More articles Tuesday 16 August 2016 9:45pm
Frederick Forsyth Bows Out with his Last Book
“Who have I insulted? Who might sue?” Frederick Forsyth wondered as he scanned the manuscript of his new book The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue. He was relieved to conclude that “there were only two left alive…” Perhaps even those two will be forgiving, considering the good humour with which one of the world’s bestselling authors discusses a life that has been in no way deskbound.
His audience at the Book Festival today, where he appeared in conversation with Ian Rankin, was regaled with tales not of forging perfect paragraphs, but of delivering mysterious packages and getting caught up in coups. “I did think at certain points in this book,” Rankin said, “is he bullsh*tting us…?” It’s probably safe to say that Forsyth, who will soon turn 78, doesn’t care much what anyone thinks. The establishment, he said, “are mostly bastards.”
He blithely accused his one-time employers the BBC of once ransacking his flat in London, after he walked out on a job as a foreign correspondent over a disagreement about coverage of the 1967 Nigerian civil war. “They said, ‘We’re not going to cover it.” I said, “Well you may not be but I am.”’ He did, in his first book, The Biafra Story, a non-fiction work published in 1969. The fiction works that followed also drew heavily on real world conflicts and characters: he has posed as an arms dealer, infiltrated a Nazi group and acted as an M16 informer.
“A lot of novelists don’t leave their desks,” he said. “But if you’re going to do stuff about criminals, mercenaries, kidnappers, terrorists – you’ve got to do your research. You’ve got to travel.” The influence has sometimes run the other way, with Forsyth’s books impacting real-world events. Real mercenaries, he said, have used his 1974 novel The Dogs of War as a manual. The film adaptation of his The Odessa File, released in 1974, triggered the arrest of its real-life villain, Nazi SS Captain Eduard Rosschman, who had fled to Paraguay and was tracked down when a neighbour recognised his character in the film.
Quite a life, and one that now forms the basis of a book which Forsyth emphasises is not autobiography. “A real autobiography needs to be pin-accurate – it takes a lot of research. A memoir is just what you remember.”
But what of the present? Rankin noted that the tumult of news events to which we currently bear witness would seem to cry out for thriller writers to interpret it. Forsyth, after all, has some history of prescience - in his 1984 novel The Fourth Protocol he imagined a Labour Party disastrously destabilised by the appointment of a hard-left leader… “There are younger men who are just as good and better,” Forsyth demurred, insisting that The Outsider will be his last published volume. That’s assuming no mysterious assignments, foreign wars, shootouts or break-ins prove too inspiring to resist.