Gerald Seymour on the 40th anniversary edition of Harry’s Game
Gerald Seymour reflects on his legedary novel HARRY'S GAME as it reaches its 40th anniversary.
Posted on October 7, 2015 in Guest Author
Time for a scratch at an old area of nostalgia as the 40th anniversary of the publication of my first, HARRY’S GAME, arrives.
I have a good recall on those long ago days: sharing a chat show sofa with Peter Benchley who had written Jaws after coming back to London from one of those interminable sieges in Ireland, doing plenty of radio, looking under the car each morning because the Northern Ireland background of the book made it sensitive and wondering whether life was really going to change for all time and if I wanted that.
Not that I had much of a say in that area …
Good things seemed to queue up. The then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police cleared the shelves at the capital’s most prestigious bookshop of copies and handed them out liberally to Special Branch and Anti-Terrorist for their Christmas reading. It was a Book of the Month Club main selection for the Autumn in New York, a film option across the Atlantic and plenty more along with a stack of sold translation rights. All of it far beyond anything I had dreamed of, and I was an Edgar winner in the States.
I laboured on as a reporter for another three years and worked a Middle East beat out of Rome. It was an unequal struggle. I wanted to write and I wanted to be a travelling reporter and at the heart of the action: something had to give and with great reluctance I handed in my accreditation cards – and my airline ticket plastic – and after a long and excellent lunch (what little I recall of it) left ITN.
My first research trip after having the protective umbrella of the company sheltering me was a trip on a dodgy visa to East Germany, and a good spell in Magdeburg where two Soviet armoured divisions were stationed. Would the Stasi understand the difference between espionage and the needs of a thriller writer to get his research done? The sigh of relief when I crossed back into the West hissed between my teeth … only then did I realise the extent of my new freedom.
Men and women from the more shadowy corners of Whitehall would talk to me more freely now that I no longer had an intrusive camera lens poking over my shoulder and a microphone pushed under their nostrils. I was anonymous and unnoticed and unrecognised and was able to get access to the dark little corners where the hacks – what I had been – were denied.
I set myself the job of being a ‘witness’ to what happened behind the Iron Curtain, in apartheid South Africa, in the Hindu Kush, in troubled Israel … it seemed fair exchange for the pleasures and privileges of the old life. For years now I have been slipping into my room, swilling coffee, and allowing the fantasies space to run riot. I have no tested ‘formula’ for what will succeed in a story and what will fall flat. There will be days when I gaze at blank paper or an empty screen, and then somehow start hitting the keys and find that I am blessed, things again start to flow. I have no idea what fuels imagination.
Spare a thought for the Labradors. We go out each morning after breakfast and walk in woods or across fields –
summer and winter, sun or snow – and I test dialogue out loud and sometimes the language is not entirely proper, and then the older of the pair seems to raise a bit of an eyebrow at me. ‘Is that sort of talk really necessary, Dad?’
I hope – not for me to say whether the optimism is justified – that I can take readers to corners of contemporary life and pose questions and introduce them to characters and confront them with dilemmas, not make it in any way easy for them, and enrich their knowledge and arouse interest and emotion. Most certainly it is not my intention to preach on the great issues of the day, not to tell people how to think.
I am not burdened with a mission: most of all I still – four decades in – love to be a story teller. It is exhilarating, very satisfying, and there is never reason to coast but always the writer must strive for something better. I burn excitement.
There’s a question I ask, but silently and I may not want to know the answer. Am I the same writer that produced Harry? If a reader picks up VAGABOND – part set in Northern Ireland – will he or she immediately recognise the DNA of Harry’s author?
I am indeed fortunate still to be writing, lucky with a loyal audience, and still have the desire to prise open, or kick down, doors that would otherwise be closed.
I have much to be grateful to Harry for, and don’t expect to match him. He remains supreme and worth a salute.