It was a perfect spring day in Hiroshima last week. I was there for my 25th wedding anniversary, which may sound odd, but my wife and I both work on Foyle’s War, which is now set in the atomic age, so it seemed appropriate. We strolled together around the A-Bomb Dome, the twisted, iconic ruin that is all that is left of the old city, then entered the Peace Memorial Museum, built in 1955, the year I was born. I found the whole experience incredibly moving: the child’s bike dug out of the ruins, the watch that had stopped at 8.15, the piece of wall that still carries the ‘ghost’ of the man who was sitting against it when the bomb fell. I was rather surprised to come away with the view that we should abandon our nuclear deterrent not because it is too expensive or irrelevant, as I used to believe, but simply because the ownership of such a monstrous weapon diminishes us. How can any civilised country have such darkness at its heart?
My overriding impression of Japan was how very clean it was — the stations spotless, the streets litter-free. The Japanese seem to have come out of their ten years of stagnation in remarkably good shape. I have never seen so many cleaners, sweepers, gardeners and maintenance people. Everywhere there are minor officials in smart uniforms, bowing and smiling. How does the government afford them all? I have to say that I was also smitten by the Japanese toilet, complete with its heated seat and, in some cases, diverting sound effects. Not the most edifying subject for a Spectator diary — let’s just say it replaces paper with a squirt of water and a blast of warm air. I’m amazed these modern miracles have yet to conquer Europe.
Returning to London, I see that someone called Elmo has climbed a building opposite my home, presumably in the middle of the night. I know this because he has left his name in huge, blue-and-scarlet letters on the wall opposite my study. We are encouraged these days to think of graffiti as ‘street art’. Banksy, after all, has made a fortune out of it and doubtless Elmo thinks of himself as an artist and an adventurer rather than a self-obsessed vandal. But I’m not having any of it. To my eye, graffiti is ugly and unpleasant, crude and sometimes threatening. I’m not usually on the side of people who go on about banning things but I can’t help but think that spray cans were one of the worst inventions of the 20th century and that they shouldn’t be allowed outside factories or car-repair centres. Every time I look out of the window, I see Elmo’s work, which obtrudes significantly on someone else’s just up the road. That’s Sir Christopher Wren’s, by the way… I also look out on St Paul’s.
I have just delivered the manuscript of my fortieth novel — Russian Roulette — to my publishers. I have worked out that, with second, third and fourth drafts, I have written more than ten million words in my lifetime. Sadly, it’s not getting any easier. Computers, and worse still, laptops, are the secret enemies of the writer. The glare of the screen wears away your eyes but it’s your neck and your back that take the real beating as you sit there, hunched forward and tapping away in an absurdly unnatural posture. Repetitive strain adds to the demolition and I am in almost permanent pain. My wife now works standing up at a specially raised desk — but I just don’t have her fortitude. Or her legs.
It looks very likely that I will have to write more Foyle’s War. After 12 years and having written 22 two-hour episodes, I had thought it might be time to stop, but the new series had such a warm reception that it seems churlish to give up — and this from an audience which is becoming more and more affronted by the insane amount of advertising with which ITV now plasters the screen. Anyway, I’m casting around for stories and I’m finding the world of intelligence in 1946 to be endlessly fascinating. We might look at the terrorist atrocity at the King David Hotel. Could Foyle get involved in Nazi war crimes? Dublin stood in for London in the last series. It might have to double as Jerusalem and Nuremberg in the next.
My next project? For years and years I’ve wanted to adapt The Caine Mutiny, by the American writer Herman Wouk (pronounced Woke, by the way). I’ve often wondered why so very few works of great fiction came out of the second world war, but The Caine Mutiny, which won the Pulitzer Prize, could be called one of them. The book was a disappointing film, a poor TV mini-series and a worse stage play, and I would love to do it justice. Anyway, next month I’m off to Palm Springs to meet Mr Wouk, who has just published a new book, The Lawgiver, and who, aged 97, is still going strong. There’s hope for me yet.