evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Spy Fiction

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

January proved to be such a brutal month for many and, with continued restrictions, I wasn’t much in the mood for writing a blog post, but time moves on and I thought I’d share a few reasons to be cheerful in February.

Obtaining agent representation is harder than ever but three authors, who I worked with on their stories, have defied the odds and done just that. In no particular order, Daniel Scanlan is now represented by Ian Drury at Sheil Land Associates, Rob Burnett is represented by Jemima Forrester at David Higham Associates and Charlotte Owen is represented by Nicola Barr at The Bent Agency. Congratulations to all and best of luck with their books and careers.  

Over Christmas – seems so long ago – I finally read ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. As I’ve often said I tend to read best sellers long after the hype has died down. In this instance I wished I hadn’t waited so long. A true story, utterly inspirational, and a massive testament to fortitude in adversity, it proved the perfect read for our time. It’s grounding. It recognises the fragility of life. It also makes you realise that bad things do indeed happen to anyone and it isn’t wise to take what we have for granted.  And yet, this is no misery memoir. It’s uplifting and life-affirming and one of those rare books I might well return to.  But not before I plough through my ‘TBR’ pile, which has spectacularly increased after I took receipt of hardback versions of ‘The Burning Girls’ by CJ Tudor and ‘Slough House’ by Mick Herron a few days ago. Don Winslow’s, ‘The Force’ has also joined the ranks after my other half raved about it. An epic tale of corruption in the New York Police Department, with a highly morally ambiguous main protagonist, sounds just my bag. Can’t wait to dip in once I’ve finished Bill Bryson’s extraordinary ‘At Home.’ To describe and do it justice, I’m going to quote from the blurb: ‘What does history really consist of? Centuries of people quietly going about their daily business… And where do all these normal activities take place? At home.’  It’s a history of private life, of invention, of habit and convention. While it’s not so laugh out loud funny as his other works, it’s no less entertaining. The sheer volume of information and fascinating detail is astonishing. Bryson’s true talent is his ability to unearth and flag up the endeavours of the ‘little people,’ those inventive souls who failed to be recognised for their achievements in the age in which they lived, often through some quirk of history or humanity.  His love of language is a joy for a wordsmith. Who knew that, for example, that the word ‘bedroom’ was first used by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ or that the word ‘Buttery,’ a room in a grand house, has nothing to do with ‘butter’ but ‘butts’ as in butts of ale? I love this kind of minutiae.  

On the literary front, ‘SIX’ will be published on March 4th as trade paperback and digital, the mass-market paperback released in August.  The story begins when successful criminal defence lawyer, Jon Shaw, comes face to face with, Danny Hallam, the man he tried to murder twenty-five years ago.  To find out why, how and what, you’ll need to grab a copy!

Meanwhile, Apple audio has released ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ with Ben Onwukwe’s deliciously deadly voice capturing Hex perfectly. For those unfamiliar with Hex, he’s a hitman turned good guy who, in ‘A Deadly Trade’ becomes embroiled in uncovering a criminal conspiracy involving biological weapons. In short, it’s a tale of espionage meets action adventure. In ‘Final Target,’ Hex discovers that the past is not so easily left behind and is quickly pulled back into the game by glamorous, MI5 intelligence officer, Inger McCallen, with an operation in Berlin. It contains all the typical Hex trademarks: high body count, intrigue, and highly intelligent women.  

I need no excuse to binge-watch, but the pandemic has made my love affair with the small screen more respectable. How I missed ‘The Americans’ when it first came out, I have absolutely no idea. A spy thriller set in 1980’s America, it follows the story of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two KGB deep cover intelligence officers, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who pose as an all American couple. Both sides of the spy divide are brilliantly explored when an FBI agent, Stan Beeman, specialising in counter-terrorism, moves in opposite (played by Noah Emmerich). Characterisation is superb, surpassed only by the acting. Frank Langella puts in a compelling performance as ‘Gabriel’, the Jennings’s handler. Plot lines are authentic and dramatic. Again, it’s a series I may well return to at a later date. 

