DECEMBER BOOK OF THE MONTH DISCUSSION THREAD - Thursday's bookclub session and author chat here

(166 Posts)

Hi all, this is the discussion thread to come to this Thursday night 8-10pm for December's Book of the Month, Agent Zigzag. Author Ben Macintyre will be joining us from 9 onwards.

If you can't make the session and would like to ask Ben a question then do post it here now and we'll email it on. And if you want to post a question in advance pop it up here on this thread, and we'll email them to him. Ben will start with those on Thursday eve.

I'm hoarding the last of the pudding wine and Quality Street in anticipation (should be drinking something far more spy-like and sophisticated but never could stomach martini)

morningpaper Mon 07-Jan-08 11:30:11

Yes something spy-like

I want to go back to the days when a tasty spy whisked me off on his yacht and produced a bottle of cognac and some fine cigars

I mean that is proper manly stuff

morningpaper Mon 07-Jan-08 11:49:33

OK some questions:

- Why did you write the book? I mean, I can understand thinking "Hmm this obituary is interesting" but that is a far cry from thinking "I know, I will spend the next few years rummaging around the basement of MI5 for his old notebooks and write 200,000 words about it". Have you always had an interest in spies?

- How long did it take to research and write?

- I didn't like the way you slipped in the colloquialisms such as "slappers" and "whores" and "sluts" - it was a bit unnecessary I felt.

- Which part of the story surprised you the most?

- What has been the most interesting Chapman-related incident or new information that happened to you since the book was published?

- You are SO prolific and you have THREE CHLIDREN. How do you juggle it all?

those are great questions, thanks morningpaper. will forward them now and Ben can get to work...

FluffyMummy123 Tue 08-Jan-08 22:34:38

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ahundredtimes Tue 08-Jan-08 22:36:20

It's on THURSDAY

FluffyMummy123 Tue 08-Jan-08 22:41:36

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Bet he's never been asked that before. Have forwarded your ones too, icod. We kick off talking about the book at 8pm tomorrow. Ben is coming on about 9ish and will start with the advance questions, then it'll be a free for all from then on.

See you tomorrow

morningpaper Wed 09-Jan-08 21:35:39

Who the hell would eat a schotch egg sandwich, you freaky fish? That's like breadcrumbs in bread. Freak.

So Tilly do you have sensible book-club type questions that you ask tomorrow? Am v. excited.

Ben -

- What are you currently working on?

- Were there any points where you were researching Agent ZigZag where you thought you might be getting onto Dangerous Territory? (Or do I just watch Spooks too often?)

I'm interested to know if Ben thinks Eddie was a hero or not - he's not exactly noble but you do find yourself thinking he's got serious balls. Or maybe he was just always saving his own skin and the patriotism was really a well-judged move on his part?

Looking forward to this evening very much indeed, should be a great chat. See everyone at 8pm.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 11:40:45

Oooh that's a good question, I wish I'd thought of that. See you later!

CarrieMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 10-Jan-08 12:07:54

I want to know who he sees playing the parts in the inevitable Hollywood blockbuster. I kept envisaging David Niven, but guess that's unlikely (and indeed shows my age grin).

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 12:36:54

Jude Law seems like the right sort of chap I reckon.

Are there plans for a film? I think I read it somewhere...

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 12:46:19

Nooo! Not Jude Law...he's just not right. How about David Tennant or James McAvoy?

Another question (if I'm too late for advance ones, I try and ask tonight instead)

Do you think he had a borderline personality disorder? The constant need for action/lying/womanising etc (or is that just MEN grin!)

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 14:39:35

Hi Ben

I'm posting this now, in case I'm not here later. (hope to be)

First of all, both my husband and I loved the book - so refreshing to find a nonfiction book that went into enough detail to be interesting but was well paced and easy to read.

Secondly, I have just seen on Amazon that there's another book telling his story by someone else but that yours was published first. angry How much did that annoy you?

What are you working on next? Are you now a busy reader of the obits columns?

Also I'm interested in the film version - and agree Jude Law too girly to be Chapman.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 14:50:35

Christopher Eccleston?

<dribbles>

Yes I saw that there was another book on the same topic, published in the same year, I think. Bastards. Did you know it was being researched by someone else at the same time? Did any fights break out over files in the cellars of MI5?

themonkeykeeper Thu 10-Jan-08 15:00:40

Kind of following on from Tilly's question - did you LIKE Eddie? He does some incredibly selfish things and then follows that with something that seems unselfish (but maybe was just part of his adrenaline junkie personality) but I really found myself liking him.

lemurtamer Thu 10-Jan-08 18:48:04

Posting in case I can't make it later.
I loved the book, couldn't wait to read the next chapter, and gave it as a Christmas present too.

Questions: was there a lot more research material that would not have added more interest to the story, or was pretty much all the research used in the book?

