Edinburgh Book Festival: Frederick Forsyth With Ian Rankin, Is this a Memoir or a Thriller?

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Frederick Forsyth with Ian Rankin
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Ian Rankin introduced Frederick Forsyth to the packed house by wondering if his new book 'The Outsider' was actually a new thriller or Forsyth's autobiography?

Forsyth replied that for it to be a 'proper' autobiography would have entailed a great deal of research and this seemed rather a boring requirement to him so, therefore, it was actually a 'life story' where he started at zero and went on to seventy five. He said that he had been through it and the only person living to whom he had been rude was one in a care home! On this basis he felt that he could go for publication!

Ian Rankin said that what he had done and what he had achieved by the age of twenty four was absolutely remarkable as by that age he, Rankin, had not yet left university. But Forsyth had travelled, become an RAF pilot and seen the world, been part of a Hunter squadron and had then become a journalist with Reuters working from Berlin.

When he was due to leave the RAF Forsyth had asked what options might be available to him. At the time, he was told that the best he might be offered would be either flying as a second pilot or possibly he might just be able to fly solo as part of a squadron, but this was most doubtful. As someone who was intent on commanding a Hunter Squadron this was not what he wanted to hear; he had set his heart on a command and flying again.

The option of joining Reuters at that time seemed therefore a much more exciting option, particularly working from Berlin. Forsyth did give one glimpse of life as a reporter in West Berlin when he said that as soon as the Berlin wall went up all the East German reporters were sent back to the East. However, as the Reuters representative he was allowed to remain in the East, but he explained how he had to be back by midnight passing through Checkpoint Charlie. For a young man, this did have several disadvantages and on a few occasions he was just about to have a final coffee when he realised that he had to head back to East Berlin or he would be late!

At this time, he was contacted by MI6, however, he insisted that he never actually worked for the agency. His role was very much one of, 'if you see something let us know' relationship.

Forsyth said that when writing the book his agent had been very keen to keep the chapter on East Germany in as it would add interest to the work.

He did describe one incident where he had to deliver a package in East Germany, however, when he was trying to hide it he found himself with a whole group of Volkspolizei who had stopped their car thinking he had broken down. There followed a lot of discussion about his vehicle and one of the specialists 'fixed' the car before all cheerily going on their way none the wiser!

He confesses that he was not wearing his 'lucky bullet' today as he felt that the audience this morning would be sympathetic! The story behind the bullet was that when taking part in an insurgent operation as a young man, someone had shot at him and missed - after the incident Forsyth removed the bullet from the tree and had a jeweller remove any blemishes then attach a silver chain to it; he now wore it if going into a difficult situation!

This was a thoroughly good session and it was very interesting to see how Ian Rankin worked so well with Frederick Forsyth. It was interesting that at the outset, Rankin said of Forsyth that one of the two thriller authors that he and his father could read were those of Frederick Forsyth. A great compliment!

Frederick Forsyth's The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue was published by Corgi in May 2016.