Thursday, 17 September 2020

It's not quite a new novel, but hey ....

The rather natty cover of Howdunit

Len Deighton is long into a well-deserved retirement - his last full novel was well over 25 years ago - but he still writes regularly and this week his first piece of published writing, at least that I'm aware of, since his 2012 James Bond e-book, has appeared.

It's a chapter in Howdunit, a new compendium by the members of the Detection Club. A masterclass of crime and thriller fiction from masters of the genre.

And the book as a whole is dedicated to Len, who, the reader is reminded, was first elected to membership of the Detection Club in 1969.

So, it's his fiftieth year of membership. He's their longest serving member.

How many of ever can say we've been a member of anything for fifty years or more?

So, what will you find in this book, which is sure to be catnip for spy fiction and thriller readers alike as well as hardened crime fines? 

Well, how about:

...Val McDermid, on letting the story be the driver...

...Ngaio Marsh on the value of great research to a story...

...John Le Carre on the joy of writing...

...and Ian Rankin on why crime fiction is good for you.

That's just a taste of what's available in this tome (and it's a book that feels weighty, hefty, and deserving of that title.

There are over 500 pages of content for a relatively modest £25 for the hardback limited edition.

So what of Len's contribution?

His chapter, fourteen pages long, is entitled: Different Books; Different Problems; Different Solutions.

Essentially, it is Len recounting his experiences as a writer of nearly sixty years. Sharing anecdotes (many familiar, some new) and passing on tips.

 For instance, The value of research in ensuring you get things right:

"I have abandoned three books halfway through and it is a miserable experience."

Ah. What might have been! He gives infomation about what they were:

  • The well-known Vietnam-based story around fighter pilots
  • An espionage story about an orchestra travelling behind the Iron Curtain
  • A book about worldwide revolutionary movements, from the Bolsheviks and onwards.
The benefits of leaving paper behind and writing Bomber on his new IBM word processor in 1969, famously the first novel fully written on a Word Processor:
"Revisions, corrections and edits are always part of my writing process; and scribbling between the lines on typewritten pages, as well as cutting them up and rearranging paragraphs, kept me on my knee brandishing the glue pot."

The benefits of not wasting anything already started, and recycling it:

"Like most writers I begrudge wasted experience (even my abandoned revolution research was used in a South American locale for MAMista)."

The value of coincidence and happenstance to a writer in being able to bump into the spy fraternity and, one imagines, draw on their stories:

"Visiting a friend in HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs on a sunny day [who was that?] when visitors and inmates were gathered in the grassy interior lawn, I found George Blake, one of Russia's most successful agents, seated at the next table. Maxwell Knight of MI5 and Sir Maurice Oldfield, the head of MI6, were friends of friends. They were everywhere. One didn't have to look beyond our writing fraternity to find men who had worked in the service."

Overall, it's a neat insight into the life of a writer. 

Like many of the other authors in this book I suspect, writing about himself, and the process of writing, is I imagine something Len would happily exchange for writing about a character or a scene.

But for a reader, it's a way to understand the process and thinking behind the characters and situations which you have enjoyed over the years are given another facet, as the process of their creation is given just a little bit more detail.

If you read any sort of thriller fiction, there is plenty beyond simply Len Deighton's chapter in this book to raise your eyebrows and thumb your bookshelves.


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Snippets from the Ripster

Lockdown's been an odd experience. Even as some restrictions ease, it's going to be an odd summer.

I recently received a nice message from author Mike Ripley - who's a long-standing friend of Len Deighton, and of the Dossier. Judging by the pic he shared, he's coping fine with lockdown!

Mike Ripley suffering through lockdown!

Mike - who writes the always excellent 'Getting Away with It' column in the online Shots magazine is a great source for all the latest news in crime and thriller fiction, pointed me in the direction of two recent homages, if you will, to Deighton's wok.

In his newspy story Hammer to Fall, John Lawton includes this scene:

The hero spy returning from a mission to Finland in 1966 goes to the home of his boss to find that the boss’ wife - a notoriously bad cook – has left ‘a nice little bourguignon on the hob’ for them. The spymaster boss tells our hero:

“Ever since she discovered Len Deighton’s Cookstrip she’s been unstoppable. Calls it cuisine à la spook … her shorthand for it is spy-fry.”

Nice pun!

And in Mike's own new book Mr Campion's Seance, a visiting Interpol agent is waiting for Campion at Scotland Yard. When Campion arrives he finds him surrounded by a pile of newspapers. The setting is November 1962:

‘Your English is as annoyingly good as it always was.’ Campion pointed to the pile of Evening Standard newspapers on the chair and leaned over to peruse the one open on the desk. ‘Is that your secret? A close reading of the juicy stories in London’s evening papers?’

‘Superintendent Luke kindly gave me yesterday’s issue to read whilst I was waiting and I discovered this wonderful serial, a new spy story called
The Ipcress File. I simply had to know what had gone before and one of the constables found me copies of last week’s papers. It is really very good; you should read it.’

‘Are you sure it’s fiction? Our newspapers seem to be uncovering spy stories every week these days.’

‘This story reads like it is true, but it is fiction. The paper says there will be a book soon.’

