It was quite fun being named as the new writer of 007 — although actually I’d make a lousy spy. As my family knows, I’m hopeless at keeping secrets and I’ve found it almost impossible hanging on to this one for the past few months. Even now I’m forbidden to reveal the title, the story, the date it takes place or any of the characters… and I’ll probably get into trouble even for writing this. Believe me, Orion Books and their legal department are more sinister than Smersh. In fact I did quite well and only dropped one clue to someone who follows me on Twitter. He asked me what my big secret was and I told him the answer was oobvious. As I hoped, he thought it was a typing error.
Anyway, I must put Bond behind me as it doesn’t come out until next September and I’m launching my new book, Moriarty, at the end of the month. This is the worst time for a writer. Is the book any good? Will the critics like it? Will anyone guess the ending? Will anyone come to my signing (at Waterstones, Piccadilly, on Thursday 23rd, since you ask). It’s terrifying how much money a publisher has to throw at a book to get it noticed these days and I have to remind myself that the price of failure is not just my vanity but people’s jobs. And then there are the bestseller lists. They are the bear-pit into which authors are now thrown… any power or pleasure that your book may contain reduced to how many copies it has sold.
I’m also doing signings in Leeds, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Dublin and Belfast — as well as signing a pallet of books to be shipped out to independents. I’m quite amazed how much more easily signed books will sell and how much people value them. Is it a comment on the technological, impersonal age in which we live? I’ve had children queue an hour and a half to get a book from me and when I did my last Alex Rider, they put me in a warehouse with 2,000 copies. One day, a collector will find one of my books without a signature. It’ll be worth a fortune.
I’ve also had a day promoting the book in Paris and so I was amused to see Andy Street, the managing director of John Lewis, getting himself into trouble over some ill-advised comments about that city. But he does have a point. Paris is definitely looking a little shabby at the edges and it’s true to say that the Gare du Nord no longer belongs in the same century as Kings Cross and St Pancras, which have both had a gleaming makeover. London just gets better and better. Malevich at the Tate Modern, Kristin Scott Thomas at the Old Vic, wonderful food stalls in the street, new Tubes, new buses, new buildings… I simply can’t imagine living anywhere else.
There are just two ways that London could be improved. The Trocadero (the ‘Troc’, as Betjeman called it) is still a national disgrace. I just don’t understand how such a prominent building can be half-empty and otherwise filled only with tat. And let’s get rid of the shabby, overpriced Odeon cinema chain with their vast buckets of popcorn and crinkly sweets. If they’re ‘fanatical about film’, as they used to claim, why do they sell them?
I’m 60 next year, but what exactly does that mean? Recently my son took me to Shoreditch House; it’s his extremely trendy club. He bought me a fantastic Sunday lunch with the best Yorkshire pudding in England, almost as good as my late mother’s. But the average age was in the low twenties and looking at these laid-back, successful, confident young people with their beards and laptops, for the first time in my life I actually wondered if I might be… well, old. It’s very strange, that sense of slipping into the sidelines — but I suppose inevitable. It was quite a relief to go to Chichester Theatre the next day (a brilliant production of Guys and Dolls). I was one of the younger people in the audience.
By the time you read this, I will be back in Crete, stealing one last week of late summer sunshine and working quietly, with no distractions. I stay in Agios Nikolaos, an hour’s drive from Heraklion, and this year the authorities put a dozen new speed cameras along the road. The suspicion is that they were there more for profit than for reasons of safety: they seemed to have been deliberately placed at points where the speed limit suddenly plunged from 90 to 40 kmh and with little warning. Anyway, the newspapers report with some indignation that none of the cameras are now working. They have all been shot at by passing motorists. I know it is wrong of me to say this, and quite irresponsible, but it’s another reason why I love the Greeks.