I’ve just finished reading Frederick Forsyth’s latest book – The Outsider, My Life in Intrigue. It briefly outlines his life story in his latest book Outsider which is basically an autobiography of himself which read like another one of his many bestseller thrillers.
There are many interesting facets of his life revealed in the book. I was surprised that his father worked as a rubber plantation manager in Johor before WWII. Forsyth describes how his father would often ride his motor bike all the way from Johor to Changi Village (that’s where I’m now writing this!) for his entertainment. Having the night out, his father would ride all the way back to his rubber plantation in Johor!
His father ran back to England after he was warned by a Japanese plantation worker believed to be a Japanese spy. The shrewd Japanese had many spies infiltrated in the coastal region of peninsula Malaysia many years prior to the Japanese Imperial Army invasion during WWII. The operation was carefully planned over many years which led to the successful Japanese invasion via sea along the eastern coast of peninsula Malaysia with the planted spies leading the army inland.
Forsyth’s father had saved the Japanese son who was struck with life threatening acute appendicitis by pillioning that boy on his motorcycle in the middle of the night all the way to the old Changi Hospital. Otherwise, the boy would have died.
The Japanese father was so grateful to him for saving his son’s life that one day the Japanese father begged him to leave Johore and return to England quickly. Few months later the Japanese Imperial Army attacked. If the father did not go back to England, we would not have enjoyed Frederick Forsyth.
I was quite surprise that Forsyth in the book reveals he could speak 4 other languages, namely German, French, Spanish and Russian. Very few Englishmen could speak so many languages. It seems that he didn’t go to university. He studied till A levels then went on to work as a journalist after he was trained and qualified as a Fighter pilot.
I read all his novels and short stories. He’s one of my favourite authors. Naturally, I would like to know how he started his writing career.
In the book, he says that he didn’t choose to be a writer. He did it to pay off his debts when he was dead broke. He had no money, no house and unemployed. Whilst staying in his friend’s flat, he had written his first novel, Day of The Jackal in his old type writer in 35 days! Initially, no publisher wanted his manuscript. He had to beg around until he was so desperate that had to forcefully dash into a famous publisher office to convince him to read his raw manuscript.
Since he was so desperate for money, the first book, The Day of The Jackal and another two books – The Odessa File and The Dogs of War were sold in a 3 book contract together with the film rights at a paltry sum of 20,000 pounds. The spectacular success of the movie and the instant hit of his first novel made hundreds of times more than the amount he sold! He says he has no regrets cuz he was an unknown then struggling to make a living.
Forsyth is a maverick who detests the British Foreign Services ( Min of Foreign Affairs) and the BBC. He calls them High Mandarins who caused lots of damage to the country in terms of their foreign policy in Africa resulting in untold suffering and deaths of so many natives as a consequence of their ill informed, inhumane policy particularly in Nigeria’s civil war.
Another area he has lost faith is the British judicial system. He and many others were clearly cheated of their life savings by the criminal activities of an investment banker. He was prepared to testify in court. After so many years, the culprit got away with only a light sentence.
Forsyth ended up as a bankrupt once again with a debt of a million pounds cuz he just bought a farm thinking of retirement as a farmer. But he had to start writing again to pay off his debts which resulted in him churning out a few more bestsellers giving him the much needed source of income and a comfortable life.
Fact that he was born an Englishman where he could get away even though he openly condemns the “High Mandarins” and the unfair judiciary system in UK. Mavericks like him will not survive here!
It reminds me of Jeffrey Archer’s “As the Crow Flies” when Forsyth ends the book, “The Outsider” by synchronising the first part and last part of his life. In the last chapter of The Outsider, Forsyth’s life comes to a complete cycle when at age 75, he was able to fulfill his life long dream of flying the same WWII fighter relic plane – Spitfire. 70 yrs ago, as a 5 year old child, he sat in the cockpit of the same plane when that plane landed just outside his home during WWII, he swore that he would one day fly it.
Fans of Frederick Forsyth should read this book as he relates his life story along with his adventures and many near death experiences which are also part of the novels written by him. Very few author’s exhilarating life mimics art in such a way as his. Outsider is really a fantastic ride indeed!
Read related article here.
My review on The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth. Link