Len Deighton

Hope everyone celebrating United States Thanksgiving is having a wonderful holiday and everyone else is having a great weekend. After a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with my family (and four dogs and four cats), I’ve been writing, reading (finished Lauren Willig’s The Mischief of the Mistletoe, a fabulous holiday treat), and doing some holiday decorating. Thinking about what one is thankful for, this seemed a good weekend to post about things I’m thankful for, from a literary perspective:

A mom who introduced me Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, and a host of other writers, as well as the magic of creating worlds and characters.

A dad who listened to my stories and encouraged my creativity

My editor, my agent, and all the people who get my book through production (particularly as I just received the gorgeous ARCs for Vienna Waltz).

All the people who read my books and especially the ones who write, email, and comment online. That interaction and feedback is so important for keeping a writer going in a solitary profession.

Greg and jim, without whom my website and my ability to have much of that interaction would not be possible.

Booksellers who take the time to hand sell books (yes, Cate, I am talking about you).

My writer friends who brainstorm, commiserate, and celebrate, both in person and online.

The History Hoydens, a fabulous group of historical novelists to hang out with online.

Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Tom Stoppard, Dorothy Dunnett, Len Deighton, the Baroness Orczy and a host of other writers that have and do inspire my own writing and are just plain brilliant to read.

Stephen Sondheim (also a brilliant musician, but in this case I’m thinking of his brilliance with words; who saw his birthday celebration on PBS Wednesday?).

What are you thankful for from a literary perspective? Have you had time to read this weekend?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Mélanie writing to Raoul about David’s suggestion that Charles leave the diplomatic corps and stand for Parliament.

I recently returned to reading Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, which I had started last summer and then put aside (I sometimes hit moments when I’m writing when I just can’t read anything). I was drawn back immediately by the richness of the writing and the sharp emotional details. I was also struck by comparing and contrasting the book with the recent film, which I also liked. The major events are the same, but the emotional arc is quite different (though Kitty Fane does grow and change in both). It’s rather as though someone were to film Secrets of a Lady with the same basic plot but have the story end with Charles and Mel realizing they’d never really known or loved each other but staying together for practicality.

The other the thing The Painted Veil got me to thinking about is one of my favorite literary tropes–marriage in trouble plots. They’ve always fascinated me, long before I started writing about Charles and Mélanie. That’s why, when I cite influences and inspirations for the Charles & Mélanie series, in addition to the more obvious ones like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche, Dorothy Dunnett, and Dorothy Sayers, I mention Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, and Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books.

Reading The Painted Veil, I was pondering the fascination of this plotline. The intimacy of marriage ups the stakes in the conflict between two people. Percy’s devastation at Marguerite’s seeming lack of trustworthiness is all the great because she has just become his wife. Betrayal, I think, is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. How much worse is it when that betrayal comes from a spouse? Years of living together also gives characters a knowledge of each other that recent lovers wouldn’t have. In The Real Thing, the hero has a wonderful speech about knowing one’s spouse, in a way that goes far beyond carnal. That knowledge can be used for good or will. George and Martha know just how to push each other’s buttons. So, for that matter, do Maggie and Brick.

Particularly in an historical setting, marriage makes it difficult for two people to walk away from each other, no matter how poisoned their relationship has grown. There’s a fascinating tension in two people pretending to be a couple to the outside world, while being estranged when they’re alone. Think of Percy and Marguerite keeping up appearances to the beau monde yet unable to communicate in private, Maggie and Brick maintaining the charade of their marriage (or at least Maggie trying to) in front of his family. Kitty and Walter Fane sharing a bungalow in a cholera-infested town, seen by most as a devoted couple who’ve risked infection so as not to be separated.

Unlike most of the other couples mentioned in this post, Kitty and Walter actually know each other very little (hence much of the tragedy). But even they share a history. With any married couple, there’s a past to explore–how they came to be married and why, what they both expected, how that expectation compares to the current reality. And history is something I love to explore as a writer, whether it’s historical events or the personal history shared by two people.

Do you like marriage in trouble stories? Why or why not? Any favorite examples to suggest? What do you think makes them work?

The Fraser Correspondence takes a new turn this week. To go along with some research I’m doing for a possible project, I’ve gone back to 1814, when Charles and Mel have just arrived at the glittering Congress of Vienna. This week’s letter is from Charles to David.

Betrayal has such a black-and-white sound, doesn’t it? But like most things, it isn’t anything of the sort. Betrayal of a country, an ideal, a lover, a spouse, a friend. It’s often impossible to be loyal to all. Which loyalty comes first?

Raoul says this to Mélanie in their scene in the library late in Secrets of a Lady. I found myself mulling over these words recently while driving home from a trip to Whole Foods (I do a lot of my best writing thinking in the car). So many of my books deal with betrayal in one form or another. It’s at the heart of four of my mom’s and my Anthea Malcolm Regencies (Frivolous Pretence, A Touch of Scandal, An Improper Proposal, A Sensible Match) and of all four of my linked historical romances, starting with Dark Angel with a wrote with my mom as Anna Grant and continuing with Shadows of the Heart, Shores of Desire, and Rightfully His. It’s the core issue of Charles & Mélanie series. I can’t imagine writing a book about Charles and Mel that didn’t deal with some facet of betrayal.