I have a small number of CD’s bought from buskers around the country. A few years ago we were passing through Chester. Walking down the main drag, the haunting sounds of  a violinst playing ‘Schindler’s List’ stopped us dead.  We were not alone. Quite a number of people had stopped to listen to what turned out to be a sublime set of film scores. The man playing was none other than Phillip Chidell, a highly regarded musician and one time child prodigy, although we didn’t know it at the time. For some reason our CD was added to our collection but never opened until this Christmas when we were hunting around for something a little different to play. And what a treat. Production values are superb – not something that can always be said when you buy work  ‘off the pavement’. If you love film music or you simply love to hear a musician playing at the top of his game, go out and buy. Shakespeare had a point when he said that ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’  

Lastly, and continuing with a music theme, remember Conchita Wurst – and her Eurovision Song Entry, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix?’  Well, I was given the sheet piano music for the song at Christmas. For those who don’t know it it’s a big gutsy power piece about hope and optimism.  If I’m feeling glum, I take to the keys and belt it out.  If not cheerful before, I certainly am after.   

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

January proved to be such a brutal month for many and, with continued restrictions, I wasn’t much in the mood for writing a blog post, but time moves on and I thought I’d share a few reasons to be cheerful in February.

Obtaining agent representation is harder than ever but three authors, who I worked with on their stories, have defied the odds and done just that. In no particular order, Daniel Scanlan is now represented by Ian Drury at Sheil Land Associates, Rob Burnett is represented by Jemima Forrester at David Higham Associates and Charlotte Owen is represented by Nicola Barr at The Bent Agency. Congratulations to all and best of luck with their books and careers.

Over Christmas – seems so long ago – I finally read ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. As I’ve often said I tend to read best sellers long after the hype has died down. In this instance I wished I hadn’t waited so long. A true story, utterly inspirational, and a massive testament to fortitude in adversity, it proved the perfect read for our time. It’s grounding. It recognises the fragility of life. It also makes you realise that bad things do indeed happen to anyone and it isn’t wise to take what we have for granted. And yet, this is no misery memoir. It’s uplifting and life-affirming and one of those rare books I might well return to. But not before I plough through my ‘TBR’ pile, which has spectacularly increased after I took receipt of hardback versions of ‘The Burning Girls’ by CJ Tudor and ‘Slough House’ by Mick Herron a few days ago. Don Winslow’s, ‘The Force’ has also joined the ranks after my other half raved about it. An epic tale of corruption in the New York Police Department, with a highly morally ambiguous main protagonist, sounds just my bag. Can’t wait to dip in once I’ve finished Bill Bryson’s extraordinary ‘At Home.’ To describe and do it justice, I’m going to quote from the blurb: ‘What does history really consist of? Centuries of people quietly going about their daily business… And where do all these normal activities take place? At home.’ It’s a history of private life, of invention, of habit and convention. While it’s not so laugh out loud funny as his other works, it’s no less entertaining. The sheer volume of information and fascinating detail is astonishing. Bryson’s true talent is his ability to unearth and flag up the endeavours of the ‘little people,’ those inventive souls who failed to be recognised for their achievements in the age in which they lived, often through some quirk of history or humanity. His love of language is a joy for a wordsmith. Who knew that, for example, that the word ‘bedroom’ was first used by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ or that the word ‘Buttery,’ a room in a grand house, has nothing to do with ‘butter’ but ‘butts’ as in butts of ale? I love this kind of minutiae.

On the literary front, ‘SIX’ will be published on March 4th as trade paperback and digital, the mass-market paperback released in August. The story begins when successful criminal defence lawyer, Jon Shaw, comes face to face with, Danny Hallam, the man he tried to murder twenty-five years ago. To find out why, how and what, you’ll need to grab a copy!

