I’m at last coming to the end of my next Radwinter book, and boy has it been a struggle. I’m not sure why – I started in 2019, and we know what happened after that! However, I can’t just use that as an excuse; I don’t know if I ran out of steam with writing in general during that time, whether I lost track of the story-line, what it was, but at least I now seem to be back in the swing. I am editing the story so far, while at the same time wrestling with the very last pieces of the puzzle the main character is trapped in, and then… the conclusion.
Every time I come to this stage in the task, I remember a point my very helpful, kind and astute friend Isabel made. It was a very kind, helpful and astute point and I bear it in mind whatever I am writing, even a short piece. I’ve become aware of it when reading other books by John le Carré, I recognise ( as I should have known) that le Carré is a master of this very thing.
This very thing is concluding the book, finishing the story, ending the involvement with the characters and their dilemmas and difficulties in a satisfactory manner. Isabel mentioned it after reading one of my novels where the last paragraph was the big reveal about an aspect of one of the main character which had resulted in him becoming the person he was. ‘The truth about this character is xyz!’ THE END. When I wrote it I thought it was dramatic, shocking almost, and would explain everything which had been a puzzle about him. Well, it did, but the reader was left reeling somewhat because they had the answers, but they needed to unwind, disengage from the story; they had, in a way, to say goodbye to the characters they had lived with for however many hours it had taken to read the book.
The penultimate chapter of ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ is so gripping, tense, vivid and completely engaging, that when the big event happens which concludes the complex story-line on the edge of a dangerous sea, at night, with a horrifying and tragic outcome, the reader is left almost in a state of shock and disbelief and dismay. I had to reread the last couple of pages of the chapter because I had been so involved, I’d absorbed the detail and needed to ‘see’ it again. If that had been the end of the book I would have felt completely at a loss – not because I didn’t understand what had happened, but because in a way it was so devastating, heart-breaking on several levels with several different characters and their situations. So, le Carré, the master, had a final chapter, unpicking aspects of what had happened, drawing a close on the complex multi-lawyered story-line and allowing the reader to say goodbye to the characters, and go through a sort of decompression.
Well, obviously, I am not a great master of my craft as le Carré was, but I want my work to be the best it can be, and I want to let the characters ‘decompress’, take a breath, and any untidy ends to be knitted back into the story. In the final chapter, I do have some surprises, I hope – although, knowing what a clever reader Isabel is, I’m sure they won’t surprise her!
Back to work!!
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SPIES ON SPIES
It is rare when a spy compliments another spy so just because ex-spy/historian Hugh Trevor-Roper described John le Carré’s work as “rich flatulent puff” doesn’t mean you should take it seriously or shouldn’t read the raw and noir spy novel Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone non-fiction tome in The Burlington Files series.
In the fifties and early sixties Kim Philby (and no doubt other Cambridge Six or More members) knew Hugh Trevor-Roper, David Cornwell (aka John le Carré) and Bill Fairclough’s MI6 handler Colonel Alan Brooke Pemberton CVO MBE. In the early fifties Alan Pemberton was ADC to Field Marshall Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer during the guerrilla war known as the Malayan Emergency. Philby was sniffing around for information to help the communist Malayan insurgents but was cold-shouldered by Templer, Pemberton and co who didn’t like know-all couch-potatoes like Philby from MI6.
Given Philby was the one who ended John le Carré’s MI6 career it is little wonder John le Carré turned down Bill Fairclough’s offer in 2014 to collaborate on The Burlington Files series. David Cornwell responded as you might expect saying along the lines of “Why should I? I’ve got by so far without collaboration so why bother now?” A realistic response from a brilliant writer and infamous expert in passive fiction but was that the whole story? Probably not.
Bill Fairclough was one of Pemberton’s People in MI6 who were mostly Pemberton’s ex-army “friends” who had seen action in the Second World War. Being experienced combatants, they had little time for many of their more toffee-nosed colleagues in MI6. Needless to say those colleagues once included the traitor Philby who had outwitted David Cornwell so in their opinion both men were flawed albeit for enormously distinct reasons.
Pemberton’s People included Roy Astley Richards (inter alia Winston Churchill’s bodyguard), Peter ‘Scrubber’ Stewart-Richardson (an eccentric British Brigadier who tried to join the Afghan Mujahideen), Peter Goss (an SAS Colonel and JIC member involved in the Clockwork Orange Plot concerning Prime Minister Harold Wilson) and even the infamous rogue Major Freddy Mace, who impudently highlighted his cat burgling and silent killing skills in his CV.
Notwithstanding “all that”, Kim Philby did comment on Ian Fleming’s novels as “all that James Bond idiocy”. As for John le Carré, Philby liked the sophistication of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold but allegedly dismissed it as “basically implausible – at any rate to anyone who has any real knowledge of the business”. What an insult! Philby died in 1988 long before Beyond Enkription was published but no doubt he might have agreed it was a must read for espionage cognoscenti.
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Thank you, fascinating stuff!