Carré on Spying

On Thursday evening, I enjoyed the privilege of watching a live cinema broadcast with spy author John le Carré. He made a speech from the Southbank Centre in London and was later interviewed by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News.

Even at the age of nearly 86, he’s still an imposing presence, with a slow and measured delivery that commands attention. He related a number of anecdotes about his time in the Security Services, many of them delightfully unflattering about the other party. I suspect, though, that there are a hundred more, all quite unrepeatable in polite company. Indeed, the sole swear word appeared in a direct quote regarding the rivalry between MI5 and MI6, reminding us that he wasn’t always a grand old figure of Establishment, but one of the lads.

John le Carre

It was in the late 1950s when le Carré began his career in espionage, and his most popular character – George Smiley – was created during this period. Yet the author isn’t stuck in the past and I admire that in anyone. For instance, he remains as politically astute as ever: acknowledging the starkly different threats posed by the Soviet Union and Isis, while lamenting the reemergence of fascism after fallow decades. Like the idealist Smiley might have believed, he would much rather have seen an era of peace when the Cold War ended.

The overarching purpose of the evening was to promote his latest novel A Legacy of Spies. Though le Carré has warned in the past that he’d given his final interview, it seems he can’t help but be lured back into the spotlight from time to time. For as long as he’s prepared to do this, he can rest assured there’s an audience waiting to hear his words.

Advertisements

The Stories of Secession

In 2014, there was a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, in which 55% of the voters wanted to remain part of the UK. Over the last week, the issue has again raised its head.

Image of Scotland in the UK
Image of Scotland in the UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At almost every literary event I attended ahead of the poll, I found the issue raised again and again in prose and poetry. Some of what I heard was heavy-handed polemic, while others crafted nuanced satires of the situation.

Regardless of quality, though, it encouraged all sorts of people to express their views through the spoken word and to believe that others might be influenced by their writings.

In my experience, much of the creative work was pro-independence. Such was the mood in the country that the National Collective sprung up, bringing together different types of artist to campaign for a Yes vote under one umbrella.

So the prose and poetry that stems from a potential second referendum will likely be even more passionate: from Yes voters who’ve been granted a second chance and from No supporters who believe the question was settled in 2014.

And further to my last entry, the 18-to-22 age group was considered to be the most apathetic generation when I first attended university in 2002. Maybe it was because we had a Labour government back then; maybe it was because George W Bush hadn’t yet invaded Iraq.

Whatever the reason, the situation today couldn’t be more different. Some of the most active campaigners are those of college age, and I barely go a week without seeing a university literary event responding to current affairs.

Let’s see what happens next.