Do you think the Germans may have won the war if their codes had not been broken? I haven't read any "If the Germans had won the war" fiction nor much about the code-breaking, but wondered what you thought.

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 18:49:10

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yep, I did, icod. he'll be intrigued. And I want to know if he's the type of man who can handle a bread on bread snack.

see you at 8... calling Ben now to check he's all set and will send him some more of the advance questions...

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 19:29:33

I'm here already grin

But... I have to go at 9, so it looks like I will miss Ben himself.

My question to Ben is: When you decide to write a book like this, that needs tons of research, do you just (figuratively speaking) march right up to the powers that be and say "I'm writing a book, tell me stuff"? Or do you need references from publishers or the like. And would it have been possible to do had you not had contacts from the Times and several other books under your belt?

I also wanted to tell Ben that I enjoyed his book very much and was gripped from the word go.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 19:44:12

I'm here too

<takes good chair, gets out pen and notepad>

Squonk's in luck, Ben is free to come on at 8.30 so has agreed to start author chat half an hour early. So we'll begin the chat at 8.30, not 9, everyone.

Squonk, can you hang here till then?

I'm here and ready to go. My Hollywood man would be Rupert Everett ( in a camp Casino Royale sort of version).

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:03:03

I am ready to go, still thinking about Hollywood man, George is too old sadly.

themonkeykeeper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:05:03

Sorry if I've missed this somewhere in the book - but what was it about Eddies obituary that intrigued you? In the authors note at the beginning you say it was more about what it didn't say - so why did you think there was a story there?

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:05:14

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fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:10:52

woohoo, yes, I will be here at 8.30 and Ben is fab for coming on early grin

for some inexplicable reason, I have a craving for a scotch egg sandwich hmm

don't go icod - common knowledge that writers eat all sorts of bizarre things during the long midnight toil.

I'm still so surprised that I'd never heard of Eddie Chapman before reading this book. All those adventures are so extraordinary, you'd think he woudl have become a well known war figure.

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:12:03

and fwiw, I think that David Tennant, or Daniel Craig would be good to play Eddie

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:14:43

Did Ben manage to track down Eddies' daughter

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:15:42

No to Rupert Everett. Too louche and upper class.

YES to Daniel Craig (thats yes in general...not just for this purpose grin)

I had mentioned David Tennant before and I'm glad to see another vote for him.

Anyone back me up on James McAvoy for the casting couch?

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:16:15

yeah, but it wasn't till long after the war had ended that Bletchley Park waseven heard of, and probably a lot of people have still not heard of Tommy Flowers or Alan Turing

themonkeykeeper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:16:49

David Tennant gets a vote here!

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:16:57

Tilly so much of it was extraordinary but I suppose that a lot of that information has probably only been made public in the last few years under Labour's public right to information reforms?

So, Tilly, do you ask us Book Group type questions now?

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:17:22

I think James McAvoy's too young and clean cut looking.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:18:08

That's a yes for DT here aswell

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:18:35

<clears throat>

<sips wine nervously>

<trys to look cool, yet interesting, and the sort of person you'd want to chat to at a book club>

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:19:35

I can think of a few ways of aging James MacAvoy...

Sorree....am I lowering the tone AGAIN??!

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:20:26

Actually I think hes only about a year or two younger than Chapman was at the beginning of Zig Zag.

Just realised that his story has alreayd been made into a film (Ben mentions in the end of the book) - Eddie is played by Christopher Plummer of sound of music fame pic http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001626/bio here

What I want to read is Freda's story, and how Chapman was with her. i wonder hwo much he told her, or whether she really was in teh dark.

Just realised that his story has alreayd been made into a film (Ben mentions in the end of the book) - Eddie is played by Christopher Plummer of sound of music fame pic http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001626/bio here

What I want to read is Freda's story, and how Chapman was with her. i wonder hwo much he told her, or whether she really was in teh dark.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:20:44
fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:21:21

really, notyummy, what would those be then? do tell

wink

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:22:45

Yes Freda's story, that WOULD be interesting. Do you think she knew what was going on, or do you think she was just a bit dim and thoght these gentlemen were all part of some dodgy criminal underworld?!

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:23:22

kept coming up as error, and in light of the fact that he was censored how accurate was the film

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:24:58

I think Freda knew something was going on, but loved him and had a child, so didn't want to ask too many questions.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:25:03

I think Freda knew a lot more than she let on, just was very wise and kept her mouth shut

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 20:26:14

shock Christopher Plummer! That's ALL wrong.
here's the film
hmm

I think they can remake it - it was in 1966. Think they need someone much dishier than Capt von Trapp!!

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:26:15

I think Freda knew that the best thing she could do was keep schtumm

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:27:03

my mum reliably informs me that he was quite the thing back in the day!

Daniel Craig very good. Though Chapman said he hated violence and Craig always looks like he's about to wrestle something.

