The return of Frederick Forsyth

Post date: 
Sunday, 13 January 2019
Photo portrait of Frederick Forsyth by John Swannell

The best-selling author vowed his last novel, The Kill List, would be his last, but as it turns out, he had another book in him. Kim Normanton met him.

Following the overnight success of his first novel The Day of the Jackal, back in 1971, Frederick Forsythe has now sold over 70 million books worldwide. 

It was widely reported his last novel would be his last, but speaking at last year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, Frederick revealed why he wanted to write The Fox, his latest tale about an 18-year-old schoolboy with Asperger’s who can hack through firewalls and access top secrets. When the idea hit him, he felt it was a pity to waste it and his wife, agent and publisher encouraged him to do it.

He set himself an “impossibly, crushingly tight schedule” to complete it and nearly killed himself in doing so.

Compelling read

Without giving too much way, the book is a compelling read and looks at the poisonings in Salisbury and incorporates many very current and worrying events.

But was he worried that the book could slightly date because some of these things are still unfolding and may well change?

He says:

It got rather weird halfway through the writing period, I was reading my paper in the morning before going to my typewriter and thinking ‘oh gosh, you guys slow down a bit, you’re doing it all before I finish the book’. So yes, I did borrow, I borrowed from the Skripal affair and now we’re still living with it because we’re getting more and more revelations.

“And there was a young man with this bizarre gift of being able to burst through the firewalls that surround the most secret databases in the world and the Americans wanted us to extradite him, they were going to put him in prison. We didn’t and he’s now living quietly in this country so, it’s drawn very much on recent past with a tad maybe of the future”.

Once a journalist

It’s a surprise to hear that he still writes his stories on a typewriter. But, does it have any effect on the substance that he writes?

He says: “No, I don’t think so. Basically, I still feel in my bones I’m a journalist still and a foreign correspondent, which I was for years.

“Two things about foreign correspondent, in those days you had your typewriter with you, it was a portable typewriter and you wrote on it.

“The other thing about being a foreign correspondent is you can’t say to your Editor, after the deadline, can I have it back I’d like to re-write it? The answer is no, this has been published. So a foreign correspondent has to get it right the first time and whatever I submit to the publisher’s is the first draft and that’s what you read, I don’t do re-writes.”

So you don’t ever re-read your books and think, darn I wish I had picked that up?

"No, no, I’m afraid I don’t. It’s, it’s a bit like being in the papers as being in the book, it’s passed, draw a line, next story, what’s the next story?”

Frederick gives a lot of himself in his books, but what is the most dangerous thing he has ever done?

When I was 18, I was flying single seat jet fighters in the RAF and yes, there were some scary moments then, it didn’t have an ejector seat so it was a bit of a flying coffin because if anything went wrong you couldn’t get out.

“I wouldn’t want to pick one particular incident, suffice to say that I think probably the scariest ever was being caught in a cyclone in the middle of the Indian Ocean in an open fishing boat and watching 45, 50-foot walls of water coming towards us, I thought I’m not going to be alive tonight, I’m dead.”

Thankfully, he survived and gave the world some glorious books to read and debate. 

RNIB Library

Search books by Frederick and other authors at the RNIB Library.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of Connect Magazine.

Picture: © John Swannell