In a 2003 ARR interview, Rachel Potter asked me about the fact that many of my books have personal betrayal as a theme. It was something I hadn’t really thought about at the time. Thinking it over, I replied, “Personal betrayal goes to the core of what hurts most, what creates the bleakest dark moment, the deepest hurdle to overcome. That’s the stuff of good drama. Trust, I think, is essential to love, so a betrayal of trust is one of the most difficult challenges a love affair can face. Betrayal raises all sorts of interesting moral and ethical questions. ”

I’m particularly intrigued by the moral and ethical dilemmas of characters caught between competing loyalties, as Raoul describes. That’s what I love about Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books (which, pretty obviously, were one of the inspirations for the Charles & Mélanie books). There’s a wonderful scene in the television adaptation of Game, Set & Match (which I wish would be released on DVD) where a number of the characters (most involved in intelligence work in one way or another) are a dinner party and the talk turns to betrayal. They are discussing it in the personal, romantic sense, but the political overtones are there as well. It’s a fabulous scene, rich in subtext.

Themes of betrayal and competing loyalties go hand and hand with stories about spies. Characters in spy stories are always caught in ethical dilemmas, torn between competing loyalties (every episode of MI-5/Spooks seems to contain an ethical dilemma). Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play about spies, Hapgood, is all about betrayal. But so is another of his favorite plays of mine, The Real Thing, which is about marriage, with nary a spy in sight.

The pull between loyalty to a loved one and loyalty to a cause is summed up in Richard Lovelace’s I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not honor more, which Mélanie quotes to Charles toward the end of Secrets. It’s a deceptively simple quote, which can seem trite (Mel in fact, is accusing Charles of dismissing her betrayal too lightly when she brings it up). And yet it says a lot about the tension between love and loyalty or between two competing loyalties. Of course, how one defines “honor,” (a word Charles is inclined to invoke and Mel is inclined to disparage) has a lot to do with which loyalty one puts first. As Raoul is pointing out to Mélanie, there’s often no easy, clean, “honorable” answer.

Do you like stories about betrayal? Why or why not? Any favorites to recommend? Do you find yourself noticing common themes within a writer’s work? Writers, are you aware of themes you return to again and again, or are you sometimes startled when someone points them out to you (as I was when Rachel interview me)?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition goes back to the exchange of letters between Mélanie and Raoul about loneliness and deception. It seemed appropriate to the topic.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about “Literary Deal-Breakers”–plot elements or types of characters or settings that make one not try a book, not matter how well-recommended, or put a book down unfinished. On a more positive note, I though I’d talk about “Literary Deal-Makers”–types of stories or characters or settings that will cause one to actively seek out a book.

I know there are certain story elements that appeal to me across genres. I’ve always loved stories about married couples whether in mysteries, romances, classics, historical fiction, or plays. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Spiral Path, The Real Thing, Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Busman’s Honeymoon, Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books, An Ideal Husband. Modern setting or historical, happy ending, tragic ending, or something in between. If I hear a book or play or movie described as an examination of a marriage, I’m likely to seek it out.

I also like stories about ex-spouses or lovers reuniting. The Philadelphia Story. Persuasion. Much Ado About Nothing. Bath Tange. Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And I’ve always had a weakness for spy stories. Whether it’s the moral ambiguity of John Le Carré or Len Deighton, an espionage-laced historical romance like Mary Jo Putney’s Petals on the Wind, a play filled with double-crosses like Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, or a television series like Spooks/MI-5, if I hear “spies” or “espionage,” my attention is caught.

It’s not surprising that these interests mesh in the Charles & Mélanie books. They also continue to influence the type of books (and movies, plays, and tv shows) I seek out.

What about you? What type of plot premise or character or setting makes you seek out a book? Do your “deal-makers” work across genres and eras?

Be sure to check out the Fraser Correspondence. I’ve just posted a letter from Simon Tanner to his actress friend Cecily Summers, which catches up on what happens with Manon after Cecily helps her escape the Tavistock Theatre early in Beneath a Silent Moon.

Blogging about siblings in fiction last week got me to thinking about other family relationships in novels. I’ve always liked children in books. At first I think a lot of it was wanting someone my own age to identify with. I was ten when I first read Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy (or rather when my mom read it to me). I remember being fascinated to meet Amabel (the hero’s little) sister who was the same age I was at the time. But at the same time, I was intrigued by heroes and heroines who combined their adventures with the role of parents or surrogate parents. This interest grew stronger as I got older. Nearly all my books have children as characters, going back to my mom’s and my Anthea Malcolm Regencies. The hero’s children, the heroine’s children, their children together, younger siblings wards, street urchins, waifs, a governess’s pupils.