My bookclubby questions are sort of author focussed (I guess because its 'real' stories rather than fiction) but in general, they boil down to what I thought about Eddie as a man. I was almost cross that he ended up rich and well-rewarded becuase he was a crook and a liar. But I do admire courage and he did have that. i think.

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:27:50

and it does say that the film was "loosely based" on Eddie's story. So, assuming that most of the details didn't come out until very recently, the film is probably more made up than factual.

So, it's back to Daniel Craig then....

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:28:22

I ahve to say the minder he had after Green was a real piece of work, very nasty

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:28:37

REALLY? Do you think so?

Can you imagine Freda on Mumsnet:

Loneparenting: "My DH got me pregnant but then got in trouble with the police, and apparently they tried to arrest him in a hotel with a blonde sad angry - I've not heard from him at all for a few years and he hasn't sent any money for the lo or tried to contact us, but now he's got back in touch and wants us to try again!!! He wants me to move into a house with him and some of his friends, who I think might be criminals sad. What should I do?"

Errrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmm

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:29:15

I was quite cross at the way he was treated by the British government towards the end, and that second handler bloke, Ryde? - pah!

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:30:08

I see him as almsot childlike in the way he seemed to go about things, but not childlke in a good way. He seemed a bit emotionally stunted/immature, but there is certainly a lot of what he did that was very brave.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:30:19

grin morningpaper

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:31:00

There is gossip on t' web that film rights over Agent Zigzag are being argued over, but Tom Hanks is apparently producing the film <googles>

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:32:16

aaah, Saving Agent ZigZag?

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:33:06

Oooh, ooh...what about Damien Lewis. He would be FAB!! Quick, quick morningpaper...fire an email off to Tom Hanks. I think he knows Damien from Band of Brothers, so it would be a shoo-in...

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 20:33:23

(Anyway MP/Cod, fishfinger sandwiches are bread in bread and they're delicious so why not scotch eggs?)

Back to serious discussion. One thing about this book, it made me want to know more about the period

I did Classics at university and all of my "studied" history ends around 100AD. I do have some general knowledge but this made me really want to know more about what really went on during the war.

Did anyone else find this?

I'd like to welcome Ben onto the thread - Ben, thank you so much for joining us and we are thrilled to have you here. We've got heaps of questions to get through, so lets get started: as morningpaper asked earlier, what sparked the initial story and how did you come to write the book?

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:34:24

so, if when the film starring Daniel Craig, produced by Tom Hanks is released, we can all go to see it and in a very loud whisper say "I know the author you know" or "When I was chatting to Ben... that's the author, dear..."

wink

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:35:00

I agree it ignites interest in he period. I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of the war through general reading (and used to be in the forces so had learn about it!) however I realised that I knew little about the clandestine stuff that went on.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:35:47

Yah I agree champagne. Not generally remotely interested in that sort of stuff <idiot> - would like to read more about Enigma.

I wasn't expecting it to be a biography actually - I thought it was going to be a novel-based-on-a-true-story. I'm not normally keen on biography but it was surprisingly gripping.

It is not a very girlie book, it's a bit more boy's stuff innit?

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:36:40

dp nicked mine as soon as I finished it

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:36:56

Hello everyone, thanks for having me aboard.

Here are morningpaper's q's,and my a's, to get started:

From Morning paper

Why did you write the book? I mean, I can understand thinking "Hmm this obituary is interesting" but that is a far cry from thinking "I know, I will spend the next few years rummaging around the basement of MI5 for his old notebooks and write 200,000 words about it". Have you always had an interest in spies?

I have always been fascinated by spies. Indeed, I was briefly recruited by the Funnies at University, and even went to a few interviews, before we decided by mutual consent that it wasn’t a great idea: not least because I am hopeless at keeping secrets (see above).

I saw the obituary in 1997, and then started gathering bits and pieces, but it was not until MI5 began releasing the official material that I really got going.

- How long did it take to research and write?

Actually, not that long. I researched it for six months, and then wrote it, while still researching, for another year. I was lucky that the vast majority of the material was in one place, the National Archives at Kew.

- Which part of the story surprised you the most?

I was staggered by Chapman’s offer to assassinate Hitler. I really did not know whether to believe it, but the psychological profiles in the files show that he was in deadly earnest. The other big surprise came with the discovery of Chapman’s Iron Cross. I had been convinced that this was just one of Chapman’s self-inflating lies. But then I contacted Ronald Reed’s son, Nicolas, who astonished me by saying that he had Chapman’s iron cross and the citation to go with it in German.

- What has been the most interesting Chapman-related incident or new information that happened to you since the book was published?

The call I got from the German ambassador to Britain explaining that his father, who is still alive, had been the pilot of the Luftwaffe plane that flew Chapman to Britain was quite a revelation. The extraordinary number of people who knew Chapmen still amazes me – it is one of the great pleasures of writing a book that is on the edge of living memory - I still get telephone calls from people saying that they had been to his nightclub, or even, in two case, had done “jobs” with him before the war.

