Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Become a Writer: JOHN LE CARRE (DAVID CORNWELL, 1931)

John le Carré at the "Zeit Forum Kultur&q...Image via Wikipedia

Brief biographical notes

David John Moore Cornwell —the author’s full name— was born on 19 October 1931, in Poole, Dorset, England.

David John Moore Cornwell was born to Richard Thomas Archibald (Ronnie) Cornwell and Olive (Gassy) Cornwell, UK. Born to curious and unorthodox parents, it is a wonder that he escaped his milieu to become a well-respected writer. John Le Carré declared that his mother abandoned him when he was five years old, only to be re-acquaintance when he was 21 years old. As for his father, he was a sort of flim-flam man scheming on the fringes of criminality: he had been jailed for insurance, was continually in debt, and ran confidence tricks that landed him in prison once.

How to become a writer

During the 1950s and the 1960s, David Cornwell worked for British Intelligence, and began writing novels under the pseudonym “John Le Carré".

What made his career as a writer was his determination not to just write another spy novel, not to repeat the same tricks of other hack writers, nor to imitate any of them, but rather to write espionage novels with a moral stance. With such attitude he created a fictitious universe in which readers had to immerse themselves and participate in the events to determine who were the black hats and who were the apparent virtuous white hats.

Many critics and serious scholars dismiss his works as popular spy novels of the entertainment type. The truth if that Le Carre is a fine writer. Discerning readers are enchanted by well written prose that equals —if not surpasses— the “serious” writers.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963)

His third novel The Spy Who Came In From the Cold not only set new standards of quality for modern genre writers, but also for writers of serious literature whose work included mysteries.

The novel tells the story of humble, unpretentious British spy, Alec Leamas, who leaves the British Secret Service —dubbed 'Circus'— to defect to East Germany. As the story unfolds, Leamas finds out that the Director of the Circus ('Control') is sacrificing him to achieve his own nefarious secret goals. Framed, abandoned, forsaken and demoralized beyond salvation Leamas accepts his fate.  What Le Carre portrays is a world of betrayal and unclear enemies, so unlike the fictitious world that Ian Fleming will create with his prototype James Bond.

In this novel readers meet the character of George Smiley, who would later appear in several novels. Although Smiley —a bureaucrat more than a spy— has relevance, it is Alec Leamas who is the protagonist and the moral thread of the plot. The Le Carre’s universe is devoid of gadgets, glamor, and elegance; it is concerned with the inner springs of good and evil in government officials.

Other works

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Tailor of Panama
The Constant Gardener
Smiley's people

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.


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