Cold War thriller sparks novel ap­proach

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Helene Young Helene Young’s lat­est novel is Burn­ing Lies (Pen­guin), the fi­nal in­stal­ment in her Bor­der Watch tril­ogy.

CHOOSE one favourite book? That’s too dif­fi­cult. I’ve lost count of my favourites across the years. I can, how­ever, share a book that changed my read­ing habits and in­flu­enced my writ­ing, took me into an­other world, a book that 35 years later is dog-eared and tatty from re-read­ing. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was riv­et­ing the first time and it still cap­ti­vates me.

Thanks to Alec Lea­mas and his mates in MI5’s Cir­cus I dis­cov­ered spy sto­ries and dark end­ings. I de­voured John le Carre’s nov­els, moved on to Fred­er­ick Forsyth’s, and de­toured to Ian Flem­ing’s James Bond, al­though in the case of the Bond sto­ries I wished the women had done more than sim­per and sashay. This was the 1970s and women were ca­pa­ble of any­thing!

Then along came The New Avengers TV show with Steed and Purdey. Joanna Lum­ley and her kick-arse char­ac­ter was the ul­ti­mate hero­ine. Here was a woman who was at least as smart as the men, and with an inim­itable style.

I sus­pect I drove my fam­ily nuts per­fect­ing a pirou­et­ting high kick. Luck­ily I didn’t do any dam­age.

Yet all this ac­tion and in­trigue failed to side­track me from my first love of the clas­sic love sto­ries such as Pride and Prej­u­dice and Wuther­ing Heights.

When I fi­nally put fin­gers to the key­board, I started writ­ing ro­mance, even though bub­bling away in the back of my mind was the idea that women had a place in the world of sus­pense and in­trigue.

I knew they could be the stars and not just the love in­ter­est. They could save the world, save the child, cap­ture the bad guys and take charge with­out a man telling them what to do.

My women wouldn’t ex­pect a man to lay down his life for them — es­pe­cially not as Alec does in le Carre’s story. They’d be drag­ging their man to safety over the barbed wire rather than pas­sively ac­cept­ing their fate. I just had to fig­ure out what sort of story that would be.

About this time I re-read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and re­alised it wasn’t only the twist­ing and turn­ing plot that hooked me. Le Carre had taken us into his world, his or­di­nary world, and it was ex­tra­or­di­nary to me be­cause I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced it. His sto­ries were true to real life while still be­ing fic­tion.

My or­di­nary world, the flight deck of a

Dash 8 air­craft, was the per­fect start­ing point for a se­ries about bor­der pro­tec­tion. I took a deep breath and started writ­ing, us­ing the news of the day as a can­vas for my char­ac­ters, and the Bor­der Watch se­ries was born.

Ro­man­tic sus­pense may be a long way from le Carre’s spies, but with­out that epiphany my feisty hero­ines wouldn’t be track­ing out­lawed mo­tor­cy­cle gangs or ar­son­ists, de­feat­ing ter­ror­ists or stop­ping drug deal­ers, all the while find­ing love.

Life would be eas­ier for them, and me, but nowhere near as in­ter­est­ing.

Thanks, Sir John.

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