Since the release of ‘M’ in May of last year I’ve been meandering around the country giving talks about Maxwell Knight and some of his spies – above is the audience mid-talk at the Chalke Valley History Festival – and have now given the same M talk twenty-seven times. 27. Which should have been bone-crunchingly repetitive. But has actually been riveting.
There are all sorts of things that I hadn’t taken on board beforehand, e.g.
We have an amazingly rich culture in Britain of literary festivals and bookshops that put on events. This doesn’t happen on quite the same scale elsewhere.
No two events are the same.
The people who organise these events are hard-working, clever and enormously kind.
The Pullman Effect. Just as every festival I’ve spoken at offers to pay its speakers (I won’t speak at the others) I’m also struck by how many of the festival organisers I’ve spoken to mention Philip Pullman’s stance on this, and how rare it is nowadays to find a festival that refuses to pay its authors.
There are a lot of children of former MI5 officers dotted around the country. After almost every talk I’ve given somebody has come up to have their book signed, and while I’m mid-scrawl will mention quietly that one of their parents used to work for the Security Service.
[Above: Audience at a talk brilliantly organised by Emma and Tessa at Hungerford Bookshop]
I should always be ready to answer that question about Olga Gray. After each of the 27 talks a different version of the same question about Olga comes up (I won’t say what it is just in case you come to the talk and are desperate to ask that question but feel self-conscious about doing so after reading this..!).
We are a nation of liars – and lie-detectors. As anyone who’s come along to one of these talks will know, in the middle of it we play a game designed to work out who would make a good spy. It involves telling a lie, spotting when someone is lying to you (and then using your memory). As well as being hopeless at all of the above I am always a little taken aback at just how many people can tell a very convincing lie.