You are SO prolific and you have THREE CHLIDREN. How do you juggle it all?

Kate (Muir), my wife, and I take it in turns to write books. I think if we were both doing them simultaneously, the entire family edifice would collapse. In truth, it was easier to write the books when we were abroad, as foreign correspondents for the Times, because one had a little more space to juggle in. The Times has always been very supportive of the book-writing, and gave me a lovely chunk of time off to write Agent Zigzag.

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:37:03

My dh is currently devouring it and loves it. That said he will read all sorts...just had to wrestle The Time TRavellers Wife from him!

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:37:48

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morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:37:56

<claps politely at Ben's arrival>

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:40:12

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Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:40:12

How do you go about seperating truth from fiction? Do you set yourself a threshold like 'must have two reliable sources'?

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:40:18

Yes, icod, that Kate Muir. She is actually sorting her seeds downstairs as I write.

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:41:13

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sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:41:21

I was fascinated for some reason by the jockeys who ended up in a camp because they were at the races in Berlin

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:42:17

Here are a few from earlier, with regard to the all-important casting questions:

From CarrieMumsnet

I want to know who he sees playing the parts in the inevitable Hollywood blockbuster. I kept envisaging David Niven, but guess that's unlikely (and indeed shows my age ).

Funnily enough, the question of casting Agent Zigzag is one of my more preoccupying daydreams. David Niven would have been good, but perhaps a bit “clean” if you know what I mean. Jude Law would be excellent, with just the right amount of sleazy charm, but perhaps too old? Chapman was in his early 20s for most of the book. My own choice would be James McAvoy, because he has that rather feral, dodgy British look, particularly, I thought, in The Last King of Scotland. What does anyone think of Clive Owen? Too burly maybe?

Morningpaper

Jude Law seems like the right sort of chap I reckon.

Are there plans for a film? I think I read it somewhere...

The film rights have been sold to New Line Cinema, the people who made the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and while there is absolutely no guarantee it will ever happen they seem very enthusiastic (and quite generous!). Tom Hanks has agreed to produce it, but we have hit a hiatus at the moment because of the writers’ strike in Hollywood. I want Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park, to write the script…whaddayallthink?

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:42:20

Did you manage to track doen his daughter, did she have any contact with her father after the war, does she know who he is

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:43:04

How old are your children now? <nosy> I do like hearing how people juggle. I can't believe you take it in turns to write a book! That's hilarious. Who is writing one at the mo? Do you have big arguments if you are in the Writer position and are being a bit slack? "Hurry up, I want to get on with MINE!"

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 20:43:05

<echoes icod's sigh>
envy

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:44:16

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FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:44:35

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Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:45:13

OOh, ohh.....Ben backs my James McEvoy vote (although I imagine you came up with it first!)....I'm sure he could do it VERY well.

Also, Julian Fellows for the script would be very classy and I'm sure could give it a great period feel.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:45:16

sophiewd

I never found the daughter he had by Freda...I later found out that she had died young. She never knew who her father was. But, astonishingly, after a book festival event last year I was appraoched by a charming woman who looked oddly familiar: she turned out to be Chapman's illegitimate daughter by ANOTHER woman...from after the war.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:46:05

Clive Owen too burly and not mean enough. He needs to be skinny and have that bastard look that Law has. The sort of scrawny chap who would leave bruises on your hips after a night of passion. Actually I'd imagine it would be 2 minutes of slightly disappointing passion, the selfish bastard

<I may have over-thought this point>

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:46:34

so there could be more out there

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:46:36

Bloody hell...he got around a bit.

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 20:47:01

oh YES to Julian Fellowes!

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:47:17

mp: Breath deeply and think of something like fish eyes.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:47:43

Kate is writing the book at the moment: her next novel is out in April.

From Tilly

interested to know if Ben thinks Eddie was a hero or not - he's not exactly noble but you do find yourself thinking he's got serious balls. Or maybe he was just always saving his own skin and the patriotism was really a well-judged move on his part?

No not a hero, at least not in the conventional way. Which is probably why I found him so interesting as a character. Most heroes are one-dimensional, but Chapman was a man of so many parts, most of them very bad indeed. Opportunism was uppermost, but he also had some extraordinary good qualities: not least his quite lunatic courage. I like the idea of a good man lurking, almost in spite of himself, inside a very bad one. I don’t think his patriotism was entirely self-serving – particularly as it was potentially self-destructive.

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:47:54

had she known her father? And if so, was her perception of him similar to yours?

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 20:48:01

Where do you write? Do you have a set routine?

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 20:48:06

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sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:48:17

Does the prison in Paris still exist as a museum, as again didn't know anything about it until your book. Also did you like him.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 20:49:19

As an add on would you go out for a drink with him and trust him

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:49:51

She had met her father, though I think only briefly. Se was very warm about him, though I think she realised he was utter rogue.

