When, three years ago, I announced my retirement from writing fiction, the only thing that surprised me was the surprise it generated. I had long come to the somewhat un-arty view that writing was a job like any other (well, almost) and that nudging 80 was a good time to step back and consider a senescence involving only serious decisions like which claret to choose. No need to rabbit on and on. Apart from the lengthening shadows, there was a very practical reason. The stuff I used to write involved the unlovely side of life with some unlovely places and people. The search for authenticity required travel to find and observe them. I never felt I could trust online research to get it right. I had to go and see for myself. Thus Bogota (cocaine gang lords), Guinea-Bissau (ditto) and Mogadishu (Al-Shabaab terrorists). After the last excursion (for The Kill List) a certain lady told me: ‘For heaven’s sake, you’re 75. If you go off to any more hellholes and war zones you’ll come back to an empty house.’ In vain I pointed out that she might be a wealthy widow. Ladies are so illogical. So after a final outing — The Fox written entirely inside the UK — I packed it in. But if I expected a retirement of ease and indolence I was sadly mistaken. I have seldom been busier. If anyone asks me ‘How do you fill your time?’, I reach for something blunt.
Even so, the past few weeks have been exceptional. Something of a fuss was made about the 50th anniversary of The Day of the Jackal. There have been lunches, dinners, drinks and a tsunami of interviews. The media have been more than kind about my first foray into thriller fiction.