Deighton - in his own words

Len Deighton interviews are pretty rare (the four most recent in-depth interviews are here on this website!). Since leaving the UK in the late sixties, his relationship with the media - TV and print - has been mixed and with every book of his a success, the need for good PR has lessened. The most recent lengthy interview in The Daily Telegraph in February 2009, to mark his 80th birthday, ended a two-year period of relative media silence.

The most significant recent TV interview was for BBC 4’s 'Len Deighton Night', one of the channel’s periodic evening’s deep dive look at an icon of British culture. Through the interviews that are publicly available, and through his forewords and his own writings, Deighton's own words give you a sense of where he's coming from. For example, back in the seventies Deighton gave a long interview with Melvyn Bragg, in which he for the first time explained his writing process.

On writing and writers

In the spring of 1960 I was working on my first book - The Ipcress File. I was earning enough money as an artist to write anything I chose. I chose a spy novel. I liked to have a problem or enigma that could follow the action of the book, but I wanted the book to be ragged and untidy, as life is. I wanted the characterizations and the dialogue to control the enigma, rather than the other way round as had been the case with the detective novels of the 'thirties, which had become puzzles rather than stories.”

Playboy, May 1966

When you make a book, it’s like making a hand grenade. It’s a dull process but when you throw it the person at the other end gets the effect.

Daily Telegraph, 18 February 2009

"My own writing is characterised by an agonising reappraisal of everything I write so that I have to work seven days a week and usually do an hour on Christmas day, simply to keep all the problems fresh in my mind. The most difficult lesson to learn is that thousands and thousands of words must go into the waste paper basket. To soften the blow I place scrapped chapters on a high shelf for a month before tossing them away."

Even on Christmas Day, in Whodunit? A guide to crime, suspense & spy fiction, 1982

I’m still an art student really. I’m not a writer. Anything that is good in my books tends to be descriptions that an art student would provide.

The Times, 7 Jan 2006

"I don’t like writers, they give me a pain in the butt. They’re always whining and whingeing and telling you their sales aren’t good enough. For goodness sake, it’s better than driving a truck, as Elvis Presley said about singing.”

Daily Telegraph, 18 February 2009

On the world of film

There was a time, it’s difficult to believe now, but before [The Ipcress File] came out Michael Caine was still a struggling actor and I was a famous writer. Of course, he overtook me like a skyrocket but there was a brief period when I was more famous than Michael.”

The Times, 7 Jan 2006

"The final irony of the scramble for screen credits [on Oh! What a Lovely War] was that each and every one of those who wanted them had to come to me. I was the only one with the power to decide who got which credits, because I was the one and only producer!"

Article for the Deighton Dossier, 2014

"I realised after having that multimillion-dollar Hollywood singing-and-dancing film on my hands [Oh! What a Lovely War] that a solitary life behind a typewriter wasn't quite as bad as I had been thinking."

The Independent, 4 Jan 2006

On class and politics

I was born in a workhouse, so I feel free to criticise anyone I choose. I’m not a member of any political party. I’m not a member of any group. I hesitate before I join hands, as the old saying goes. What I say is based on my own experience.”

The Times, 7 Jan 2006

On the joys of international travel

"The pace of our lives quickens as we travel overseas. We meet more people. We converse more readily with total strangers and we are dazzled by an avalanche of ideas, sights and manners. It easy to become captious and demanding. Jovial Dr Jekylls suddenly start to argue with wine stewards about the temperature of the beaujolais."

Playboy, May 1968

On his early life

My mother was a cook and my father was a chauffeur … One day he said to me, ‘I won’t punish you for the terrible reports you bring home from school if I see you reading.’ That really did push me into reading books. I played truant all the time and I usually went to the Marylebone Reference library and I would just sit there all day long and read. A terrible kind of sedentary childhood I had, when I think about it.”

Daily Telegraph, 18 February 2009

On his first novel

"I didnʼt have any idea how many words there were in a book; I didnʼt know how long; for all I knew, you just sat down and wrote a book and by the weekend it was ready. You see, I had absolutely no idea, so when I say to you that I started out to write Ipcress File as a story, I think I had no idea whether it would be a short story or a long story or a book - I donʼt think I embarked on it with the idea that this would be a book - and when I was halfway through it I put it aside. It was just a fun thing: I did it."

The Lively Arts, BBC2, 18 December 1977

On awards and recognition

"To allow someone to give you a knighthood is to admit that there is someone who is allowed to appraise you on a scale which you are going to agree with. The audacity of it!

Interview with Deighton Dossier, 2014

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