Meanwhile, Apple audio has released ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ with Ben Onwukwe’s deliciously deadly voice capturing Hex perfectly. For those unfamiliar with Hex, he’s a hitman turned good guy who, in ‘A Deadly Trade’ becomes embroiled in uncovering a criminal conspiracy involving biological weapons. In short, it’s a tale of espionage meets action adventure. In ‘Final Target,’ Hex discovers that the past is not so easily left behind and is quickly pulled back into the game by glamorous, MI5 intelligence officer, Inger McCallen, with an operation in Berlin. It contains all the typical Hex trademarks: high body count, intrigue, and highly intelligent women.

I need no excuse to binge-watch, but the pandemic has made my love affair with the small screen more respectable. How I missed ‘The Americans’ when it first came out, I have absolutely no idea. A spy thriller set in 1980’s America, it follows the story of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two KGB deep cover intelligence officers, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who pose as an all American couple. Both sides of the spy divide are brilliantly explored when an FBI agent, Stan Beeman, specialising in counter-terrorism, moves in opposite (played by Noah Emmerich). Characterisation is superb, surpassed only by the acting. Frank Langella puts in a compelling performance as ‘Gabriel’, the Jennings’s handler. Plot lines are authentic and dramatic. Again, it’s a series I may well return to at a later date.

I have a small number of CD’s bought from buskers around the country. A few years ago we were passing through Chester. Walking down the main drag, the haunting sounds of a violinst playing ‘Schindler’s List’ stopped us dead. We were not alone. Quite a number of people had stopped to listen to what turned out to be a sublime set of film scores. The man playing was none other than Phillip Chidell, a highly regarded musician and one time child prodigy, although we didn’t know it at the time. For some reason our CD was added to our collection but never opened until this Christmas when we were hunting around for something a little different to play. And what a treat. Production values are superb – not something that can always be said when you buy work ‘off the pavement’. If you love film music or you simply love to hear a musician playing at the top of his game, go out and buy. Shakespeare had a point when he said that ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’

Lastly, and continuing with a music theme, remember Conchita Wurst – and her Eurovision Song Entry, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix?’ Well, I was given the sheet piano music for the song at Christmas. For those who don’t know it it’s a big gutsy power piece about hope and optimism. If I’m feeling glum, I take to the keys and belt it out. If not cheerful before, I certainly am after.

DARK AND DIRTY

‘Dark and dirty’ appears to sum up my viewing and reading over the past couple of months. A huge fan of Gerald Seymour’s work, (as I’ve said many times before) ‘Beyond Recall’ was utterly outstanding for its brilliant characterisation, hard-hitting storyline – a massacre in Syria instigated and carried out under the watchful eye of a senior Russian soldier – and its unusually poignant, upbeat ending. (Not something Seymour is particularly noted for). This time, Seymour’s main protagonist, Gaz Baldwin, is a ‘watcher’.  Witnessing an atrocity breaks Gaz mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Scratching out a life of sorts on the Orkney Isles, Gaz is recalled to service when the Russian officer responsible is spotted in Murmansk. It’s down to Gaz to identify him. Seems simple enough? But, of course, things do not go according to plan. It’s crammed with all Seymour’s trademark literary attributes, but, for me, this went beyond. Not only is it a story about love and loyalty, it reveals the price paid by those invested in protecting us. When old ways are abandoned by the ‘higher-ups’ in pursuit of the narrow and new, the heavy stench of betrayal clings to every page.

Similarly, in the first season of ‘Deep State,’ former MI6 field officer, Max Easton (played by Mark Strong) is reluctantly lured back into service.  This isn’t simply a story about an intelligence operation gone wrong; it’s about the difficulty of leading a lonely double life and the price paid by a spy’s nearest and dearest. Things turn very sour and quickly when everyone Max knows and loves, specifically his new wife and young family, is threatened.

Having got the ‘Strong bug,’ I was delighted to come across ‘Low Winter Sun.’ With a fabulous cast, including a mesmerising Lenny James, this is a ‘grab you by the throat’ thriller of police corruption and utter mayhem. Set in Minnesota against a backdrop of hard drinking, prostitution and drug dealing, there are definite shades of ‘The Wire’ to be found. As for the ending, it’s all too horribly real and credible. Loved it.

