The author and spy novelist, four of whose early novels are being reissued this month, collects old illustrated travel guides for research : '' You'd be amazed how often roads move and names change.'

.-  What books are on your night stand?

I have a big pile of books. You know, social media algorithms mimic the order of the books beside your bed? You read the ones at the top and you never get to the bottom ones. But here are three from the stack :

''Penguin by Illustrators'' [ Penguin Collectors Society, 2009]. After I graduated from the Royal College of Art in the 1950s I worked for a while as an illustrator for magazines and advertising in New York. It was peak '' Mad Men'' era.

Upon returning to London I often illustrated Penguin covers. This book reminds me of those times and the many incredible artists I knew and worked with.

'' A traveller's Life,'' by Eric Newby [Collins, 1982]. I knew Eric. We both wrote for The Observer in the 1960s. I had my Cookstrips column then - my recipes, with each step drawn out like a strip cartoon. I recently reprised the Cookstrips for a few years in The Observer Food Monthly with my son Alex, I am a great admirer of Newby; he was modest and funny.

'' Two Winks From the Evil Eye.'' I wrote this script in the 1960s when I was producing movies. But I never made it into a film. I found it the other day when I was sorting through my office. It's fun to revisit old ideas. I like the premise.

It's about men prospecting in the jungle and dying from sickness and how our beliefs and our brains control our fate as much as our physical strength. If I were clever, I would be tempted to devote my time to the relationship between the brain and the body.

.-  Describe your ideal experience [ when, where, what, how].

Oh, sitting in bed in the evening with a bolster behind my head with a very bright light to illuminate the pages and a pile of other books that I can pick up if I don't like the one I'm reading now.  If there's a cup of tea, even better.

.- Which books led you to spy fiction?

It wasn't a book. I was 10 when World War II started. My parents were servants. We lived in a tiny news house in central London.

Our neighbor Anna Wulkoff was the daughter of a czarist admiral. We knew her. My mother sometimes cooked for her dinner parties. I remember her arrest, late at night. The police came. I watched out the window with my parents.

We learned she was a spy. Anti Semitic. A Nazi sympathizer. My dad fought the Germans in the trenches in World War 1. In 1939 he commanded a civilian first-aid post. Anna's betrayal had a profound effect on my family.

.- What makes for a good thriller?

Structure, dialogue and characterization.

.- What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

A three-ring binder flight manual of a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. I was writing a book about the Vietnam War - while it was still going on. I asked to embed on a U.S. Air Force base there.

I was told to spend time on a U.S. base in Britain first - so I wouldn't get in the way. They assigned Capt. John P. Jumper to watch over me. I flew in the back seat of his Phantom fighter jet and became close friends.

Despite associating with limey like me, Johnny had an illustrious career; he went to become chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force a few days before 9/11.

It embodies everything I admire about the United States that they burdened their best and brightest to babysit me - so many countries would have fobbed me off on some deadbeat.

Johnny continues to write one of the funniest Christmas letters I get each year.

 .- You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

I'd work hard to avoid a literary dinner. I don't seek out other writers. But many years ago my friend Eric Ambler turned 75.

He blazed a path for many of us and I arranged a lunch at the Savoy hotel to celebrate him. I planned the menu and wine with the head chef.

I invited 12 people to join Eric and me, including John Le Carre, Fredrick Forsyth, Kingsley Amis, Ted Allbeury and John Gardner. I called Graham Greene, but he sent a message instead.

It congratulated Eric on his longevity but didn't say much about his literary career.

After lunch I arranged for a photographer to take a picture of us all. That photo hangs on my dining room wall with a menu we all signed. Sadly, Freddy and I are the only two left.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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