On the subject of research, was there a point where you came up against brick walls, that M15 wouldn't let you go any further? And like mroningpaper asked earlier, did you come across Dangerous Territory?

Interested as my mother in law is Ralph Jarvis's daughter, and when she went to the Public Records office they wouldn't give her any info on him at all, becuase he was M16.

(she was thrilled to read it by the way, an dhas marked the three pages where he appears! she has masses of photos of their house in Lisbon, and describes it as an idyllic place and time)

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:51:56

And was it/has the Freedom of Information Act etc. made this sort of thing much easier to research?

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 20:54:34

stop it with the Rupert Everett suggestions. He's just all wrong.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:55:03

Morningpaper asked: Were there any points where you were researching Agent ZigZag where you thought you might be getting onto Dangerous Territory? (Or do I just watch Spooks too often?)

Not possible to watch Spooks too often, in my view. No, never scary: in fact MI5 were extraordinarily helpful, giving me full access to their archive and even coming up with material that I had thought was genuinely lost. I was surprised, in a way, because the Zigzag case doesn’t really reflect all that well on MI5.

In reply to you Tilly, MI6 is far more reticent than MI5...indeed, they have still released very little though an "offical history" is due out next year.

Jarvis was a very good intelliegnce offier, by all accounts. (he comes into Holts The Decivers, I think) I seem to recall he was merchant banker in real life. Ronnie Reed was not too keen on him, because Jarvis was quite keen to do in Chapman before he caused any more trouble...

mezzo Thu 10-Jan-08 20:56:23

Hello Ben,
What drew you to the subject of spying? Were you ever in the business yourself? of spying , that is. Can't wait to read the book, it sounds terrific.

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:57:00

<<<jumps up and down in the manner of a five year old looking for teacher's attention>>>

Ben, please answer my question, I have to go in a couple of minutes... grin It was about asking MI5 for your research - do you just ring them up and say "I'm an author let me in" or is it more complicated than that...

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:57:01

Squonk, as I know your time is short:

From Squonk

My question to Ben is: When you decide to write a book like this, that needs tons of research, do you just (figuratively speaking) march right up to the powers that be and say "I'm writing a book, tell me stuff"? Or do you need references from publishers or the like. And would it have been possible to do had you not had contacts from the Times and several other books under your belt?

Usually, no references are necessary. At the National Archives you simply fill out a form to get a reader’s card, go to the computers, and order up what you want. You can order a lot of stuff online. MI5, needless to say, doesn’t quite work that way and in that case, I made contact through intermediaries: an extremely helpful archivist at the National Archives agreed to forward a letter from me to the “relevant authorities”; after a while, they contacted me, and it went from there. I am not sure if my job on The Times was a help or a hindrance. I am sure that had I not written books before, I might have had different, or at least slower responses.

fryalot Thu 10-Jan-08 20:58:31

ooh, cross posted with the answer, now I feel all needy and impatient blush

But thank you Ben grin

And thank you from me for coming on here tonight, and thank you for a very enjoyable book.

Now I'm off

grin

Will catch up on the rest of the thread tomorrow.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 20:59:29

<tut> at needy Squonk

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 20:59:36

From Not yummy

Do you think he had a borderline personality disorder? The constant need for action/lying/womanising etc (or is that just MEN?)

No, I really do think he was borderline personality, and I wish I had gone into that in more detail in the book. His wild mood swings, the elation and the despair, the anger and remorse, the rule breaking and the desire to be appreciated (by people who made and upheld the rules). Particularly in later life, he became quite difficult to handle. The womanising was also more then simply the behaviour of a handsome lothario. He may have been undiagnosed bipolar. But I also think that, like many people who suffer from that disorder, it was also the motor that made him run, and gave him such incredible energy and, in his own crooked way, ambition.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:02:36

Hmm Ben that's interesting. MI5 probably not so keen to recruit bi-polar criminals these days, I would imagine.

I once worked for the MOD and had to sign the Official Secrets Act - I am also rubbish at keeping secrest and told everyone I knew that I had signed the Official Secrets Act within 30 seconds of signing it. Fortunately I was too thick to know WTF we were making anyway. I think it the Eurofighter. Or the Harrier. Or a helicopter.

mezzo Thu 10-Jan-08 21:03:33

How long do I have to wait for Ben to answer my question or has he gone already? shock

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:03:54

to catch up:

absolutely No to Rupert Everett, surely

my children are 12, 10 and 8

I was never in the business of spying..,honestly

The FOI act does not really apply here...MI5 and MI6 can really block anyhting they want on the grounds of national security and there is no comeback

Fort de Romainville (the prison camp) was razed after the war

I tend to write very early in the morning, when the brain is still working...

