Sunday 15 May 2022

It's all in the detail

Recently I purchased three original marketing photographs produced by Jonathan Cape's marketing team for the 1970 launch of the first edition of Bomber, Len Deighton's magnum opus about the experiences of the wartime bombing raids over German which is often regarded as on of his best novels (certainly, of his non-spy fiction books).

The novel is also, famously, the first modern novel written on a true IBM PC, which at the time took up much of the room in Deighton's office in his ground floor flat in London, as I wrote about a number of years ago

Although it missed out on being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1970, Bomber was lauded by writer Anthony Burgess as one of the 99 best novels of the twentieth century in the English language. 

Part of the reason for the particular success of Bomber (which was also turned into a Radio 4 play) is Deighton's attention to detail. As a writer it has often been acknowledged by readers and critics that Len Deighton's books are full of exquisitely research details, particularly when it comes to military materiel and historical occurrences. Some readers have found this propensity for technical minutiae off-putting, but many others - myself included - feel it adds a level of realism that grounds the story and reassures the reader that they story they're reading is as true to life as it can be.

The publicity shots below show something of Deighton's approach to marshalling the facts and ensuring every novel he wrote didn't leave his hands without being scrupulously accurate.

Bomber is the epitome of this. Not content with researching archives and military histories to understand what the reality for a bomber pilot during the war was, the author was able to use his renown to get access to the real thing - as the above pictures illustrate (although, this is of course a German bomber); it also allowed him to talk extensively to air and ground crews - on both sides - who flew the planes and maintained them, to ensure that every description, every conversation on board the plane and on the ground, had the verisimilitude that he felt would give the reader the best experience and, metaphorically at least, put him or her in the plane with the main characters.

As the top picture shows, assiduous use of military maps and information, with every fact and snippet added to an extensive coloured card collection which formed the 'database' for consulting during the writing of the novel, ensured that after months of preparation, he could write his novel confident that he could represent the experience of wartime bombing raids as accurately as possible and, therefore, create the best novels he could create.

1 comment:

  1. It was not a personal computer as we knew it in 1980s, as microprocessors were not invented then, but something close to it-a word processor, where editing was easier, but clumsy as it used magnetic tapes, and a complex editing process.
    This article describes it well :
    Interesting as Robert Ludlum wrote all his novels, each was a thick book, and every one of them were best sellers. He used long hand on yellow pad using a box of sharpened HB pencils ( as a student in the US, I used to do it, as we all did then. even in the exams there in the university-as universities there did not use printed answer books, and the exam papers were typed and photocopied sheets), and faxed the written sheets to his secretary!