I thrill when discovering new writers and Michael Farris Smith is no exception. I read ‘Desperation Road,’ long listed for a CWA Gold Dagger Award, in a couple of days. The clue to the story is in the title. Farris Smith writes about individuals caught up in the grimmest circumstances, often through no fault of their own, with heart breaking honesty. At first, I wondered how his disparate cast of characters were going to connect and then, with some deft plotting, their roads cross and wonderfully collide to create the most dramatic and emotionally literate of storylines. Writing is to die for and, at times, I was reminded of John Hart and Dennis Lehane. You can literally feel the heat of the deep South enveloping you as you read. Revenge and redemption are my favourite themes. They don’t disappoint here. 

MAY MASH-UP

I’m cutting it fine this month, squeaking in before June, but if you can’t mess around with timelines during a pandemic, when can you?

In the early days of lockdown, I had fond ideas of how I was going to spend it. I wasn’t going to learn a new language, or sharpen up my technological skills. Mine were more modest aspirations, like ‘doing things previously put off.’  Some of that stuff got done this month, like sorting out dozens of photographs, which was a rubbish idea because it made me sad. The garden had more attention than it’s accustomed to. I finally learnt to play ‘Moonlight Sonata’ without cocking it up.  I ran (around the garden like a Teddy Bear) and I skipped, which nearly killed me. I worked my way through a ton of screen viewing, including the gloriously black humoured ‘White Lines,’ featuring Daniel Mays, the first two seasons of ‘Rogue’ with Thandie Newton and, another celebration of ‘girl power,’ ‘Queen of the South.’ So refreshing to see (in screen terms only) strong women running cartels.  On the film front, I snapped up Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen.’ Who knew that Hugh Grant could break from his usual stereotype and talk like Michael Caine?  Rich in story and with an all-star cast, it’s not to be missed. The highlight for me, though, was 1917. Powerful and poignant, it reminds us of the nightmare of war and the sacrifice of those who fought in unspeakable conditions. Cinematography was absolutely stunning. Some landscape shots were bathed in a dull yellow. I wondered if this reflected the mustard gas unleashed on British troops.  And books, you might ask?  I didn’t reach for my reading pile because I didn’t think I’d be able to concentrate and I was nose-deep in edits for my latest novel.

To put you in the picture, I wrote and sent my latest draft pre-pandemic. Mid-pandemic, it came back with notes. In the meantime the world had shifted mightily and I seriously wondered how I was going to settle down and tackle those vitally important revisions.

As most writers recognise, receiving notes from your editor can be like listening to a weather forecast. Initially, the sun shines, (phew, he/she really likes it). Next, you notice a bit of cloud on the horizon, (he likes it but could X,Y and Z be changed?) If that cloud unleashes a downpour, (my vision for the story is so-and-so) a hurricane breaks loose. Happily, it turned out my editor and me occupied the same climate zone. But it still left me feeling a little strange about knuckling down. Asked whether my creative juices were flowing, I committed authorial suicide, the honest answer shamefully,  ‘No, not really.’  A deadline, however, had a transformative effect.  Mind over matter was required and I told myself that, if I didn’t feel it, I’d blag it, and if I blagged it long enough, it would be fine. Which, after a bit of going around the houses, or ‘thinking time’ is exactly what happened.

A wise bod told me years’ ago that, in draft form, a story is like jam that isn’t set. Essentially, the basic structure is in place, but there is freedom to shift events and characters around, no need to get too hung up on it.  This stage, when you can be radical and ruthless, is the most creative part of writing for me. Uncertainties regarding the trajectory of the pandemic aside, (not at all easy) I actually enjoyed revision and refining the story, and the way it opened up possibilities for more depth and characterisation. One weird discovery:  (bearing in mind the original draft was written last year) one of my minor characters stockpiles food ‘as if in preparation for a pandemic’. This has been chopped!

