I have just got back from Cannes, where I was the president of a jury, judging TV dramas. I’ve never had an experience like it. I was put up at the Majestic Hotel, overlooking La Croisette. I had a limousine to take me all of 100 yards to the Grand Palais for screenings and when I chose to walk, I was provided with a bodyguard. I even had my own hairdresser and make-up artist for the nightly photoshoot on the pink carpet. It was all ridiculous of course but it gave me a rare glimpse of celebrity and its pernicious allure. We writers are usually consigned to the engine room, toiling away with sweaty faces and blackened fingers. How lovely, just for once, to be given a sunbed on the first-class deck.
I had a novel experience when I arrived at Nice airport. They stamped my passport! I mean… why? This is France, for heaven’s sake! It’s just next door. I know it’s wrong of me. I should be celebrating the multiple benefits that Brexit has so clearly brought to the nation and I’m certainly delighted with my blue passport, even if the last page does seem to be rather peculiarly bound with a useless strip of paper sticking out. But I still felt an overwhelming sadness watching that unwelcoming iron fist come crashing down. And it’s already clear, with all my European travel, I’m going to need a bigger passport.
I feel slightly hypocritical writing a diary for The Spectator when I’ve given up reading almost any news at all. It’s just unbearable, particularly the war in Ukraine. Every day we’re told about it, blow by blow, with pundits commenting on the action as if it’s a sort of gigantic football match. When I was creating images of bombed-out houses, refugees and field hospitals for Foyle’s War, I never dreamed I would see the same scenes played out for real in the 21st century. The courage of the Ukrainians and the journalists reporting from the ground isn’t in doubt. It’s just the way it’s filtered down and packaged that perplexes me. War as entertainment has long been part of our culture but usually we’ve had the decency to wait until the war is over. Watching it in real time is horrible.
Sometimes it seems that the media are deliberately tormenting us. I’m thinking about Boris Johnson, who’s been clinging on to power almost from the day he took office, and although we’re told things are getting worse and worse he hasn’t actually gone. Every day, bare-faced ministers go on air, claiming that the moon is made of cheese. BBC’s Today, Sky’s Breakfast, ITV’s Good Morning Britain… it’s a dreary ritual and one that no longer informs even fractionally. I just can’t be outraged any more. I’ve had enough. Most mornings I turn instead to crime fiction which provides me with the comfort of knowing that the truth will definitely come out, the villains will be punished, good will overcome.
One crime writer I admire hugely is Don Winslow who, to my great dismay, has just announced that he is retiring. If you don’t know his work, you might start with The Force, a brilliant study of police corruption in New York. His retirement follows that of Lee Child, author of the massively successful Jack Reacher series, who did the same two years ago. Winslow says that he has told all the stories he wants to tell and will continue his work as a political activist, but I’m still shocked. I thought writers just died, like le Carré or Fleming, in the middle of a book. That was always my intention, anyway. Now I’m not so sure.
I’m still writing furiously. I may have broken a world record with three books coming out this year – starting with my third and final James Bond, which arrives next month. Writing Bond has been a fantastic privilege but I would warn whoever comes next to take care. People take both the films and the books terribly seriously. The question of who is going to take the role after Daniel Craig is already being debated all over the internet. It’s going to be a tough job given that, in the last film, Bond was both poisoned and blown to smithereens.
I’m writing this from Orford in Suffolk where I’ve been living for the past nine months. Every morning I set off with my dog for a two-hour walk in Rendlesham Forest, which stretches to about 4,000 acres with around a million trees. Instead of thinking about politics or war, a quite different sort of question exercises my mind. In December 1980, Rendlesham was the scene of one of the most famous UFO landings in history. If, walking on my own, I were to come across an alien spaceship in the middle of the wood and its door suddenly opened, would I get in? Would I dare to go to wherever it might take me? Would you?
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