The spy, as portrayed in fiction, often finds literature handy. In Leon Uris' Topaz, the defection of the KGB officer Kuznetov is described. When he phones offering to defect, Kuznetov is instructed to meet an American operative, Hendricks, in a Danish museum as a first step in effecting the defection. The American asks the Russian how he can be identified. He replies: "Under my arm I carry two books, Laederhalsene in Danish and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in English."
In Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Rabashov meets a Communist Party operative in a German museum. "On Rabashov's knee lay a book: Goethe'sFaust in Reclam's Universal Edition."
Apparently the particular edition is not something to be dismissed: the contumacious hero of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana cannot make out a coded telegram sent by another operative. When the two later meet, the following colloquy ensues:
"What's your edition of Lamb's Tales?"
"Damn. They gave me the wrong edition."
Earlier, "our man" asks his superior why he chose Lamb.
"It was the only book I could find in duplicate except Uncle Tom's Cabin . . . Oh, there was
something too called The Lit Lamp: A Manual of Evening Devotion, but I thought somehow it might look conspicuous on your shelves if you weren't a religious man."
If the spy has favored books, the book has not always favored the spy. The Russians often came in for their share of descriptive knocks – which may explain why Kuznetov may have opted for the book signal instead of verbally describing himself, as Uris does for him a page later:
Russians look like Russians, Hendricks thought. High forehead, suffering brown eyes of a
tortured intellectual, uneven haircut, prominent cheekbones, knobby fingers. His suit showed Western styling but was sloppily worn.
Somewhat less of a Russian visual "heavy" is described in Vladimir Nabokov's short story, "The Assistant Producer" (Nabokov did not allow his own Russian origins to induce him to flatter his man unduly, even though the character is an ex-white Russian officer, for whose side of the Russian revolutionary coin, Nabokov has some sympathy).
There was nothing of your popular Russian general about him, nothing of that good, burly, popeyed, thick-necked sort. He was lean, frail, with sharp features, a dipped mustache, and
the kind of haircut that is called by the Russians “hedgehog”; short, wiry, upright, and compact.
A Chinese spy in Spylight by James Lessor comes off worse than the Russians.
Because he was barely middle height, he appeared even fatter than he was, a gross
swollen bladder of flesh in a lightweight brown suit, creased at the buttons, dark stains of
sweat under the armpits. His neck was so thick and short that his head merged into his
body liked the head of a tortoise. His face was completely hairless, his brown Chinese eyes
as empty of emotion as peeled and slanted almonds
W. Somerset Maugham was not above pejorative pickings-on, as when he has the British spy-master in Ashenden show his operative a photograph of an Indian spy:
It showed a fat-faced, swarthy man, with full lips and a fleshy nose; his hair was black,
thick and straight, and his very large eyes even in the photograph were liquid and cow-like.
He looked ill-at-ease in European clothes
Perhaps the unkindest literary cut of them all is the description/spoof of the spy. Sir Compton MacKenzie's Water on the Brain is among the best (the British Government suppressed it on publication and it was not available in England until twenty years later). His description of the Director of Extraordinary Intelligence:
Blenkinsop saw seated at a desk a spare grizzled man of middle age, the most conspicuous
feature of whose countenance were the large dark horn-rimmed spectacles which made his
aquiline nose look absolutely owlish. Before long Blenkinsop was to learn that all senior
Intelligence officers wore large dark horn-rimmed spectacles and that the first step of
advancement in Intelligence work was a pair of dark horn-rimmed spectacles.
In fairness to the Russians, a good pair of spectacles was hard to come by in the Soviet Union, which may explain all those "popeyed generals" mentioned by Nabokov.
MacKensie has a wry comment on the nexus between spying and books. The director of Extraordinary Intelligence tells his operative that a certain operative had to resign because "the silly fellow had written some damned novel or something and we've had to make a rule that nobody who writes novels can be employed by M.Q. 99 (E), and – er – vice versa, of course, if you follow me." There is, however, apparently nothing prohibiting the reading of novels by spies employed by M.Q. 99 (E) since one, when he had nothing better to do, sometimes read a book that his wife had taken out from the library. He also exclaims, "Oh, but people never buy books, they get them out of lending libraries."
Graham Green, who served in British Intelligence in the same office with Malcolm Muggeridge and Kim Philby, who later defected, also wrote a spoof of the genre, Our Man in Havana. A British intelligence officer coopts one Mr. Wormold (a vacuum-cleaner salesman, one of whose models is called the Atomic Pile) into working for him. "Your code number is 59200 stroke 5," he instructs him. "Of course I am 59200. You'll number your sub-agents 59200 stroke 5 stroke 1 and so on." Wormold's spy messages are to be coded and decoded according to the key supplied by Charles Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.