Having sent in the revised draft a couple of days ago, ‘Joe Country’ by Mick Herron is about to get my full attention. The month of May might not be merry, but it wasn’t as awful as it could have been.  I’m hoping June will see an improvement.

SLOW START

I had a slow start to 2020 for all the right reasons. I’d sent the first draft (mentioned in my last post) to my agent, which was nothing short of a miracle. Editorial work was steady and of exceptional quality, but I wasn’t rushed off my feet. A rarity, I had time to stand and stare, except I didn’t. When not walking, visiting and generally catching up on all things domestic, I read several novels, two of which stand out like shooting stars on a dark night: ‘London Rules’, by Mick Herron and the utterly sublime, ‘A Treachery of Spies’ by Manda Scott.

Already a committed fan of the ‘Slough House’ crew, I had moments during London Rules’ when I laughed out loud, but don’t be fooled by the hilarity and elegant writing. With terrorism and assassination attempts, there is plenty here that feels serious, contemporary and chilling. Plotting, as ever, is meticulous. Herron is a dab hand at persuading you to look one way when you should be staring at what’s right in front of you. Fast-paced, it’s the kind of story that you can polish off in an uninterrupted day.

‘A Treachery of Spies’ is a different beast. The story begins with a very old woman found dead in a car in France. The gruesome and puzzling circumstances of her death leads Ines Picaut, a lead detective, on a trail that travels back to the Second World War. The dual narrative is one of the brilliant aspects of the story as it switches from present day France to the activities of the British and the Maquis during the French resistance. To say I was gripped was an understatement. The story resonated more strongly as I’d read Damien Lewis’s ‘The Nazi Hunters’ last year.

As the title suggests, betrayal and the difficulties of who to trust in a situation, in which one false move can mean a swift death sentence, (if you’re lucky) powers the narrative. Consequently, Scott’s cast of characters are intriguing and complex, and tension is on a knife-edge throughout. At times, I wanted my imagination to shut down such is the brutality displayed towards those caught by the Nazis, as well as those French deemed to be collaborators by their countrymen. It’s a massive tribute to Scott’s writing that she tells it how it was, without gratuitousness or sensationalism. While the story may be fictional, the courage and commitment of those who fought against occupation and a cruel invader are never in doubt. But this is not a tale of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Human frailty on all sides is laid bare in unflinching detail. If espionage is your thing, go and buy.

Merry Month of May

What a month. And I don’t mean the Royal Wedding.   No, I mean lots of new stuff going on.

Firstly, I’m very happy to confirm my participation in the Jericho Writers 2018 York Festival in September. Running from the 7th-9th, it promises to be bigger and better and the ‘go-to’ place for unpublished writers to meet agents, book ‘doctors’, other writers and those connected to the publishing industry. I’ll be talking about pace and tension, and (surprise surprise) crime fiction. Having attended once before, I can promise it will be a fun and relaxed occasion. Workshops cover every aspect of storytelling, how to pitch your novel for mainstream publishing, and how to go about self-publishing, with tips on marketing. This is just a shorthand version so, if interested, check out Jericho Writers’ website.

I’m as guilty as the next reader for always seeking out my favourite authors so, a few weeks ago, I decided to mix things up and try some new writers. (New to me, that is). I’d planned to take my stash with me for a forthcoming holiday until I realised, in my flush of enthusiasm, the books I’d ordered were scheduled for release after I got back. Undaunted, a fresh trawl supplied me with, among others, ‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Herron.   The first page was so good I couldn’t help but crack on – stuff the holiday. He’s been likened to le Carre yet I think his voice is distinctly different, and what a voice. The story rings with authenticity and ‘tradecraft’. Around seventy-five pages in, I had the shock of my life. Needless to say, I’ll finish it long before my break begins, which is okay as long as my other half doesn’t make off with Adam Hamdy’s ‘Pendulum.’ Having read the first page, he threatened to snaffle it first. Only one thing for it: I pulled rank.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that my new novel had been sent to my agent. This is always a nervous time for any writer, published or yet to be.   Fortunately, and in record time, it received a thumbs-up. Now awaiting the decision of my editors. In the meantime, noodling with big ideas for another Thane novel. Watch this space!

