It’s snowing, heavily but intermittently, when I meet Stephen Hough at a café in north London, and he ought to be in Milan. It isn’t the weather that prevented his going, though; just plain, old-fashioned Italian inefficiency.

“They’d double-booked the hall,” he tells me, smiling broadly. “My agent rang up last week to make sure everything was in place and they said, ‘Err, sorry, we’ve got a wind ensemble playing that night, not Signor Hough.’ Though had that not been cancelled, I wouldn’t have been able to meet you, so that’s good.”

This last sentence is typical of Hough: unfailingly optimistic and resolutely cheerful, he exudes warmth. Fittingly for a certified genius (he was the first classical musician to be awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, in 2001) Hough’s conversation is lateral, associative, allusive and always surprising. We began by talking of writing in general. “Really, it was doing those Telegraph blog posts that sharpened up my writing,”

Hough explains. “I’ve always loved writing and always written, but I found the wonderful thing about doing that was having deadlines, often three a week. They make one’s writing quicker and sharper, and they teach one about the importance of self-editing. I was so grateful for the opportunity to write those blogs, and really I could write about whatever I liked – though I’m glad it has finished; I have so many other pressures. It was good discipline, which I enjoyed. I’m hoping the blog posts will come out in book form, and am halfway through editing them.”

Typically, before talking about his new novel itself, Hough enthuses about the publishing process. “It’s being published by a pair of Israeli academics who grew up in England. I had to choose from over 200 papers and pick the exact font.” This he says with relish usually reserved for the rarer breeds of beef. “It took me three years to write, though the seed was planted years ago. When I was a teenager I read all those dense French Catholic novels – by Mauriac, Bernanos, Julien Green – all of which saw sinners as part of the fabric of the Church. There are lots of prostitutes in Catholic countries because sinners are close to God, so they’re tolerated more in that Latin way than they are here.”

This is one of the main themes of the novel, going along with “a lot of my theological musings, even some biblical commentary, but nothing of my personality. Though of course there are glimpses of my background; I wanted to appear in a Hitchcock way.”

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