PW: Old Flames is the second novel featuring Freddie Troy. Will you continue the series?
John Lawton: I think I'm going to push it to seven. I think that's what J.K. Rowling says, but I had the idea long before I heard it in the press. I can see spaces in the pattern of history for seven books.
PW: Old Flames was originally published in Britain in 1996. Why the six-year gap between U.K. and U.S. editions?
JL: I think some things just seem to come in cycles. In 1995, when I was writing Old Flames, I was on an upward sweep. I'd just won an English literary prize, I'd settled in New York—I wrote Old Flames in an apartment on 72nd Street—and I had the interest of one of the grand old men of American publishing, Al Silverman of Viking-Penguin. By 1996, things had changed dramatically. Viking-Penguin was the subject of a huge merger with Putnam, and at that moment Al chose to retire. Then the same year Morgan [Entrekin, publisher of Grove Atlantic] took an interest in me, John Calley at Columbia Pictures did the same. So simultaneously I found myself with a New York publishing offer and a Hollywood contract.
PW: Why did you choose 1956 as the setting for Old Flames? What was pivotal about that particular time in British history?
JL: Another writer suggested that year to me. It was 1994, we'd spent a day filming in the White House, and we'd adjourned for a drink back to the hotel, and Gore Vidal said to me, "Your next subject is '56, Suez." When you're given advice from a master as precisely as that, you don't ignore it. I can barely remember the events of Suez... where it's pivotal is, it's the point in which the special relationship finally got reversed. We [the U.S. and U.K.] might have been equal partners up until '56, but from then onwards we were the junior partners. In that year, Israel, France and Britain conspired to steal the Suez Canal back from the Egyptians, and Ike just tore the rug from under us. Among politicized, thinking British people of a certain age, Suez is still the absolutely pivotal moment when we were forced to recognize that we didn't run this planet anymore, the Americans did. I'm very grateful to Gore for nudging me in that direction. It was a gift.
PW: What made you decide to make the Troys aristocrats?
JL: English mystery writers of the war and before the war, like Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham—their detectives are very upper-crust. I thought there's a lot of mileage to be gained by reviving that as a tactic. Because you can plug him [Troy] into a network of power. If I'd made him an ordinary British bobby, he wouldn't have a brother who was at the center of politics. He wouldn't have a father who'd run half the newspapers in Britain. It became a superb device for channeling information to him that normally would be completely concealed from the average flatfoot.
PW: Is there any film activity for this book?
JL: It's in the hands of a very capable producer, John Calley, who's optioned one of the Troy books and the Troy character. Whether this film ever gets made is entirely up to Mr. Calley—it would be a vain writer indeed who would presume that every book that gets optioned gets filmed. But John Calley is a remarkable man. He used to work with Stanley Kubrick. When he was at United Artists, and everyone was saying the James Bond films were stone dead, he's the man who revived them with Pierce Brosnan.