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John le Carré was born in 1931. After attending the universities of Berne and Oxford, he taught at Eton and spent five years in the British Foreign Service. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, his third book, secured him a worldwide reputation. He divides his time between England and the Continent.

le Carré Breaks his Silence

Let me tell you a few things about myself. Not much, but enough. In the old days it was convenient to bill me a s a spy turned writer. I was nothing of the kind. I am a writer who, when I was very young, spent a few ineffectual but extremely formative years in British Intelligence.

I never knew my mother till I was 21. I act like a gent but I am wonderfully badly born. My father was a confidence trickster and a gaol bird. Read A Perfect Spy.

I hate the telephone. I can't type. Like the tailor in my new novel, I ply my trade by hand. I live on a Cornish cliff and hate cities. Three days and nights in a city are about my maximum. I don't see many people. I write and walk and swim and drink.

Apart from spying, I have in my time sold bathtowels, got divorced, washed elephants, run away from school, decimated a flock of Welsh sheep with a twenty-five pound shell because I was too stupid to understand the gunnery officer's instructions, taught children in a special school.

I have four sons and ten grandchildren. It is well over thirty years since I hung up my cloak and dagger. I wrote my first three books while I was a spook; I wrote the next thirteen after I was at large.

A good writer is an expert on nothing except himself. And on that subject, if he is wise, he holds his tongue. Some of you may wonder why I am reluctant to submit to interviews on television and radio and in the press.

The answer is that nothing that I write is authentic. It is the stuff of dreams, not reality. Yet I am treated by the media as though I wrote espionage handbooks. I am regarded as a sage on every spy case from the double-agent Judas to your wretched Mr. Aldrich Ames.

And to a point I am flattered that my fabulations are taken so seriously. Yet I also despise myself in the fake role of guru, since it bears no relation to who I am or what I do. Artists, in my experience, have very little center. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception.

(Taken from remarks made by John le Carré to the Knopf Sales Force August 12, 1996.)

Read the Salon interview with le Carré and submit your questions to the man himself.