Mike tells me he sent Len a copy of my book which (he said) he enjoyed, and told him about the John Lawton reference. He emailed Mike back: ‘How nice to hear that I am not forgot.’


Thursday, 18 June 2020

The quest is over: the tale of the elusive SS-GB postcard

This is a post about collecting, and the thrill of tracking down big game.

In my case, the 'big game' was in fact small and rather insignificant - a postcard 4 inches by 6 inches. But bagging it bought to the end fifteen or more years of patient stalking.

This blog - and the Deighton Dossier main website - started as a means of documenting and sharing my collection of Len Deighton books and other items. It has since grown over a decade and more into a small but well-informed community of fellow collectors, readers and spy fiction fans, including over on the main Facebook group.

I'm still a keen book collector - not just of Deighton, but other authors too. Even though my collection is (according to a number of dealers) impressive, there are still odd gaps here and there. 

Most of these I would class as 'hyper rare' items of ephemera. This week, after keeping my eyes open online for fifteen years plus, I found what I'd been looking for.

It is this, a simple postcard, part of the marketing materials for the first UK edition of SS-GB:

Designed by Raymond Hawkey, it shows on the front the 'Siegesparade in London, 20 April 1941', divisions of Waffen SS marching confidently down Whitehall to mark the victory of the Nazis over the British which forms the central conceit of Deighton's famous 'alternative history' thriller, which was made into a series by the BBC.

The image was also used on the dust jacket of the UK first edition.

Friday, 27 March 2020

An organised shelf is a happy shelf

Like a large part of the world's population right now, I am in 'lockdown' mode as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic, doing my part to help reduce the spread of the infection through the community where I live by working from home and staying indoors (unlike all those members of the community in vital jobs like medicine and food distribution who are the heroes of the moment).

It's tough at time, but as the aphorism goes, when you're given lemons ... . So, I've had much more time on my hands to spend with my books: not just my collection of Deighton books, but all the books on my shelves. And one way to use that excess spare time is to get round to dusting and, more importantly, re-arranging the books on my shelves.

Here's the result for bookshelf one, which was certainly an improvement on how it looked befor:

Taking all the books off the shelf, putting them into different category and size piles, then putting them back in a new way was a very satisfying thing to do. It didn't achieve anything or immeasurably improve my life, but I was glad I did it, so much so that I then proceeded to go through all my other shelves.


It got me thinking, why did I spend the time doing this, and not something else? Why did I choose one way of arranging my books, while other people choose alternative ways of arranging theirs.

As is the modern way, I went online and did an search on the internet for 'the psychology of tidy bookshelves'. And wouldn't you know it: page after page of blog posts, magazine articles, social media post, all about why people have, or don't have, tidy shelves (general, and book).

This article, for example, in House Beautiful magazine (not, I might add, a regular read, but just one of the search results I clicked on) suggests that the way you stack your books tells you something about who you are and how you think. While I don't give much credence to the psychological and intellectual underpinnings of House Beautiful, the broad idea is right. Indeed, how your or I perform any activity - tying our shoes, buying clothes, doodling on a blank page - is likely to offer some insight into how you think and approach life.

So, as a book collector, who enjoys reading, looking at, handling, admiring and searching for books - especially, given the nature of this site, the works of Len Deighton - it made me pause for thought over coffee about what my books shelf style says about me, and why - in this current global pandemic - spending quality time with your books can be helpful and fulfilling. (Though, of course, while fun, it's no replacement for the current lack of human contact many of us around the world face!)

Your books are an important part of your life
They're not as important as family, health, mental well-being, no, of course not. But books of whatever kind - spy novels, cook books, picture books, coffee table books - serve to nourish the soul and stimulate the mind. I know on each of the seven book shelves I own that, having curated every book on them, I know that in times like the present, when I have more time in the house, I'll find something I want to read and will feel comfortable losing myself in.

Tidying a bookshelf can throw up surprises.
By tidying up four bookshelves of various books, I discovered I had duplicate copies of three first editions of books (one a Deighton, but two from other collections). I wouldn't ordinarily buy two copies of a book if I didn't need to, so I wondered: why had I done that. A few thoughts: as one gets older, clearly, the mind doesn't remember as much as when you were 15. So, simple forgetfulness.
It might also point to the fact that, prior to this tidying up, my shelves were disordered, and these duplicates - which I might have spotted if the collection were logical and ordered - would have come to light earlier. I also pondered on another source: the modern ease with which buying books, especially collectable books, can create a degree of laziness in the collector and encourage purchases where you just 'might not be sure' you have the book, without first actually checking if you do. If nothing else, that's money I could be saving right there in those three books (value about £55).

The de-cluttering phenomenon can apply to books, too
2019 was the year the Marie Kondo effect became a world-wide revolution, apparently. "Tidying can transform your life." I wouldn't go that far, but certainly I can see how a concentration on a specific task, the creation or order and harmony (for example, having all the book spine titles reading the same way) can de-stress and generally bring a smile to your face. Ms Kondo has created ire among book collectors for her throwaway approach to books and generated a meme war. Like all things on social media, it's more heat and light but was certainly funny for the most part. I don't get the impression she is anti-book, perhaps more anti keeping books just for the sake of keeping them.

