Livia Vaccaro interviewd John Lawton about his latest novel, Then We Take Berlin. Part of the Q & A:
LV: Tell me a little about the plot.Visit John Lawton's website.
JL: The book opens in 1963 in New York, where [Joe] Wilderness, a retired MI6 agent, meets up with Frank, an old buddy from the postwar years, a retired CIA agent who now runs an ad agency on Madison Avenue.
LV: Shades of Mad Men?
JL: Yep. I used to work with the Palestinian historian Said Aburish. Said died about a year ago. I knew him during his London years, but he had spent the sixties on Madison Avenue at the Ted Bates Agency alongside people like Rosser Reeves, another larger than life character, and I'd stored up Said's tales of New York life, and I rather think Mad Men just crystallized them for me. Frank and Joe clearly go back a long way, and I hint that something in all their black-market scams in occupied Berlin went badly wrong, but I don't say what _ as that would be the ultimate spoiler. Frank is now hiring Joe to go back to Berlin, and instead of smuggling goods West to East, he's smuggling an old woman East to West. And, almost needless to say, the vital difference between 1948 and 1963 is that the Berlin wall went up in 1961. I imagine reading the book is a matter of slow revelations that bring the reader back to the beginning. But that's not really for me to say.
LV: Did you ever see the wall?
JL: It had several incarnations. The Russians rebuilt it at least twice. Early versions were just barbed wire and concrete blocks. Toward the end it was incredibly high and curved at the top to defeat grappling irons. That was the version I saw. There are a lot of photographs of people standing on the wall just before it came down in - what? '89? One of them is me. That said, that contributes nothing to the novel. The novel is about...[read on]