England's Len Deighton is one of the world's most celebrated spy-thriller authors, and his debut novel The IPCRESS File (adapted into a film starring Michael Caine in the 1960s) remains one of the genre's classics.
But becoming a master of modern espionage literature was something the London-born Deighton never intended. "I grew up with a short-lived inferiority complex," Deighton, 82, said during the taping of a radio documentary about his life. "If I said to my mother and father that I want to be a writer they would have said, 'Oh, get on with your homework and maybe you'll get a job in a bank.'" The possibility of a writing career never occurred to him. "I didn't know what a writer was," he explained. "I didn't know if a writer could sustain themselves, so I didn't set out to be a writer. Being a writer came as an accident."
Deighton said he wrote The IPCRESS File for his own amusement and then put it on the shelf, never expecting it to be published.
But it did get published, and led to Deighton's long career as a novelist, military history writer and, interestingly enough, cookbook author. He would also continue publishing successful spy stories including the Game, Set and Match trilogy (which was made into a British TV mini-series in the late 1980s).
To learn more about the fascinating life of Len Deighton, as well as how swinging 1960s London influenced his writing, check out this documentary by Philip Coulter, which recently aired on Ideas.