But is that what collectors do? I don't think so. There is purpose to their collecting (their certainly is to mine, which is personal to me, specific, not motivated by monetary value, and tied to specific, long-standing interests which I intend to continue pursuing). However, I have known collectors who - through having any strategic focus to their collecting - perhaps might benefit from a little of Ms Kondo's teaching. But, only a little.

I certainly found it satisfying to re-group all my Bernard Samson ennealogy books together - UK, US and German first editions - on a shelf at eye level, as these are my favourite books and, on reflection, it felt odd that they had been scattered on different shelves. Now, there is a nice degree of orderliness and finality to it: these books, and others in different collections, just should be together.

People like to show off
I admit: I like people to look at my bookshelves, and my different collections. Books, I guess, send positive signals to friends, partners, acquaintances that you have something about you, you have some heft, you're, as the phrase says, 'well read'.

With social media, this has become something of a phenomenon - and indeed, perhaps this post is ironically emblematic of the growth in 'humblebragging', using memes like #Showusyoushelves,where people post up images of their bookscases, as I have done, online. 

What does it mean? Is it bad? I don't think so. Is it showing off? Probably. Does it harm anyone? No. It could be all these things and many more. I'm sure I get a frisson of pleasure when someone makes positive comments about my shelves, my collections, my choices, my interests. Who wouldn't.

Tidying helps protect your books from damage
I spotted a number of my Deightons - especially one or two with the red ink on the spine, red being especially vulnerable - were showing signs of fading, so I moved them down to a shelf more out of the light. But it's not just spines; it's only when books are taken out and inspected that you can spot signs of partial fading, where the extent of the fade is determined by the books immediately contiguous to that particular book. This can lead to some unfortunate effects.

In some cases, I've simply turned the books spine inwards. It makes them hard to identify, but until I can come up with a long-term solution, that's my play.

It reminds you of long-forgotten gems
Just through the simple process of tidying, I've put aside two or three books I've not looked at in years, to reacquaint myself and be reminded why I purchased it in the first place. Rare is it that I will look upon a book and think, 'why am I keeping that?'

All in all, there is no science to a book shelf, It's an extension of a person's personality, so it will always be flawed, erratic, and incomplete.

Ms Kondo's tidyness extremism isn't for this collector, but the general lesson I took from this morning of tidying was that it's always good to spend time with your books!

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Samson, yes … but Delilah? [Guest post]

What are the parallels, if any, between Bernie Samson and his biblical namesake?

[This is a guest post by first-time contributor Seymour Maddison]

Caveat: While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, a piece like this inevitably poses a risk for any of you still enjoying the Samson trilogies for the first time.

As much as I appreciate Len Deighton’s non-fiction and earlier novels, I experience an especial thrill every time I return to the Bernard Samson books, not least because of how they have influenced my own mystery writing. 

Not only do the three trilogies [Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match; Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker; Faith, Hope, Charity] and Winter showcase a fiction writer at the peak of his craft: I’d suggest they conceal a heavy dose of intrigue. 

This post is therefore an invitation to join me in trying to make sense of what lies below the surface.

In particular, I’d like to propose that the series contains some rarely-if-ever-discussed theories, capable of challenging Deighton novices and aficionados alike. Inspired by an earlier post, the first of these I’ve come to christen ‘The Samson & Delilah Hypothesis’ – and anyone squeamish should be warned that we’re going to need a copy of the Old Testament!

Have you ever pondered: why ‘Samson’?

The only association with the name Samson that I have is through the Bible story. You remember :
Strong man loses his powers when his hair is shorn while he sleeps … his missus is betraying him because … something to do with him continually beating up the Philistines … and then there was this lion … and he goes blind (Samson, not the lion) yet still manages to shove over a temple, in the process killing heaps of baddies … and so on.

Hopefully you paid more attention as a kid than I did! Which is why I was motivated to revisit the Book of Judges recently, in the process discovering multiple versions of the tale. And naturally, that was just some of the English language interpretations.

So … about that Samson & Delilah Hypothesis.

And I mean, in particular, this one: vested interests work to neutralise the significant threat that is (Bernard) Samson.

Sounds pretty straightforward.

Yet apparently, it’s not something discussed elsewhere. But if the theory holds water – and I’m claiming that not only does the Samson tale go to the heart of Deighton’s choice of the name, but can be mapped across the entire plot – does this not suggest a new lens through which you can view the series?

Doubtless you as a reader can recall more of the original story than I could. 

But on reflection, then, to what extent do you agree that a clear parallel seems to exist between Bernie and his biblical counterpart? That is to say: 
  • Both stride around, effortlessly taking out their opponents [Eastern Bloc intelligence or the Philistines] 
  • Yet, simultaneously, both stumble around their emotional landscape, unable to experience normal relations with the women in their lives 
  • Meantime, covert forces work to remove them from the conflict. 

So where is there crossover between the Book of Judges and Deighton’s labyrinthine plot?

