Ronald Bedford, eminent journalist and writer on space research has known the Scottish writer,
Hugh McLeave, for half a lifetime. Although familiar with McLeave's work, he has always been intrigued
by the range and variety of his books and wondered what had shaped his literary itinerary.
Q: I put my first question to McLeave:
Q: What made you quit a good career in London journalism to exile yourself in France?
A: I'd published more than half a million words in newspapers and the stories I was writing seemed déja-vu.
I had written a few books, so I decided to chance my arm in the world's worst-paid and loneliest profession.
Q: And I suppose France in the late sixties was much cheaper and there were fewer distractions.
A: You're right, Ronnie, on both counts. I also had acquired a small village house in Mougins, behind Cannes,
where they knew me, my wife and my two Yorkies. I spoke the lingo fluently which was a help
as I had a lot of reading and researching in French for books like the Legion and Cézanne.
Q: Your writing is half-and-half, non-fiction and fiction.
Don't you find they clash somehow, the two different writing techniques?
A: On the contrary, for me one activity feeds the other. I drew a lot on my journalism and books like
the Legion story for fictional characters. For instance, my very attractive and intelligent KGB guide round
Moscow during the Cold War became the heroine of Only Gentlemen Can Play.
And I had a great many assignments behind the Iron Curtain --
some of them with you, Ronnie --which fuelled my spy thrillers.
Then my wartime experience in Kashmir inspired the Himalayan quartet of espionage books.
Q: He was a splendid character, your spy Brodie. Why retire him to a Himalayan oasis,
and then drop him after four books? He was surely worth another four.
A: I didn't want to retire him, but the Chinese and Pakistanis drove a highway through the Hunza Valley
(Shangri-la) where the novels are sited, and ruined the series --
as well as the halcyon, hard-working and healthy life-style of the Hunzas.
Q: Your psychiatric detective, Gregor Maclean? Where did you get him?
A: He's not the reformed alcoholic Scotsman of the books but a drunken though brilliant Irishman
I consulted to give me insight into Farouk's sexual proclivities.
I wrote him into a novel call The Sword and the Scales based loosely on the grisly Heath and Hague murders.
They asked for more on the psychiatrist, so I wrote another six books around him.
Q: You flew into East Germany with Klaus Fuchs, perhaps the spy of the century.
Spies seem to figure largely in your books like Only Gentlemen can Play and the Hilamayan quartet of book.
A: In fact I didn't have to invent many of the characters in my spy thrillers.
I'd met them by the dozen when I was covering conferences on atomic energy and the space race.
I was all but recruited myself into the SIS in 1949 when I'd finished at University. So I knew the score.
Q: I'm not much of an art hand, but I enjoyed Cézanne. It's something of an outsider in your work.
How did you come to write it?
A: When I was working at the Foreign Legion in Aubagne I explored Provence and had a sense of déja-vu
around Aix and realized I was looking at Cézannes. I was hooked on the painting and a painter who threw away
clasical perspective and was obsessed with trying to paint the impossible. So I had to write his life.
Q: You also did a book about a century of great art thefts , including a good many stolen Cézannes.
A: You mean Rogues in the Gallery.
I had a lot of fun writing that book, although there were some hairy moments.
Especially when I found myself tangling with two gangs of art thieves in Paris
who would have thought nothing of chucking me off the Pont Neuf into the Seine with a knife in me.