 

HAT TRICK

Last Friday, I was in the slightly surreal position of celebrating three novels published in 2017 with the same publisher. ‘House of Lies’, ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ are released under the Killer Reads’ imprint, the first a female led psychological thriller, the others part of the Joshua Thane series and could be regarded as espionage light. This all came about as a result of hard work by my agent, Broo Doherty, good faith on the part of Charlotte Ledger and Finn Cotton, talented design work for the stunning front covers, good fortune, magic, and a little of my blood, sweat tears. It’s true what they say: writing books and getting them published is down to teamwork.

So what’s next? Today, in the spirit of Christmas, ‘A Deadly Trade’ is available for free for the next twelve days. So get requesting and, hopefully, reviewing. Over the next couple of weeks, check out the Writers’ Workshop Blog for my ‘Seven Top Tips for Writing Thrillers’.   My new novel is taking longer than it should due to on-going editing work. While I might sneak away over the festive period to write, I’m also looking forward to a break, long walks, wood fires and space to think in reasonably clear lines – nothing like a deviation in routine to fire the imagination. I’d also like to get some reading under my (potentially expanding) belt. The pile on my bedside table grows daily and I think those Christmas elves will be delivering a few more.

Looking back on 2017, I think of madcap moving house (again) days, the joyous expansion of the tribe, great novels I’ve read, a couple not yet published. I remember laughter as well as sadness, particularly for those who should still be here and aren’t. The only resolution I’m making for 2018 is to take a longer view and, at the risk of cliché, get the work/life balance better aligned.

So that’s it, in a few weeks’ time, we’ll be well into the festive season and 2018 will be hovering on the horizon. I hope that, whatever dreams and aspirations you hold for the New Year are yours in abundance.

SILLY SEASON

167890-FC50 copySharp-eyed readers will note that I have been silent since June. No, I was not sunning myself throughout July, (well, that’s a bit of lie because I’ve done a fair amount of walking and appreciating my new surroundings) but with a new home to organise, people to see, writing projects aplenty, and a new cover and title, ‘House of Lies’ to promote, my blog writing got parked in the long grass.

So now back to the crazy month of August when MP’s are on recess, the country is run by stand-in’s and families try to entertain their kids through weeks of pouring rain – well, it was the last time I looked out of the window.

Me? I’m juggling work commitments that include writing a brand new story while looking forward to the release of ‘A Deadly Trade’ later in the year, followed by ‘Final Target’ as part of the Joshua Thane series of thrillers, and published by Harper Collins’ imprint Killer Reads. The covers look drop dead gorgeous but I’m not allowed to splash them here even in a ‘For Your Eyes Only’ spy kind of way.   The cover reveals will be unveiled soon – promise.   Oh, yes, I also have a new website in the pipeline, which after ten years is long overdue. It’s going to be sleeker, meaner and thoroughly stunning – I’ve seen the sneak preview.

So lots to look forward to as we wend our way to you know what. Unlike the retail industry, I refuse to mention that word in the second week of August!

REBEL REBEL

Never did I think I’d nick the title from a David Bowie song and apply it to Frederick Forsyth but, after reading ‘The Outsider,’ it seems entirely appropriate.

I’ve long been a fan of Forsyth’s novels and films. Even if you’re unfamiliar with his books, ‘The Day of the Jackal’ is stamped on most people’s psyches. For me, ‘The Fist of God’ remains one of my favourites.

As mentioned in my last post, I was given his semi-autobiography for Christmas. I say ‘semi’ because Forsyth is at pains to state that it isn’t an autobiography, yet he gives a fascinating insight into his background, his time working for Reuters as a journalist, his thorny and short-lived career at the BBC and, eye-openingly, his stint as a foreign correspondent covering the war between Nigeria and Biafra which, according to Forsyth, was fuelled by the then Wilson government. Having deeply personal experience of the terrible price paid by children during the conflict, Forsyth swears never to forgive those in power for creating such a colossal humanitarian crisis. Shortly after this, broke and with no job, he decided to write his way to success. He’s quite open about his naivety and the fact he knew nothing about publishing or the first thing about how to write a novel. He also admits to being clueless with money.   All things considered, he doesn’t appear to have done too badly!

