Frederick Forsyth is a highly-respected thriller writer. Forsyth is best known for his 1971 thriller The Day of the Jackal. He has also written several nonfiction works, as well as 15 novels and two collections of short stories over a nearly 40-year career. Many of his books, such as the title above and The Dogs of War have been made into movies. After earning his wings in the RAF, Forsyth went on to be a foreign correspondent at Reuters and BBC before turning his attention to writing thrillers. Forsyth continues to write and travel, and his new novel The Outsider has just been published.
Tell us about your first travel experience.
My parents decided that I should learn French after the Second World War. In 1948, as a nine-year-old boy, I went to Amiens to live with a French family. As I grew older, I was so interested in traveling that I would have taken any ticket to anywhere.
You entered the national service after high school. Why did you choose to join the RAF?
I was a child obsessed with aeroplanes, and managed to get into the air force six years earlier than usual. This was quite unusual as all my contemporaries were trying out for national service, and I wanted to be recruited. At 17-1/2 years of age, national service started at 18. Every stage was five months ahead than my mates, including getting my wings when i was 19.
After the RAF, you changed your career and became a journalist. Is that the original plan?
After two years in the RAF, I was satisfied with my flying skills and now it’s time to travel. “I want to travel, but how can I do that?” I thought. “Well, there’s a job called foreign reporter, which will send you all over the globe at the expense of any proprietor who will hire me.” That was the reason I decided to enter journalism.
What was your first assignment overseas?
When fate intervened, I was sitting in London’s office, longing to travel abroad. One of the Paris correspondents had a heart murmur so I went there to replace him. Paris was at the time in turmoil. Charles de Gaulle, then in power, was the target of an assassination attempt. All the later The Day of the Jackal stuff was happening at the time I arrived.
From where did the idea for this book come?
Since that first assignment in Paris. For 18 months I was there, through the hot summer 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and the assassination attempts against Charles de Gaulle. This includes the opening scene. My thoughts on those events didn’t become the novel until seven years later when I was back home in London.
Did you ever dream of becoming a thriller author?
But they signed me up for a three-novel contract when I submitted the manuscript to them. I had to think of other ideas. I was a German citizen, so I wondered “What do you know about Germany?” I had been there for Reuters and could easily pass as German. I also knew a vaguely about Odessa, an ex-Nazi organization. I was also familiar with West Africa. I had met half a dozen of these homicidal psychopaths, white mercenaries from South Africa, and had been working behind Nigerian lines. That was The Odessa File, and The Dogs of War.
How many researches do you need to do before you start writing?
I have four to five ideas in my head before I finally come up with one I like. This usually takes six months. Research takes around six months. If I am going to write about a place, I want it to be as real as possible. Apart from that, I speak to people with deep knowledge about the subject. This creates a lot of information that I then compile. I quickly use a typewriter to get down to writing when I finally do. I have never used more than one typewriter, and I have never used more than two forefingers.
Do your novels require you to travel?
The Day of the Jackal was oddly the only one for which I didn’t travel. Although I had to write it from memory, I was familiar with Paris and the operations of the French secret services. I was in West Africa, Washington D.C., and Colombia to create The Cobra.
In the Seventies and Eighties, the Cold War was a popular theme for thriller writers. Are you a believer that there is a major theme right now?
The Cold War started with the Berlin Blockade in 1948. It lasted 43 years until Gorbachev ended the USSR and world communism in 1991. Nebengefährliche threats such as the IRA or Palestinian terrorism existed, but the biggest threat was the nuclear wipeout. Terrorism is the new threat, and it is now the main topic for thriller writers.
Do you have a favorite Mandarin Oriental hotel?
New York and Hong Kong are both great, but Miami is our favorite. It offers spectacular views of Key Biscayne, the Great Bay of Miami and other areas. It’s wonderful. Sandy, my wife, loves The Spa London.
What advice would you give to aspiring thriller writers?
Research your facts and write about the things that interest you. Start slow, build tension and then increase it until the horse is going from trot to trot to canter or gallop. Then end with the sting – the twisting of the tail. We are all different. But what works for one man may not work for another.