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Blog: Rae Looks Again

Updated: Jun 14, 2022


by John Le Carré

Review by Rae Richen

John Le Carré’s last novel, edited by his son Nick Cornwell, is a delightful exhibition of characters and insights. Julian Lawndsley, a relative naïve in the political and spy world, narrates his encounters with a con artist, Edward and his mysterious family.

When Lawndsley leaves his city job and opens a bookstore in the beach town in East Anglia, he becomes enamored of the obvious people user and irrepressible liar, Edward Avon.

Edward, his wife, his daughter, and his hidden love in London become an adventure for Lawndsley and for us.

In alternate chapters, Le Carré introduces us to spy chief, Stewart Proctor, ostensibly of MI5, or is it MI6? or is the British spy business now dying or defunct? Is Proctor overseeing its burial?

Proctor, well-aware of the bumbling in the upper reaches of British Intelligence, sets out to discover the truth behind Edward Avon.

In one amazing chapter, Le Carré’s Proctor descends into the bowels of what once were command shelters during the Cold War and there, he carries on a conversation with his tour guide about how things work, used to work, maybe still work and why they might not work – a very revealing conversation.

Does British intelligence have a problem? A financing problem? A trust problem? A moral problem?

Every conversation in the story is replete with Le Carré double meaning, or empty spaces that can be filled with guesses as to meaning, and off-hand comments by Proctor or Edward or Julian that makes you laugh out loud.

Aside from revealing maybe more than Le Carré wanted to reveal about the state of British Intelligence (he seemed to his son to have been reluctant to publish this finished novel), this story captures the reader, hoping Julian and others really are as naïve and as innocent as they seemed. Or were they, in truth, part of the web of distrust?

Or was the author's reluctance to publish related to the character of Edward Avon and his resemblance to people that the author knew?

Well worth adding to your collection of Le Carré novels. Buy a new bookcase, if you have to.

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

How to Write A Damn Good Novel

Introducing James N. Frey – a Guide to Dramatic Storytelling

I first met James N. Frey in a workshop he taught at the coast in Oregon. It was early in my writing career, and he was the first in-person teacher I had the privilege of working with. I had a feel, by that time, for the shambles of the publishing industry – companies buying other companies, agents acquiring clients and then unable to make use of their usual connections to get book deals for those clients.

I was wary of the industry but dedicated to the idea that writing could bring important ideas to life and be a catalyst for change on behalf of the people I knew and loved.

I had a feel for the rhythms of storytelling but couldn’t have explained them to anyone else. I had practiced the rhythms of the pithy joke, the rhythms of an essay, and the rhythms of myth. I knew that the beat of a piece led the reader from page to page.

I had started to use this knowledge to write a novel.

And then, I met James N. Frey. He had the vocabulary I needed to understand the beats of a longer story. He had the knowledge of mythic heroines and the movement of their story from call to action through conflict, the inexorable rise to the climax and the satisfying resolution.

And James N. Frey knew how all of this had to be tied to the through-line of my premise – the core that held my story together.

When I got home from that workshop, I also had James N. Frey’s book – How to Write a Damn Good Novel, to help me recall all I had learned from him. We had discussed every aspect of being a writer, from the design and development of character to the hard and satisfying fun of the rewrite and the search for action and emotion in prose.

James N. Frey cared about each person in that workshop. He helped each one move toward success. The book I started in his workshop was A Fool’s Gold. When I had finished a sixth or seventh draft, he read and critiqued it and made it better. And I know that I am not the only student he treated with such thoughtful care.

Since that workshop, I have taken other workshops with very thoughtful and clear teachers. I learned a great deal from each one of them.

The building blocks of storytelling success came from that first encounter with James N. Frey, from the writers’ vocabulary and the storytelling knowledge he gave all of us during that week in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Since that year, James N. Frey has had many successful students. He has written How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, The Key: How to Write a Damn Good Novel Using the Power of Myth, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, and How to Write a Damn Good Thriller.

He is the author of nine novels, including the Edgar Award Nominee A Long Way to Die.

Learn more about him at his website:

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

Larry Brooks and the Structure of Story

I have gone to Larry Brooks again to remind myself of the most efficient and creative way to get into story. This time, I re-read Larry’s book, Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves. Larry is one of the generous teachers who, in a classroom setting, is patient and kind, but clear about what does and doesn’t work.

In his writing, Larry has patiently and clearly elucidated the process of thoughtful deepening of your initial really cool story idea. He helps you create a lightning concept and a hot story.

Persevere. Larry’s Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves employs sentences with important parenthetic asides, but pay attention. The heart of Larry’s teaching is in there.

Get these ideas in your head and your gut. You will be a better storyteller. You will find a way to write exactly what the reader needs. Readers will turn your pages into the night, hoping your heroine learns what she has to learn in order to come out whole and strong.

Look also for Larry's suspense novels. Fun reads and fine examples of what he teaches us all.

P.s. You are not looking for Larry M or Larry W, though they may be great fellows. You want the real Larry Brooks.


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