Friday, August 23, 2013

Frederick Forsyth and hindsight: 40 years of thrillers

‘Kill List’ author reflects on more than 40 years of political thrillers‘Kill List’ author reflects on more than 40 years of action-packed novels. Novelist Frederick Forsyth can’t seem to put pen down more than 40 years after ‘Day of the Jackal’

The Republic http://www.azcentral.comAugust 16, 2013
Frederick Forsyth (Andy Watts)
Frederick Forsyth, smoking and plotting his next thriller in 2010. (Andy Watts/Sunday Times)

In “The Kill List,” a manhunter known as the Tracker pursues an Islamic radical who is using the Internet to spread his messages of hate. That’s the core of the latest densely plotted thriller from Frederick Forsyth, who has been creating novels of intrigue for more than 40 years.
A former war correspondent, the Brit launched his career with 1971’s “The Day of the Jackal,” which reached the top of the New York Times best-seller list and inspired a 1973 movie. Since then, he has continued with such successes as “The Odessa File,” “The Dogs of War” and “The Fourth Protocol.”
Forsyth, who lives in Buckinghamshire outside of London, will visit the Valley on a rare book tour and read from “The Kill List.” With a droll wit, he discussed the book and his career during a quick jaunt to the States.
Question: This is your first book tour in a few years.
Answer: A promotional tour hasn’t happened in two or three books. One of the things about modern communication is that to be on an American talk show in San Diego, you can go to New York now (and do a remote). You don’t have to move! In my early days, it was physically going to places like Buffalo and Boston.
Q: But this is a chance to interact with your readers. What do they want to know?
A: “Where do you get all the stuff?” And the answer is research, baby, research!
Q: For “The Kill List,” what did that entail?
A: There was a lot involved, and it was mainly in the USA. In and around Virginia, it’s surprising how many facilities and covert institutions are situated right there. Then I was out in Virginia Beach. And some was inside my own country, and then in Mogadishu (Somalia).
Q: How was Mogadishu?
A: Weird! You wouldn’t want to vacation there. I took a minder to look after me. They don’t want to kill you there. The real hazard for many Whites in Mogadishu is kidnapping. Never mind the religious fanatics; there are also gangsters. They would like to snatch you.
Q: Did people know who you were?
A: No, no. I was just a White guy. It was quick in, quick out. You want to see something, you go see it and get out of there.
Q: When you do research here, does your name open doors?
A: Not to be too big-headed about it, but it can. Sometimes the answer is, “Yeah, fine, OK, come on over and we’ll fit you in.” But it can be, “Who the hell are you? I don’t think we have time.”
Q: How did you come up with the concept for “The Kill List”?
A: Basically, like any newspaper reader, I was seeing these paragraphs about members of al-Qaida destroyed in missile strikes. But then the question is how the hell did they track them down? They’re not walking around with a Post-It on their foreheads saying, “Hi, I’m al-Qaida.” I began to inquire and learned that’s there’s a huge machine, an overwhelming American machine, dedicated just to finding them. The hunt is interesting to me.
Q: How long did it take you to write?
A: I rise at 5. I’m at my desk at 6, and I write until 12. I mustn’t stop at less than 10 pages a day. I might do more, but never less. I do that six days a week. I used to do it seven, but I’m getting elderly, you know. But it’s surprising: You’re filling 60 pages a week, so you’re done in six, seven or eight weeks. Then, eventually I finish. I’m sort of whacked. I slump in a chair and take the manuscript to the publisher.
Q: You came out of the gate huge with “The Day of the Jackal.” Did you have any idea it would be so big?
A: No, and neither did the publisher. It could have been one of those blink-and-it’s-gone books. It could have simply sold 5,000 copies, which is all the initial printing was. But the last I heard, it was at 12 million. The orders kept coming in.
Q: Forgive me if this is rude, but could you live off the profit from that one book?
A: (Laughing) One could, but don’t forget this was 40 years ago. It probably would have given me $20,000 to $30,000 a year. I could have lived modestly on that, but I was also only 31. Who wants to quit at 31?
Q: You turn 75 this month. Do you think about retirement?
A: Every book. I’ve said it about three times: “That’s my last!” But now it inspires a matter of laughter from those around me. “Yeah, yeah, he’s retired again.”
Q: Why don’t you stop?
A: Oh, I really want to. I really do feel sometimes I’m written out. But a couple of years go by and I’ll see something and think, “Jesus, that is bloody fascinating.” Then, I’ll do a little bit of research. Then, the hook is in. And I’m a fisherman. I know about hooks.
Q: Does your wife want you to stop?
A: She’s encouraging: “Go ahead, darling.” The thing about writers is we’re weird bastards anyway. We live half our lives inside our own heads. We have a reputation for being distant and silent and locked away inside our own skulls. It takes a very special woman to cope with a writer.
Q: Are you a big computer guy?
A: No. I have an iPad, but I use it for e-mail and I use Google for general-knowledge research. I do not write on a computer. My friends call me a dinosaur. My response has always been: “Well, have you ever heard of anyone hacking into a typewriter?”
Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8849.


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