|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.
"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.