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Spy by Nature author by choice meet novelist Charles Cumming

Spy by Nature author by choice meet novelist Charles Cumming

If Charles Cumming is a spy then he is mightily good at hiding it.

“Sorry you couldn’t get connected, it was my mum on the phone I’m afraid,” he said, after several attempts to get him on the phone.

It’s hard to picture James Bond or a real life Double-O agent using their dear old mum as a cover story, but perhaps the realms of MI6 are trying new techniques.

Charles had not long graduated from Edinburgh University when he first had dealings with the British Secret Service. And curiously enough, his mother features once again in that story too.

After a family friend approached his mother while she was out at a local supermarket and suggested her 24-year-old son should consider the diplomatic service, Charles soon found himself up for interview by the most secret and powerful organisation in the country.

  (Tony Madden USE)
via STV via STV

He may not have made the final cut for life as an MI6 spy, but the experience has played a part in the highly acclaimed spy novels Charles now writes.

“I had first written a play as a student which was performed at the Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh but it was dreadful, truly dreadful,” said Charles with a laugh. “Now I have a small office in London where I sit and write.

“I couldn’t really imagine doing anything other than writing now, it’s the only thing I’m good at,” he adds jokingly.

Charles might be modestly jocular about his writing career, but his fans and even top Hollywood stars think otherwise.

Inspired by his experience with MI6, Charles embraced the thrilling world of spy fiction to his own success. His third novel The Spanish Game was described by The Times as one of the six finest spy novels of all time, alongside Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Funeral in Berlin and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

His next novel Typhoon was listed by The New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2009 and his next two novels are now set to be turned into movies – one of which, A Foreign Country, has been bought by actor Colin Firth himself.

“I had lunch with the producers the other day. They say they’re going to shoot it next year, so there’s a good chance it will go ahead,” said Charles. “I’ve insisted I have a walk-on role in it though,” he adds with a laugh.

This week Charles has returned to his old university haunt to take part in Edinburgh’s Spy Week ahead of the launch of his latest novel A Colder War.

“It’s a sequel to Foreign Country and the main character Kell is still out in the cold so to speak. They discover a leak, a mole, so it becomes a sort of modern Tinker Taylor story if you like,” Charles explains.

Due to hit the shelves next week, A Colder War is the next gripping instalment in the story of Thomas Kell, a disgraced spy searching for redemption.

When MI6's Head of Station in Turkey is killed in a mysterious plane crash, Kell is called in to investigate and quickly unearths the lies, the cover-ups and the betrayal in the murky world of the secret service.

“It’s an emotionally richer book than the ones I have written before,” explains Charles. “We get to delve more into Kell’s personality so I hope everyone enjoys it.”

The book is so rich with details of life in the secret service that one might almost wonder at how Charles has been able to put so much colour in his work – perhaps he did accept a place at MI6 after all and personal experience played a part?

“I wish I had got in because at least there would be more material for my books,” Charles responds with a laugh. “But no, I didn’t get in and I don’t regret it because look what it's led to me doing now.”

But then, that is what a spy would say isn’t it?

Copies of A Colder War will be available at a book store near you from April 24, though limited edition copies will hit the shelves as early as next week.

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