An only child, (left to his own devices, he developed a strong imagination) he spent long holidays posted solo with families in both France and Germany. As a result, he became fluent in French and German at an early age and to the extent that he could pass himself off to native-speakers. Later on, in order to bag a story, he’d often play the part of bumbling Brit abroad and adopt an atrocious accent with a limited vocabulary so that he could listen to those who believed that their conversations were not understood. This served him well, and probably saved his life when, now a published novelist, he carried out a heart-stopping ‘off the books’ job for the ‘Firm’ in East Berlin as a means to return a favour.

But I’ve fast-forwarded.

With a fascination for aircraft, Forsyth was persistent in his attempt to obtain a pilot’s licence and join the RAF where he flew single-seat Vampires. Later, a journalistic posting to Berlin brought him into contact with some fairly unpleasant people and, according to his account, he very nearly started World War III. On more than one occasion, it’s fair to say that he risked his life.

But what did I learn about the man? Like a lot of young men, the younger Frederick Forsyth was clearly addicted to danger and derring-do, but if a guy can have the elusive X-Factor, he had it in spades. Charismatic, a hit with women, he was charming and witty, and I dare say still is. A stickler for intellectual rigour, he doesn’t appear to suffer fools but he’s not one of those sneery individuals who stamps his intelligence on those less mentally agile, rather he employs a robust sense of wry humour. Unimpressed by status, he’s anti-Establishment, hates inaccuracy and cover-up and, I sense, has a long, unforgiving memory for those in power who abuse it. Born from long experience of how the world ticks, he’s a cynic yet also comes across as compassionate and a good reader of people. One of the most attractive aspects is that he puts his success down to sheer luck and does not give the impression that this is false modesty.

Sometimes I play a little game in which I name a famous person – could be a writer, musician or even politician – and ask myself, if invited to dinner, would I accept. You’d be amazed how many folk with whom I wouldn’t care to share a packet of crisps, but dinner with Mr F? I’m in.

HUSH MY MOUTH!

First off, apologies for my spelling malfunction yesterday when referring to Ben Whishaw – what was I thinking?!  Clearly, not thinking at all.

Moving swiftly on, you may remember I gabbed on about the pure brilliance of London Spy and stand by my comments about superb acting and Ben Whishaw’s outstanding performance.  Masterful storytelling was a hallmark of the series until midway through the finale in which I skidded to a dirty great halt.

It’s common knowledge that, if the big climactic scene, the one the audience has waited hours for doesn’t deliver, the preceding story is screwed.  I wouldn’t go this far because it would be grossly unfair.  There were plenty of big revelations to sustain attention, and the way in which Danny’s every effort to reveal the truth was thwarted with chilling ease ratcheted tension to fever pitch, but the fact that, in the final analysis, there were more questions than answers says a lot.

Who were all those people holed up in Alex’s attic with listening devices and cameras?  I assumed that they were intelligence officers carrying out a dastardly form of torture that would give the most deranged terrorist a run for his or her money.  (As a claustrophobe, there was one point when I almost ran out of the room screaming).  Why, instead, wasn’t Alex offered a deal from the lonely bowels of an interrogation room in SIS HQ?  If he refused, why wasn’t he let go and left to the tender mercies of a ‘Wet’ team?  Why was Charlotte Rampling, Alex’s alleged mother, dragged in to reason with Alex in his dying moments when the intelligence service thought so little of her?  Why on earth did she throw her hand in with Danny in a doomed endeavour in the final seconds of the episode when previously she had so stoutly defended her position?

If I were Tom Rob Smith, I’d be tempted to respond with the ultimate put-down:  his novels have sold in millions and been made into a film.  Precisely, but that’s why I expected so much more.