Gloomily he took down Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare – how he always detested Elia
and the essay on roast pork. The first group of figures, he remembered, indicated the page,
the line, and the word with which the coding began. "Dionysia, the wicked wife of Cleon," he
read, "met with an end proportionable to her desserts." He began to decode from "desserts".
To his surprise something really did emerge.
In order to receive more expense money, Wormold commences to embellish his reports to his superiors. He draws a series of vacuum-cleaner parts (of the Atomic Pile) upon which he draws a little man two inches high to indicate the huge size of the hidden military project which he suggests is under construction in the mountains of Oriente Province.
The spy sometimes gets his own back at the book. No less a spy (and traitor) than Kim Philby said of John le Carre's book The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: "the whole plot from beginning to end is basically implausible, at any rate to anyone who has any real knowledge of the business." For all we know he may have sent an angry letter to the Times Literary Supplement.
* * *
And a note of interest re the spy and the fiction writer
Truman Capote recounts that a blind man lived near him in New York. The man subsequently left the country because he feared discovery as a Soviet spy. Years later, on a visit to Moscow, in the subway, Capote noticed the same man, minus cane and dark glasses, able to see quite well. Before Capote could approach him, the subway reached the man's stop and he got up and exited.
Ah, if only Capote could have spoken with him, we surmise, it would have been interesting. Or, perhaps, from a literary perspective, the denouement as it occurred was preferred.
Israeli writer Larry Lefkowitz's literay novel "The Critic, the Assistant Critic, and Victoria" is available from Amazon books.
Sherene looked through the classroom window of the Art and Magic University gazing at the tree-lined campus. Sitting in front of the Storyteller waiting for the panel’s judgment, she watched the breeze blow the dead leaves into small whirlwinds.Just like my flow of words. Dry, dead, and not really going anywhere, Sherene thought.
Sherene turned her face to the panel again. Motioning with your hands wasn't allowed in these admission counseling sessions, so she kept her sweaty palms plastered to the top of her thighs. Her red, wool dress stuck to her back as she sat pencil-straight in the chair.
“Let’s begin,” the white-robed Storyteller said.
Sherene swallowed hard.
“So you dream to emulate me, young Scribe.”
“Yes, I do,” Sherene answered in a hoarse voice. She wiggled her toes in her high heels to assure herself that her body hadn’t gone totally numb.
“Well then, to become a true Word Weaver, you must listen to the advice of some of my colleagues.” The Storyteller paused for a moment. “Let’s start with Rowan.” She gazed to her right toward the blue-robed man seated at the end of the table.
Rowan placed his hands flat on the desk's surface and focused his hazel eyes on Sherene. She felt like the black eye on his robe was staring at her.
“A true Scrawler needs a powerful sixth sense like mine. Your stories don’t engage the readers. Tap into your intuition and follow your gut feeling about what your readers want to read,” Rowan said.
Oh great. I never know the right phrases to use, which direction to take, or even how to end the story, Sherene thought. Not really.
“Thank you Rowan. I won’t disappoint you.”
Sherene noticed the twinkle in his eyes when he smiled.
The Storyteller returned her gaze to Sherene. "Now you will hear from Rhiannon."
The woman in the black robe sitting next to Rowan cleared her throat. She had silver streaks through her black hair that matched the silver spiral on her robe. It shimmered like a starry sky.
“You’re creative and imaginative with ideas, but your yarns need more plot to keep your readers interested,” Rhiannon said.
“I don’t understand,” Sherene said.
“A true Wordsmith needs to cast spells on her readers like I do and keep them into the story until the end.”
“Thank you Rhiannon,” Sherene said. "That helps a lot." I wish I had a notebook to write down all this advice, Sherene thought as she crossed her ankles, tucking her feet underneath the chair. What good is the advice if I can’t remember it?
A smug smile spread across the Storyteller’s face. She looked at the man in the burnt-orange robe sitting between her and Rhiannon. “Mercutio, please give us your opinion.”
Mercutio's blue eyes seemed to look right through Sherene and the hand sprinkling stardust sewn on his robe mesmerized her.
“Writer, your fiction contains too much detail. You must learn the trick of the storytelling trade. Layering. Make one sentence do many things. Surplus words are the reason for your “slow” prose.”