To get you thinking, can I propose the following matches for some of the main locations mentioned :

  • Israel = The West
  • The Philistines = the Warsaw Pact countries [see Judges 14:4 - ‘at that time the Philistines lorded it over Israel’]
  • The camp of Dan = the British
  • Zorah = West Berlin
And for some of the supporting characters :
  • Manoah = Brian Samson [Bernard’s dad]
  • Father-in-law = David Kimber-Hutchison [Fiona’s dad]
  • Younger sister = Tessa

I’m sure readers will easily be able to suggest more … however, I’d caution against assuming, as I did, that just because Delilah always gets paired with Samson, then ‘Delilah’ must be Fiona!

You see, it turns out that in the Old Testament story (and this was exactly the kind of detail I’d forgotten or never knew), Samson was married before he met Delilah.

To the clear disappointment of his parents, he’d set his heart on ‘a woman … of the daughters of the Philistines.’ Unfortunately, this union, like all of Samson’s relationships, didn’t end too well!

Even by the time of their wedding, his bride had succumbed to coercion and was favouring her own people over him. Perhaps tellingly, the wife seems to drop out of the story before Delilah appears on the scene (we’ll return to this later I’m sure, in the comments). The account is quite salacious and only explained in part; though clearly some of the marital disharmony at least was caused by Samson’s father-in-law.

Based on the above, I’m suggesting that Fiona is synonymous with Samson’s initial wife and that, because of the role she subsequently plays in Bernard’s life, ‘Delilah’ is in fact Gloria

Witness her [Gloria's] ongoing attempts to have him succumb to domestic bliss; and remembering the explanation that ‘Forces work to remove (Samson) from the conflict,’ what finer way to yoke a family (and man’s) man than by creating a home so inviting that it overrides all urges which would otherwise keep drawing him outdoors?

Did somebody order a haircut?

So far so good, although I’d also not rush to judgment about who ‘the lords of the Philistines’ are; they are regularly mentioned as pulling the strings which oppose Samson.

During his November 2012 interview with Len Deighton, you may have read Rob Mallows [Deighton Dossier editor] alluding to Silas Gaunt as ‘the mastermind behind everything.’

According to the transcript, however, the author didn’t confirm this assertion outright. Rather, as he went on to explain his planning process before beginning to write:

'I started off with a wall chart outlining a series of twelve [sic] books … In the chart Silas was the master-mind. At the end of writing Berlin Game I wasn't sure if it would all work out as planned.’

So if Uncle Silas isn’t necessarily the ultimate puppet master, who else can you think of who may be in the frame?

I myself have one idea to share, however, I would be very interested to hear other readers’ perspectives at this point: either something you’ve discerned from one or more of the books or, in the spirit of scientific endeavour, maybe you have evidence which blows out of the water my starting hypothesis, perhaps one of the identifications, etc?

But hang on, that’s right. You were promised more than one thought-provoking theory, weren’t you?

Well. What if Deighton’s plotting goes deeper still?

What if the enemy isn’t only running defensive operations ‘to neutralise the significant threat that is Samson’? What if the author has helped them penetrate London Central itself?

We can of course get into these and other mysteries in the comments section. But I would set out a challenge Deighton Dossier readers: what’s your reading of my Samson & Delilah Hypothesis?

What impacts would you say the biblical story has had on Deighton’s series?

The Deighton Dossier thanks Seymour for his contribution. So, what do you think, Dossier readers? Carry on the discussion either in the comments section, or on the Dossier Facebook page.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Marketing military history - Fighter and Battle of Britain

While globally he is known for his spy fiction and as one of the premier spy fiction writers of the twentieth century, Len Deighton also demonstrated his status as something of an auto-didact and polymath, having commercial success in the fields of cookery - his Action Cook Book for example was picked by The Observer a few years ago as one of the top cookery books of the century - and history, particularly military history.

Research in the British Library archives recently - specifically, further highlights from rummaging around The Bookseller archives - threw up some interesting examples of how the books were marketed to the trade and how his publishers, and booksellers, cross-marketed his status as an established fiction author into the non-fiction market.

Len Deighton was not a trained historian; indeed, he left school and went pretty much straight into National Service (having been too young to be called up in World War Two) in the RAF, flying as a photographer in RAF intelligence. So, its perhaps understandable that he developed here a love of flying and aeroplanes, and an interest in military history.

While not a professional historian, he became a particularly effective amateur one. What seems to have been essential to the publishing success of Deighton's history books - especially Fighter: the true story of the Battle of Britain; BlitzkriegBlood, Sweat & Tears; and Battle of Britain - was playing up the same secret of his success for his fiction work: diligence, attention to detail, months (even years) of background research, and a capacity to tell a complex, multi-layered story with multiple characters, that he had developed since the early sixties through his fiction.

Clearly, being an internationally famous spy fiction author of top rank was helpful to Deighton in opening doors and giving him access to the people who could best tell the story (those who had fought), not just on the allied side but on the German side too. I think that see-both-sides aspect to much of the history that Deighton wrote does make for a more balanced and comprehensive understanding for the reader of why things happened the way they did, which ultimately is what you want as a reader from any history book.

This image and caption from 1977 (lower right) - in The Bookseller - is from a flight in a Heinkel bomber undertaken by the author as part of his research for Fighter: the true story of the Battle of Britain. What's interesting is what you read in the caption: first, his international renown gave him access to Luftwaffe aces who could give him first hand feedback on the; and second, that there was six years of research behind the book.

