Why I write: Frederick Forsyth

Bestselling author Frederick Forsyth feels it may be time to retire from writing. But what inspired him to pick up a pen in the first place?


Why be a writer?

I fear I would make a very poor template for any aspirant writer or literary aficionado. It seems to me there are only four reasons for being a professional placer of words on paper – or nowadays on a screen.

One is pure compulsion. From what I read in the interviews of others, many have a driving passion to write and would be deeply unhappy if not doing it. This passion has always eluded me.

Then there is the fame and notional glory of success – the ability to attend every literary festival, to grace every committee, to grant thousands of interviews, to be available for an instant quote, to be noticed, in short to be a 'celeb', and oh how I loathe that word.

Some appear to have a message for the human race that simply must be imparted. It seems to me that hominids have been fighting and fornicating for several millennia without my advice and will doubtless continue after I have gone, so why interfere?

That really just leaves the oldest and best reason of all, and the only one I can offer: it's a living, it pays the rent, it puts food on the table.

End of the road

As to the type of writing, again I must go back to basics. It is just to entertain, nothing more. And the genre is story-telling, almost as old as recorded time. I simply seek to tell a story, not impart a wisdom.

So I telescope four components – character development, descriptive passages, dialogue and prose style – into 20%. 80% is the story itself; everything I do is plot driven.

In any case, I may from 2015 onwards use the past tense. After The Outsider, not an autobiography but a memoir of about 50 anecdotes, I intend to write no more books.  From this, at least, I have retired, though not yet entirely from life. There are simply other things to do. But quietly, out of the limelight.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more