Friday, 19 February 2016

Writing - A spy or not a spy

I can remember the darkness of the cold war in the 1960s. John Le Carre made a living from it publishing 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' in 1963 and more afterwards many of his stories then being made into films.

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John le Carre

John le Carre is the pen name of David Cornwell born in 1931 and he is probably one of the most successful spy novelists of our time. I loved his work.
There are, however, some secrets regarding the writer who was reputed to have been a spy himself. 

1. His father was a conman.
Eventually Ronnie Cornwell's behaviour drove his wife away leaving the children to be looked after by their father.

2. Le Carre was never a spy.
'Any skill displayed was just a gimmick,' - he said as much when his true identity was discovered.

3. He was a spy.
John le Carre did his national service with the Royal Artillery but was soon guided towards intelligence services. He joined MI5 in 1958 but left when it seemed to him that it was a bit of a dead end job, so he applied to MI6 in 1960.

4. His cover was blown by Kim Philby. Possibly!
A member of the British intelligence services, Philby was secretly working for the Soviets.
Philby, said le Carré, was “a thoroughly bad lot - just a naturally bent man,” who was in line to become head of SIS (MI6).
“I wouldn’t have trusted him with my cat for the weekend,” he said of him.
Others have contested this assertion, as Philby was unlikely to have been in a position to pass on information about Cornwell.

5. It doesn't really matter whether or not he was a spy.
“A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population,” le Carré told an interviewer.
“He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it. The writer, like a spy, is an illusionist. He creates images that he finds within himself.”
I love that as it sums up the life of a writer succinctly.

6. He created a language around espionage.
The term 'mole' was introduced into the language through his work 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'. Le Carré’s term “honey-trap” has been adopted by the intelligence community. Similarly, “tradecraft” meaning skill in espionage.

7. He despised James Bond and the lifestyle portrayed.
He told an interviewer. “I believe that most of us live in doubt and that is what animated the people who read my book, they felt, ‘Well gosh, this is organised chaos, there is no solution’.”
But he did work with Maxwell Knight, the pied piper figure who was said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s “M” and Jack Brotherhood in Le Carré’s A Perfect Spy.

8. The Night Manager.
The reason for the interest in Le Carre is down to the fact that this story is being dramatised on TV in the coming week. Though le Carré’s most autobiographical book is A Perfect Spy, there are elements of personal history in The Night Manager. The villain, Roper, may owe something to le Carré’s father.


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If you have never tried any of John le Carre's stories I advise you to give them a go.

God Bless