That's reflected in many of the reviews the book got, such as the review "In their flying machines" by the late Clive James, in the New Statesman:
"The weakness of Bomber lay in its characters. Deighton invented a representative battle and staffed it with what he fancied were representative types. Actually they weren't as clumsily drawn as you might think. Deighton is not quite as bad at character as the critics say, just as John le Carre is not quite as good. A book like Yesterday's Spy, one of Deighton's recent fictions, is not only stronger on action than le Carré's later work, but features more believable people. The cast-list of Close-Up is indeed hopelessly makeshift, but the characters flying around in Bomber, though divided up and labelled in what looks like a rough-and-ready way, are deployed with some cunning to bring out the relevant tensions. You could be excused, however, for not connecting them to the real world. In Fighter there is no way out of it. The Battle of Britain really happened. Not just the machines, but the people too, really existed. And Deighton has managed to give the whole event a clarity which it lacked even at - especially at - the time.

According to Deighton (and he is very likely right) the Battle of Britain was never won, but there was sufficient reason for triumph in the fact that it was not lost. Dowding's whole effort was to ensure that Fighter Command should survive as a force. He could not realistically hope to destroy the Luftwaffe, but on the other hand he could hope to go on denying it command of the air, thereby rendering invasion impossible. Dowding was a percentage player. He was under relentless pressure - especially from one of his own immediate subordinates, Leigh-Mallory - to gamble his strength in mass actions. He resisted the pressure, guarded his resources, and fought a protracted battle with great patience as well as consummate skill and daring.
Fighter would be valuable if it did nothing more than help correct the popular impression that Leigh-Mallory's "big wing" theory was a possible alternative to Dowding's penny-packet tactics. The big wing theory was widely publicised after the war in Paul Brickhill's best-selling biography of Douglas Bader, Reach for the Sky. Even retrospectively it is an appealing notion, and at the time must have seemed like simple common sense to the pilots of Leigh- Mallory's 11 Group, kept in reserve by Dowding's order until the battle was almost over. Bitterly frustrated, they could be forgiven for thinking that if they swooped en masse and shot down a whole raid the Germans would throw in the sponge. But Deighton has the facts and figures to prove that Dowding couldn't take the risk. If his number of trained pilots fell below a certain point, there could be no making up the loss. So he set his face like flint against the rage of his own young heroes. In the long run (or, rather, the disgracefully short run) that was probably one of the things which cost him his job."

Of course, that's six years (approximately from 1971 to 1977) during which time not only was Deighton researching one of the definitive stories of the Battle of Britain; he was also writing and successfully publishing:

  • Declarations of War
  • Close-Up
  • Spy Story
  • Yesterday's Spy
And, one would imagine, also making notes for other history books and novels. Yet having multiple projects on the go in the seventies did not, as evidenced by positive sales, result in any evident diminution of quality. His publishers, Cape, must have seen significant sales potential in this new output from their author, judging by the not inconsiderable weeks of marketing behind the book, and the different point of sale and other materials which were produced, to back up their investment. 

Of course, in marketing any book, a clear hook or anniversary is always handy for catching the public's imagination and making a sale. So when, in 1980, Jonathan Cape published Battle of Britain - a companion volume to Fighter which was essentially an illustrated history - they played up the fortieth anniversary of the actual battle as part of the marketing and PR push

Here's an example of the advertising that would have appeared in magazines and shops around that anniversary (again, copyright The Bookseller):

It's a great example of how good marketing covers all the bases and ensures that the public, the potential target consumers - largely, I'd imagine, middle-class people aged maybe fifty and above who remembered the battle - are bombarded with images, reviews, recommendations and stories wherever they look that encourage them to open up their wallets, walk down to the local bookstore (no Amazon in those days, or course) and buy a copy of the book.

You'll see the advert reference advanced serialisation in The Sunday Times magazine. Here's some of the images from that resulting article. The PR is all about reinforcing Deighton as chronicler ad of the battle, but putting the actual men who fought in it front and centre of the story telling at a time when there would have been national commemoration of the battle, and a good many of them were still alive.

2020 of course, marks the eightieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I would imagine that Deighton's publishers are probably considering the chance to re-issue both Fighter and Battle of Britain for that anniversary in new editions or formats, as the reader market will likely be super receptive to any product or book that allows them to learn more about an aspect of British history that's never far from the collective memory.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Season's Greeting to Dossier readers

Another year passes, another Christmas season approaches.

I'd like to thank all the readers and visitors to this blog - and the accompanying main website/archive, the Deighton Dossier - who've read the articles, added comments, got in touch with me or otherwise contributed to the small but lively online community of Deighton readers and spy fiction fans.

In the decade or more since setting up this blog, I've enjoyed reading the comments and the emails received from fans all across the globes - on at least five continents, according to the statistics - who enjoy Len Deighton's books as much as me, and in return it's a pleasure to share my thoughts, and sometimes those of other readers and fans, on this blog.

The last few months posting has been limited. But in the context of over a decade of posting (over four hundred separate posts) and sharing interesting finds, titbits, nuggets, images and stories, a slight pause from time to time is permissible, I hope you'll agree.

