Refreshing moments from the life of British novelist Forsyth
Photo Credit: Twitter/@freddieforsyth
“The Day of the Jackal” had faced several rejections
By Venkatesh Raghavan*
I relish reading and re-reading the memoirs of my favorite author Frederick Forsyth that spanned a period starting from his boyhood days till the time he had penned the last of his thriller novels about how a plan to destroy the drug mafia in America ran into rough weather. Some of the anecdotes from his memoirs had a good twist of humor that many a British author could be commended with.
To begin with, Forsyth was a linguist with good knowledge of French and German. In his boyhood days, he was sent to Germany as part of a scheme whereby children from a different country are parked as guests in a new country to assimilate the culture and customs of the host country.
It so happened that Forsyth along with a group of German kids were on an outdoor trip among the fields, some time in the mid-nineteen fifties. A jeep carrying British soldiers passed by and the German kids and Forsyth watched them pass. One of the soldiers yelled from the Jeep, “Preparing for the next round lads?” The German kids asked Forsyth what did the British soldier say? Wearing a volte face, Forsyth told the German kids that they were praising the German kids for their conduct. The German kids responded by saying, “Oh, how nice the British soldiers are?”
Much later, when Forsyth was posted in East Germany by Reuters, there was a very hilarious and also innocuously sporting account of how his news report could have got Reuters into serious trouble. Forsyth was traveling by night in his car and it was around midnight. He saw the movement of tanks, military arsenal and a long queue of what he construed to be saber rattling soldiers on the East German border. He immediately went home and shot a report on the ticker stating that East Germany was positioning itself for war under the aegis of Russian military instructions. When the news reached London, there was a big alarm. The cabinet ministers of Britain were alerted and they immediately got in touch with the Soviets, seeking clarifications on whether they were planning a war. The Soviet embassy discredited the news, stating we have no such plans. When specifically asked about the troop movements on the ground in East Germany, the Soviets explained that the soldiers were rehearsing for May Day celebrations. Forsyth was lucky to get away with a reprimand as the news would have landed the entire west into deep trouble.
Subsequent to Reuters, Forsyth had a brief stint with the BBC and broke free from his job as he was unhappy about the lack of objectivity in reporting. That’s when his career as a novelist got established. His first novel, “The Day of the Jackal” faced several rejections. A lady in the publishing house, on hearing that it was about an attempt on the life of Charles De Gaulle, told him “We are already aware that nothing happened to De Gaulle. So, the story does not have any suspense. Subsequently, several tries later, he got it published and the people who read it acclaimed the author for building up a climax and a fast-paced narrative. Forsyth mentioned in his narrative that the years he had put up in Paris as a Reuters correspondent had led him to have a close insight into the French OAS cadre’s thought chain that wanted to gun down De Gaulle for granting freedom to Algeria.
Interestingly, Forsyth started his career as a RAF pilot and had already gone through all the drills that are required to qualify for the posting. He later decided to quit his life in uniform and try his luck at Fleet Street. That’s when the struggle began before his first major leap took place after he was recruited by the British wire service Reuters.
*The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist, novelist and satirist. He is the author of bestseller thriller, Operation Drug Mafia (Times Group Books).
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