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 21:04:14

I'm glad its not just me then! I thought perhaps I was reading too much 21st psychiatric analysis into it, but some of his behaviour does seem like someone who has some level of mental illness.

The interesting thing is that some of that may have helped him be a good spy!

MelanieLiv Thu 10-Jan-08 21:05:16

re personality disorder

I think this came accross pretty clearly in the book - during the periods in the various safe houses etc. I really enjoyed the book - particularly the bits in Oslo as I have family there.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:05:38

Do you think that we are BETTER at intelligence and managing people these days, or do you think that technology has just moved on to enable us to be better? I mean, the book showed that the whole WW2 intelligence operation was basically strung together with string and totally random. Although it's so hard to imagine life before telecoms enabled communication to be so instant. I mean all that faff to get the photo of the submarine device in a tobacco tin... these days that sort of thing is unimaginable. But there were so many gaffes and blunders along the way - imagine what the press would do these days, considering they are happy to hang the Prime Minister for losing a couple of CD-ROMS. So were they a bit CRAP?

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:05:52

Did I like him?

I couldn’t help liking him. I really did not want to, but there was something so vital about his personality. On the other hand, I am glad I never met him. I think one would have been superficially charmed, but then realised he had stolen your wallet. He was fantastically hurtful to both women and men, and yet I don’t think he ever meant to hurt anyone.

I found the Faramus story hugely moving. Taht he shoudl have survived, and they got to have a drink together after the way, despite best efforts of concentration camps. And that they both thought about each other all the time. Almost the biggest love story of the book. Is he now dead? do you think his imprisonment brought out Chapman's heroic side? Without him, perhaps the darker elements might have won...

Von Groning friendship also fascinating - I sort of imagine that spies are all in cahoots with each other, whether they're double agents or not. Only another spy understands you, so you must have a strong connection even though they're your enemy.

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 21:07:18

I have to say that the book also puts paid to some of the rather sweeping generalisations of the incredibly efficient German war machine!

Some elements of it were obviously horrifically efficient....but not their Secret Service it would seem

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:07:42

yers von groning friendship v. interesting. Loved the story of their reunion at the end.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:08:31

What else hugley interested me was the fact that when you think of spies you think they are busy all the time, but the length of time he spent in both England and Norway puts paid to that theory and how both sides still thought the info was vital months later.

As regards his german handler Stephan, in your opinion did he know that Eddie was a double agent.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:09:26

I also loved the parts about the 'magic team' that was commissioned to make tanks etc. disappear. I can imagine Louie Theroux investigating... I loved the faking of the mosquito factory bombing.

blimey my head is itching I think I have nits

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 21:09:30

MP: Operation Overlord was VERY well organised! Not sure if we could do it know...

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:09:48

Faramus is dead, but his widow is still alive...he wrote the most harrowing book about his war years.

Morningpaper: yes, the technology has changed everything, and also nothing. The very same techniques seem to apply, today, as back then: funnily enough the Zigzag case is sued as sort of intructional case for agents today...

poppy34 Thu 10-Jan-08 21:10:12

I find relationship with Von Groning fascinating -Ben -what in your view was reason for the fact that they seemed to have such a close relationship? I am more puzzled as to why Van Groning clearly came to like Eddie so much (and I think it was more than the fact he was his passport for success with the reich) than why Eddie would respond to someone who was the good cop type when he was first transferred out of de Romainville into training.

MelanieLiv Thu 10-Jan-08 21:10:29

Do you know what happened to his Norwegian girlfriend after the war? Can't remember if this was covered in the book - read it a while ago.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:10:34

Agree with you ther Morningpaper, DH didn't believe it until I found some info on web. My head has started itching too.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:13:05

sophie yes about them not being busy. They seemed to go MONTHS with nothing to do. It sounds HORRENDOUSLY boring. No wonder he was depressed.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:13:13

Did Von Groening KNOW chapman was a double agent: no

Did he suspect? I think definitely yes. Did it suit his purposes not to know? absolutely.

The German Abwehr were pretty inefficient, but it has to be said that we were pretty hopeless at the start of the war. The Venlo incident (described in William Boyd's Restless) was fantastic cockup by the British secret service right at the start of the war.

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 21:14:51

Yes I liked the magic section too MP - a sort of a cross between Paul Daniels, Changing Rooms and Q from Bond!grin

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:15:24

I loved Lord Rothschild too - I loved the way he felt he had to tell people not to cut the coal bomb in half when they discovered it ... hahaha YEAH RIGHT tht would be the first thing you would think of doing

And Rupert Everett not really. I had a momentary vision of a sort of spy- spoof, him all brylcreem and dark moods, expansive gestures and drunken fabulousness. But RE obviously not nearly heterosexual enough.

Though there's a question - did Chapman ever direct that frustrated libido towards men?