On that note, as I do every year, I encourage other readers and spy fiction scholars and experts who have their own views and ideas on reading and collecting Deighton's works, to get in touch. I'm keen to increase the volume of alternative voices on here, to bolster the number of posts I put up.

Most importantly, thanks for visiting the blog, and have an enjoyable peaceful Christmas and New Year, whatever your beliefs or not.

Remember, spies often don't get to spend Christmas with their families:
England. Christmas 1983.
Gloria Kent felt miserable. She had bought Bernard Samson's two young children to spend Christmas with her parents. She was tall and blonde and very beautiful and she was wearing the low-cut green dress she had bought specially to impress Bernard.
'Why isn't he with his children?' Gloria's mother asked for the umpteenth time. She was putting the Christmas lunch dishes into the dishwasher as Gloria brought them from the table.
'He was given Christmas duty at the last minute,' said Gloria. 'And the nanny had already gone home.'
'You are a fool, Gloria,' said her mother. 

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Posting lull...

As you can infer from the image, there's been something of a posting lull on the Deighton Dossier blog website the past three months.

The site's been going for just over a decade and there's plenty of stuff on there ... I'm just taking a little bit of a break from posting on it.

But I will ensure that when there's interesting Deighton-related news or stories to post, I'll post them up here along with the main Dossier website.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Harry Palmer, mapped

Been contacted recently about this neat initiative: the Literary Tube Map of London, by In The Book, which is a specialist publishing company that creates personalised books.

They've created their own literary tube map of London, replacing the station names on the popular map with notable literary works that were set in those areas. 

Near the centre of the map, on what Londoners will know is the Hammersmith & Fulham and Circle and Metropolitan Lines on the London Underground, you'll find Len Deighton’s classic first novel The Ipcress File

Its on these lines where his unnamed intelligence agent - Harry Palmer - begins his mysterious journey in the book. And Len Deighton, of course, was born and brought up in London, near Paddington.

The map shows the geographical mapping of London’s finest works of literature, and it's neat to see which books lie - geographically - near each other. In particular, there are gothic Victorian works lingering on the Piccadilly Line such as Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, whereas Sherlock Holmes is iconically located on Baker Street, only a stop away from The Ipcress File.

The Ipcress File is a largely London-based book, even though certain parts of the book take place (or appear to take place) outside of the city. The London Underground map's a classic, and this isn't the first time that someone's re-purposed it to tell a different story. But, it's cool that The Ipcress File has earned a prominent place.

Personally, I'd have put London Match on there, probably somewhere near Westminster Station or Marble Arch. But even though it's not on this map, you can always find the different locations in all nine Bernard Samson novels on this Google Map.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

A Deighton online miscellany round-up

The Internet offers an endless cornucopia of good stuff, if you can find it.

Once in a while, I do a Google search using "Len Deighton" to see what new articles are out there about the author; what rare items and collectables are up for auction in the global market place for rare books; and sometimes, to see frankly if there are interesting snippets of information and opinion I might have missed related to the author and his works.

This post is the result of one such search. It's a trawl with my virtual dragnet of various things Deighton-related which readers of this blog might find interesting. So, here goes.

  • An interesting article from last month in CrimeReads, in which author Timothy Jay Smith compares contemporary Cold War fiction with classics from the genre; he draws no firm conclusions, but rather highlights some top picks readers may not be familiar with
  • An article from 2015 by Len, which I'd not seen before, for the 4th Estate magazine, in which he discusses the creation of his famous cookstrips. He plots a familiar path, but there are some added details here which I'd not read before and which add new wrinkles to understanding this design classic
  • 2014's Eye magazine also ran a feature on the cookstrips - Fry like a Spy - that is pretty comprehensive ... and gives a shout out to the Deighton Dossier which I hadn't seen before!
  • This digitised article from the New York Times archives is from 1981 - it's a short profile of the author, then 52 years old, published on the occasion of the US release of his novel XPD. Perhaps the most interesting element is his recollection of stalled plans for a novel about Vietnam, which ended up as a short story instead in Declarations of War
  • A blog post by British writer Steve Newman, on the Medium website, about The Ipcress File - the 'novel that got away', in which he recounts how his (now valuable) first edition of the novel was taken by a childhood friend .... and never returned! Moral? Never lend your books out without good reason
  • This portrait of the author if from the National Gallery's archives, and is from 1990, right in the middle of his most active period of writing, with the Samson ennealogy
  • A less-than-warm review of Spy Sinker and Spy Line by blogger Sarah Rhiannon Ward
  • From 1987's Washington Post, a thorough but rather luke warm review of Winter, the Samson prequel novel, by reviewer Elizabeth Ward, who mourns that the novel lacks some of the cheeky narrative of Deighton's early novels
  • A review from the Bitter Tea and Mystery blog site from 2012 of the same two novels. Nothing earth shattering, but readers opinions of books are always worth a look, if for nothing else to compare and contrast with one's own
  • A 1985 review of London Match US first edition in the New York Times, in which the reviewer raises concerns that the trilogy plot, concluded in this book, lacked a certain catharsis for the reader
  • A lengthy review of 1996's Charity, the last Samson novel, on the Books & Books blog site
  • A paean to the cookstrips from The Independent in 2009 - on the occasion of the new edition to mark the author's eightieth birthday; this 1997 interview with Len from the same newspaper by Michael Bateman explores in more depth his passion for food and cooking
  • A short piece on Len Deighton's book cover art - which pleasingly links to the relevant page on the Deighton Dossier - from the That's How the Light Gets In blog 

