cygnford’s top three accountancy firms about their favourite holiday destinations – just a ploy for advertising revenue for the magazine, of course, but it would pay for her groceries for a month.

“Farmers, White and George, how can I help you?” The receptionist sounded bored.

“This is Mary Fairweather, from the Jones Brothers house chronicle. Could I speak to the managing director please? He’s had a message from my editor to expect a call.”

“I’ll see if he’s free. Please hold the line.”

“And could you tell me his name, please?”

“It’s Peter Haddon.”

Mary nearly dropped the phone. She knew exactly where Peter Haddon liked to go on holiday.

Together, once, they’d enjoyed four days in Rome, tripping over history on street corners, wandering in the shade of ancient archways in the Forum, savouring the evening air by the fountain in the Piazza Navona with a bottle of Chianti and two plastic mugs; then five days in Florence soaking up pictures, statues and churches; finally Venice, with long days of walking, eating and sightseeing, and nights in which sleep wasn’t a priority.

Paralysed, while the phone piped Tchaikovsky into her left ear, she wondered whether to ring off. Before she could, he was there. “Mary – !

“Sorry, Peter. I didn’t know it was you. I’m doing an article and, believe it or not, I need to ask accountancy MDs where they go on holiday.” She forced laughter.

“Good heavens. Mary Fairweather. Well, well, well.” Peter was chuckling. “How on earth are you?”

“Fine. Chugging along. And you?”

“Well, thanks. A little hectic, but very well indeed. Good to hear your voice! How’s life? Got a nice bloke?” He’d have heard on the grapevine within hours if she’d found another relationship.

“You’re married, aren’t you?” she said, instead of answering.


What's in a name?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Meeting odette broken glass image

Above: a breakthrough?

Answer: quite a lot. Especially if it's not so much a name, but a title. A book has to have the right title. Can you imagine 'Gone with the Wind', 'Wuthering Heights' or '1984' being called anything else? A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if you pick a title that doesn't resound, it's not going to do its content any favours. 

I've been aware for…

New pledge level: a personal consultancy session! Plus: the next Pledge Party, and some ballet from a glorious Odette...

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Dear all,

I hope you've had a wonderful summer. Mine has certainly been eventful. Over the past couple of years I've been working on a new "people's opera" called SILVER BIRCH with the wonderful composer Roxanna Panfunik, and in late July it was premiered at Garsington Opera. We had some fantastic reviews (The Times called my libretto 'powerful and poetic', spurring purring). And seeing this work…

10 reasons you'll want to meet Odette

Sunday, 23 July 2017


One month in and Meeting Odette is one third funded, which is brilliant news. Huge thanks to my 61 supporters who have stepped forward to pledge so far! Now we just need twice as many again to do likewise, preferably within the next few weeks... so please can I ask you all to share the link with any literarily, balletically, musically or fantastically inclined friends who might enjoy a feathery tale…

Hang on a mo...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Mute swan 97676 960 720

[I feel a bit like this today...hiding head in despair]

...but what? You wait 25 years and suddenly someone else picks your topic too? For a Hollywood blockbuster? Oh. Flippin'. Heck.

I just stumbled across a piece of news on Twitter: Felicity Jones is to star in a movie based on the story of Swan Lake, without any ballet. No kidding. Read all about it here. 

What are the chances…

"I offered them swan terrine, but they were rather horrified..."

Monday, 3 July 2017

Max pic

The wonderful oboist Nicholas Daniel alerts us to this report from BBC News Scotland from 2005, when the then-Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, found himself being cautioned over the death of a swan near his Orkney home. The unfortunate bird had struck a power line. ("Max" himself died last year and is much missed for his mercurial and outspoken personality as well as his…

Newly added: Launch Party pledge level!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Dear friends,

I did something utterly terrible when I chose the pledge rewards to offer you. I forgot all about the party. 

How could I? I mean, what is a book without its launch party? What is the point of a book if you can't celebrate its existence with wine and friends and good cheer? In this neck of the woods, the book is not an excuse for a party; the prospect of a party is the excuse…

"My beloved swan..."

Monday, 26 June 2017

It's not that Jonas Kaufmann's voice was absolutely essential to the first update on the Meeting Odette page. You never need any excuse to listen to him (at least, I don't). But the German tenor's Lohengrin is legendary and, let's face it, Swan Lake would be nowhere without Wagner's swanny opera. Stories often sprout on the backs of older stories, and that ballet is no exception.

Here's a video…


Friday, 23 June 2017

Osipova as odette by gene schiavone

I used to have a recurring dream. I was in the library, looking for a book. I knew I'd seen it once before. I couldn't find it. It was a book of Swan Lake. I would always wake up knowing there was something inside it that I wanted, or needed, but I could never remember what it was.

(Pictured above: Natalia Osipova as Odette, photo by Gene Schiavone, Royal Opera House)

I had this dream…

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