Interesting how war favours the slightly crazy, heightened characters. The extreme situation must make their extreme personality suddenly relevant and useful.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:17:07

I think the closeness of the Von Groening Chapman relation was a strange combination of self-interest, paternalism on VGs part, neediness on Chapman's, and mutual recognition that they were, despite their very differnt circumastances and upbringings. very alike...

CarrieMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 10-Jan-08 21:17:53

Were you ever worried about keeping the suspense going given that the pics in the middle kind of give the game away that he survives the war? Not saying it wasn't suspenseful, but just wondered if it was a different challenge to keep it that way with non fiction rather than fiction?

and on a more frivolous movie note who would you get to play Graufmann (sorry if I've got that name wrong have lent out my copy and finished the book before xmas - I mean his German handler)

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:19:53

did Chapman ever direct that frustrated libido towards men?

Well, there had been incidents in his early soho years when he may have slept with men, possibly for money.

I think he was, fundamentally, neither hetero, nor homo, but omnisexual.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:20:42

Just ordered Faramus' book for 1p shock as would love to know more about him, poor guy really was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:21:51

Right here's another question: If you were going to be in that Guardian (shh) feature "A Place Where I Write" or whatever it is called, where they show a lovely picture of the writer's "working area", which things would you need to remove/change from your writing area?

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:22:11

OMG Sophie that will be DEPRESSING in extreme

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:22:43

Will let you know.

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:23:19

And here's another question: If you could read an autobiography from just one person in the Chapman story, whose would it be?

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 21:24:08

Good question MP

Ben, if your wife is working at the moment, does that mean you have to stifle creative urges and not think about your next project?

Just scooping up an earlier question and adding to it, did you have to check everything a hundred times, or have a rule about how many sources you had to have before claimign it as true?

So many elements of his story are fantastical, you must have been shaking your head in disbelief (the Betty Farmer discovery in teh restaurant is one example - just extraodinary). Were your journo instincts very useful here?

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:24:34

The suspsne is a good question. With a non-fiction book, I thik there is risk of violating reader's trust if one uses tricks to keep the suspense going atifically, as it were. Yes, the photos show that EC survived to old age, but the hope is that readers are sufficently intrested in teh tale to want to know how...I once wrote a book, non-fiction, in which the hero was killed on the first page, and the whole book was about the events leading up to that.

As for who should play Von Groening: there is that brilliant German actor who played the good German SS offcier in The Black Book and the main non-Stasi part in Lives of Others...can anyone remember his name? he would be brilliant.

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 21:26:33

Here's the cast list from The Black Book
which one do you mean Ben?

<teacher's pet emoticon>
blush

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:29:13

Clearing up:

one place to write? definitely Scotland, so damp, so inspiring

as for sources, unlike journalism, I feel less need to croso check. on the whole, if a historical character says or writes soemhting, I believe them, unless I have avery reason not to (which in EC's case was quite often)...as with journalism, in the end it is a judgement call

which autobiography? I would love to know if I got Von Groning's character right...alos I think the strange dancing SS offcier, Walter Praetorius, would have produced an inadvertantly hilarious memoir

Sebastian Koch is his name. (I found Herr Koch rather attractive and looked him up straight after seeing the Lives of Others). He'd be an EXCELLENT Von Groning.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:31:09

Thanks Champagne supernova: i meant Sebastian Koch...don't you think?

morningpaper Thu 10-Jan-08 21:31:57

Awwwwww Ben are you off? It's been lovely to talk to you and the book was huge fun. Well done. I'm deffo going to try another one of your books. Good luck with all the juggling.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:32:45

Sorry being nosy again on Amazon, there seems to have been another book written about Eddie by Nicholas Booth which cam out approximately at the same time. Did you know this when you started or was it a bit of surprise. Have you read it asn is it vastly diferent from yours, written from a different angle

A couple of questions from lemurtamer, who couldn't make it this evening:

was there a lot more research material that would not have added more interest to the story, or was pretty much all the research used in the book?

Do you think the Germans may have won the war if their codes had not been broken? I haven't read any "If the Germans had won the war" fiction nor much about the code-breaking, but wondered what you thought.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:34:31

Noooooooooo, I will never know the answer to my question.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:35:09

sorry sophie, meant to answer this earlier:

From ChampagneSupernova

I have just seen on Amazon that there's another book telling his story by someone else but that yours was published first. How much did that annoy you?

At first, it annoyed me a very great deal. But in a way, it was inevitable: once the material had been released, there was no way I would be the only one to know about it (although I later got MI5 to release more material exclusively to me). In the end, however, having two books out at the same time really did both of us some good, I think. One or two literary editors had the books reviewed together, and having two books I think made people sit up and pay more attention.

sophiewd Thu 10-Jan-08 21:37:46

Thank you, it has been great chatting with you and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us

Notyummy Thu 10-Jan-08 21:37:52

Thanks Ben, and Tilly for organising. Very interesting!