Anyway, have a gander and see if you find something of interest. If you spot any interesting Deighton-book related articles out there on the Internet that blog readers might find interesting, put a link in the comments!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Review: Desmond Bagley's 'missing' novel, Domino Island

Twenty-first century cover, seventies story
[Note - this review will be spoiler free, as the book has only just been released (16 May)]

An almost complete, undiscovered thriller novel by an acknowledge "master of the genre", hidden away for decades and discovered by chance.

How often does that happen in the literary world. Rarely, I imagine. But it's the case with Domino Island - newly published by Harper Collins - and for fans of Desmond Bagley, it's largely speaking been worth the wait.

First, a bit about the provenance of the book. It's discovery is down to Bagley know-it-all (literally) Phil Eastwood - operator of the Bagley Brief, now the pre-eminent source for all things Bagley online. Researching his new biography of Bagley, he discovered the manuscript among a pile of Bagley's papers in Massachussets.

Writer Michael Davies acts as 'curator' for this novel, which I'm guessing means that he filled in any minor gaps, edited it, and polished the text - this was, after all, not a final text of a novel, but one which contained hand-written annotations by the author and his editor.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Selling stories - the art of the advertisement

Ray Hawkey's unforgettable advertising for Deighton's fifth novel

In the current marketing man (or woman)'s tool box, digital is everything - targeted pop up ads, viral videos, gifs, animations, banner advertising are all now essential to raising reader awareness of a new title and turning that awareness into revenue.

I often think that, as a result, we have lost something in the world of books - physical ephemera and well designed advertising that, when seen, I suspect had much greater impact. Certainly, as a collector,  I'm glad that the authors I collect - and of course, especially Len Deighton - wrote in a pre-digital age that, like paper fossils, left behind so much ephemera and other traces of their books to be found by the dedicated fossil hunter.

That's why I was struck by some examples from archive editions of The Bookseller - the trade publication for book shops in the UK - from the 'sixties and 'seventies of just how straightforward and one-dimensional the marketing of Len Deighton's books was - in the sense of being physical, and limited to advertising and 'point of sale' - and, as a result, how creative the book companies had to be to come up with new ways of ensuring the booksellers themselves did their part, and displayed and sold the books in a way that would maximise revenue for all parties.

When you have the likes of designer Raymond Hawkey in your corner, or the marketing minds of the Penguin Group to draw upon, then an author like Len Deighton was already in a position of some advantage.

The fifties, and in particular the sixties, was a time of great change in book selling, as new printing techniques and marketing methods - came into prominence as the UK economy shifted from post-war austerity to a period of economic growth and expansions. Book selling evidently became more expansive, prone to trends, energised by competition from new publishing houses, and the growing influence of mass media - particularly magazines, radio and TV - as a new source to influence consumer behaviours.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Happy 90th Birthday, Len Deighton, from your readers

[Card courtesy of reader Peter Ashley]
Anyone born in 1929 - as Len Deighton was, 90 years ago today (18 February) - has experienced a world of unprecedented cultural, social and technological change: the war to end all wars; the end of colonlialism and the subsequent turbulence of numerous civil wars; the Cold War that followed the dropping of the most powerful weapon ever created; the rise of China and the ending of the Communist experiment; pax Americana; unprecedented global economic growth; consumerism; the dawn of the information age and the global connectivity of the Internet.

Through over five decades of writing, give or take, Len Deighton has documented many of these changes.

It seemed appropriate, as Deighton’s success ultimately has been determined by his readability and capacity to generate fantastic characters and stories, to ask other readers to share their thoughts on the question: What do Len Deighton’s books mean to you as a reader?

Read their thoughts, below:

Karl Gunnar Oen, Norway

"It would have been nice to say that this book sent me on a lifelong readership adventure. But no; in 1968 I was only nine years old and The Hardy Boys and Detective Nancy Drew were my favorites. At fourteen I came across a Norwegian edition of Bomber and I was hooked, and it proved to be for life.

Even in rural Norway, Deighton paperbacks were possible to acquire, and through struggling with his books I learned to appreciate the English language much more than the school system had taught me. I fondly remember reading Fighter while doing my military service, and devouring SS-GB as a student. Curiously, I held back on the Game, Set & Match trilogy, not taking it on until I was firmly established with a steady job and a wife. Then, I read the books in next trilogies as soon as they were published. I’m now on my third round of the Samson-novels, the first time I read it for the plot; the second time for the complexity of the relationships; this time around, the humour stands out. The books are so rich that I will certainly read them yet another time, as I have with most of the others.

The Nameless Spy, Colonel Stok, Pat Armstrong, Douglas Archer, Dicky Cruyer, Bernard and Fiona - and Werner: my reading life has been enriched through meeting them. The hours spent in their company, I would not have missed for the world.