And we'll probably begin winding up now too, as Ben has been heroically answering questions for over an hour. Ben, would you have time for jsut the last few queries? And then we will let you return to your vodka martini and Walther PPK.(I know you're a spy really; doing Paris and NYC for The Times nice cover, v clever...)

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 21:39:49

LOL at Ben The Spy with his vodka martini

Many thanks to you both TIlly and Ben

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:39:53

was there a lot more research material that would not have added more interest to the story, or was pretty much all the research used in the book?

I do hope I did not miss too much. I a pretty sure there is no more in the MI5 files. There was TONS more stuff that could ahve been sued in the book, but I found myself cutting lots to keep the pace going.

Do you think the Germans may have won the war if their codes had not been broken? I haven't read any "If the Germans had won the war" fiction nor much about the code-breaking, but wondered what you thought.

Certainly, withou the Enigma breakthrough, we would ahve foud it far harder to win, the war would have gone on far longer. Conversely, if the Germans had broken our codes, I think we would have lost, and you and I would be writing in German.

BenMacintyre Thu 10-Jan-08 21:44:12

Finally, thank you all so much for having me. Terrific feedback.

One final question: I was asked

"What are you currently working on?"

I am now working on another World War II spy story about a deception scheme that had a dramatic effect on the course of the war. Very macabre, with lots of completely strange characters. I discovered a trunk of papers relating to the case in private hands, which I hope will enable me to reconstruct the narrative in much the same way as with this book...

Thanks again.

Best wishes from Ben

ChampagneSupernova Thu 10-Jan-08 21:45:39

Best of luck with the new book - and please come on and talk to us again when it comes out
grin

lemurtamer Thu 10-Jan-08 21:46:58

I've just rejoined chat, thank you for answering.
What surprised me (apart from the magician's contribution to the war effort, fantastic!) was the lack of efficient spy networks on either side. Do you think it's likely that there was a more successful network than was apparent, and we will never really know about it, just as now we are not likely to hear of successful counter-terrorism action?

Ben, thank you very very much for joining us - it has been such a pleasure and highly illuminating. You have brilliantly managed to cover all our questions too, although we'll have to wait for a final verdict on Best Actor in the Eddie Chapman role....

Good luck with the next project (which sounds highly inriguing, please can you come back and talk about that one when its done?) and congratulations on a fabulous book.

Tx

lemurtamer Thu 10-Jan-08 22:34:14

Oops too late, didn't realise it'd started early.
January's book arrived yesterday: warning to anyone who reads the part about cleaning the rinser arms of the dishwasher. I didn't realise you could do this, so thought what a good idea. Have now lost important screwcap to keep upper rinser arm on, spent all afternoon looking for it, DS could not be held accountable as he was asleep at the time, and have probably broken dishwasher. Note to self: never clean anything ever again. Will be buying paper plates tomorrow.

FluffyMummy123 Thu 10-Jan-08 22:38:40

Message withdrawn

PussinJimmyChoos Thu 10-Jan-08 23:56:27

<popping in for v quick thread hi-jack to tell Cod how much she loves her life book from Organised mum! Fab fab fab!>

chocoholic Fri 11-Jan-08 14:12:07

Missed it again. blush
I keep reading the books and then missing the chat. Oh well, I can have a good read through the thread now.
I think it is great to get the authors on here.
Was Agent Zigzag liked by everyone who read it then? Haven't noticed anyone who wasn't keen. I thought is was great.

OliviaMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 11-Jan-08 18:05:22

Chocoholic, what a shame, don't you get our newsletters? ANd it was on the home page.
The next one will be in Feb date TBC.

We've got Jan's bookclub coming up before Feb's - we're doing Tim Dowling's novel, The Giles Wareing Haters Club (you can get your copy here and the discussion night is on Thursday January 31st. Tim is joining us for a live chat so definitely try and make it.

I thought we could start all our author chats at 8.30 from now on, as its rather good to get all the questions answered as soon as possible. Does everyone agree?

icod, maybe try the scotch eggs on Tim, he might be more of a snack-orientated writer. I bet you a Gingster's sausage roll he'll answer it.

sophiewd Thu 17-Jan-08 10:01:21

Started reading the book thst Faramus wrote, no mention of Eddie Chapman at all and completely different account of how he ended up in France

That's interesting - perhaps Eddie was over-egging his attachment to Faramus to make himself feel better. Is it very very harrowing, his book? I want to read it but I'm worried that January is grim enough already...

sophiewd Fri 18-Jan-08 12:20:07

Will let you know. The only thing that is coming across for me at the moment, is that I really do not like the guy.

CaptainCod Wed 06-Feb-08 15:11:10

oi ben i haev read it now
well i devoured it!

did oyu ever go to the houses in france and norway?
what happeend to the daughters he had? were they bothered NOT to own the iron cross?

what was the essence of his charm- why did folk liek him?

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