Funeral in Berlin is my absolute favourite. Thank you, Mr Deighton!"

Jim Adams, Utah

"My late mother was an avid reader of fiction and, fortunately for me, owned all 10 books in the American first editions and passed them to me as she finished them. For that I’ll be forever grateful to her.

In one way I can especially identify with Bernard Samson. It’s an aspect of the series no one has mentioned yet, and I’ll try to explain with some background, if you’ll please indulge me. I served as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern Germany from 1968 to 1970, and after my mission I married a Berlinerin. My first mission assignment was in Spandau. 

When I was transferred to Hamburg six months later, I was shocked to hear how different the language sounded. I soon learned that what I’d picked up in Berlin was the distinctive dialect spoken in informal conversation all day, every day.

Like Bernard, I’ve been proud of my mastery of Berlinerisch lo these past 50 years, and I’ve been told by Berliners, including my wife, that my pronunciation is almost native. It somehow hurt my feelings too when Werner told his friend in Charity that his dialect wasn’t as good as he’d thought all along!

Bernard’s intimacy with Berlin, its language, its Stadtplan, its weather, the feeling of unease but also of adventure living in the divided city - an island of freedom in a sea of oppression - still resonates in my soul half a century later.
So for me, the magic of the books - beyond the wonderful characters, the intrigue, the almost prescient way the author weaves in a supposed MI-6 involvement in the eventual fall of the Wall - the thing that keeps me coming back to the series again and again is Bernard’s affection for Berlin and its brash, stubborn but deeply lovable people. I share with him a rich nostalgia for pre-Wende, post-war West Berlin.

It makes me rank the final page of Charity right up there with the last sentence of The Great Gatsby as one of noveldom’s supreme closings: that “perfect day long ago” when “the sky was blue and Berlin was heaven.”

Perhaps Fiona and Bernard are right - that happiness does come more often from memories than from the experiences that create them.
Thank you, Mr. Deighton, for memorializing the Berlin of my late adolescence in a way that I can return to any time simply by taking a book down from a shelf. You have my gratitude forever. And Happy 90th!"

Georgie Montmorency-Marchbanks, UK

"I first read the 1960s spy novels when I was thirteen (my school had first editions of The IPCRESS File and Funeral in Berlin in the library. Then I scoured secondhand bookshops for his other works. I assumed he'd not written anything novels since the 1970s; but then I discovered the Bernard Samson books, quite late in the day. Thereafter, I haunted the bookstores for each new instalment. I can vividly remember reading the ‘sixties novels as an adolescent: they had an electrifying effect on me.

You could say they changed my personality somewhat!"

Isyew, UK

"Dear Mr Deighton - that iconic photo of Michael Caine, trying to crack eggs to your satisfaction; you, poised with a raised wood spoon in your right hand, your left - hidden - poking the star as you tease him for his efforts. Wonderful!

I've come to appreciate how much your Samson series of books, in particular, influences my own debut novel. This strange desire to write mystery novels for people who prefer to read with their brains engaged is strong.

Had you as an author aspired to influence society, I'm sure you would have instructed lads like me to rise up in the world, and not simply be content to serve the likes of Dalby, Dawlish and Dicky Cruyer all our lives.

You presented us with muscular, frequently hilarious entertainment in your books and I, for one, am glad you did.

I love your impeccable research which underpins the credible words you create for your fictional characters - sharply drawn and tragi-comic in equal measure (as exemplified in the relationship between Bernard and Werner). I also enjoy what at first sight appear to be straight-line plots, but which offer up so much 'off screen' ambiguity.

You will always be to me a literary giant. Thank you."

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Now, that's a biography!

I thought, ahead of Len's 90th birthday tomorrow, that I'd reproduce his biography which was included in the Penguin editions of Horse Under Water and Billion Dollar Brain. It's certainly one of the more obtuse author biographies you'll find, and - as most of it's true - a testament to a remarkably varied early life before he became a full-time author.

"Description - dark complexion, fourteen stone, six feet tall. Cruel, sardonic sense of humour. Large hands, stubby fingers used to punctuate rapid, neurotic speech. Bayonet scar palm right hand. Drinks warily, seldom smokes. 
Skills - extensive knowledge of military history, modern control systems, aircraft (especially helicopters), vehicles, weapons, tactics. Marksman; never hunts animals. Good cook. 
Experience - railway lengthman [DD - he used to work at Nine Elms], Piccadilly waiter, Madison Avenue adman, Vogue fashion artist, photographer RAF Mosquitos, manager Aldgate gown factory. Seen Vista-Vision blue films in pre-Castro Cuba, typhoon in Tokyo, hurricane passing New York. Given talk over Soviet radio. Once fell into Hong Kong harbour, fatty tissue saved him."

Now, that's a biography and a half, huh?

Len Deighton book montage

Len Deighton's output from 1962 - 1996

Thanks to Len's friend Edward Milward-Oliver - author of the Len Deighton Companion - who created this composite image of all the UK first editions written by Len Deighton since his career started with The Ipcress File in 1962.

A great visual testimony to the author's output, ahead of his ninetieth birthday tomorrow.