“Thank you Mercutio. If I get admitted, I'll try my best to learn this trick.”Well, more criticism was coming, Sherene thought, so I need to keep my emotions under control and keep listening. Although I think my chances for admittance are slim to none.
The Storyteller looked at Sherene and Sherene’s eyes filled with tears. She wanted to be accepted to the school. But not one salty drop flowed down her face.
“Shall we continue?” The Storyteller asked. Sherene nodded yes.
The Storyteller looked to her left at the woman in the vibrant yellow robe emblazoned with tarot cards on her chest.
“Sibyl,” the Storyteller prompted.
Sibyl nodded and gazed at Sherene.
“Your stories and construction continue to improve Penner, so your fortune will change if you take more writing courses or join a writers’ group,” Sibyl said.
“Thank you Sibyl. I appreciate your advice,” Sherene said. She shifted her body in the chair to hide her frustration. She almost sighed aloud, but stopped before the fatal mistake.
The Storyteller twirled her pen in her fingers. This time she turned her gaze again to the left toward the woman in a violet robe.
“Crystal,” the storyteller said.
They’re almost done ripping me apart,” Sherene thought.
“We don’t want to hurt your feelings. We only wish to help,” Crystal said.
Oh no! She’s the psychic, Sherene thought.
“Scribbler, you have trouble with crafting your stories.”
“I know Crystal. But what am I supposed to do?”
“Study the old masters’ styles and some new authors’ styles.”
“But I want to be original.”
“You’ll find your unique form among them.”
"Thank you Crystal."
One more to go. Crystal smiled as she read Sherene's thought.
The Storyteller turned to the last man sitting at the far end of the table. He wore a gray robe embroidered with the solar system on the front.
“Asta,” the Storyteller prompted once again.
“I study the stars,” Asta said as he settled his gaze on Sherene. “My advice doesn’t concern your stories, Inkslinger, but your ambitions. You need to reach for the stars. Only when we push ourselves do we improve.”
“Thank you for this helpful advice Asta,” Sherene said.
“Do you have anything to say on your behalf?” The Storyteller asked.
Sherene took her cue and stood. Her legs felt wobbly from the tension. She clasped her hands together.
“Yes, I understand that to train and to become a storyteller is a high honor and that a candidate must combine intelligence with elements of magic with the words. I hope to do that at this university under the teaching and guidance of your highly trained staff.”
“Thank you Sherene. You may go,” the Storyteller said.
Sherene made a quick, shallow bow and walked to the door. As it closed behind her, she heard the Storyteller’s voice.
“Sherene listened better than most.”
Thinking of Asta’s sage advice, Sherene smiled and walked away. Hopefully, I’ll know the answer soon, but even if the answer is no, I’ll most definitely journal the advice and write my stories anyway! She walked home to her small apartment; stocked with her many notebooks and laptop, sat down and began to write.
Martina Kranz is a mother, grandmother, veteran and library assistant living in Minot, North Dakota and aspiring to become an excellent writer who people want to read.
Have you ever thought why it is that in English speaking countries, our language is quite diverse? Howdie y' all, g'day mate, greetings my dear...I bet we can all make a stab at the origins of these phrases; perhaps be even more precise about location after a second glance and we might even wonder about the period of time.
If you haven't already read Bill Bryson's book Mother Tongue...and you are interested in syntax and lexicography...it's a great read.
Consider for a moment why we don't speak the same English from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
Bryson's take on the issue is that we, in Britain, developed and changed our language whilst the pilgrims, who took off across the Pond, kept the King's English as it was. This has resulted in differences in UK and US English which, nowadays, are drifting even further apart. That came as a surprise to me because I thought the New World would have been more responsible for new English. I also thought that with ease of travel, language might be more homogenised.
Certainly there are fewer differences between Australian English and British English than between American English and British English, because those who left to go to the Antipodes went later than those who deserted our shores for the Americas. By the time we were shipping convicts down-under, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, our language had already evolved a great deal, whilst in America people were concentrating more on building new cities and in moving the wild frontier than changing their mother tongue in a radical way.
Bryson cites Shakespeare as having had a great influence on our language but there was a host of others as well who rang in the changes. He reckons that the truth in his espousals come from looking at the language in old books and plays to compare how words grew and developed. How a play or poem, say, in 1550 might compare to a play or poem written in 1750 or in 1950 etc., will shine a light on how nations evolved in their speech. And he is not alone. As Bryson relates in his book Shakespeare:
'Spevack in his magnificent and hefty concordance - the most scrupulous, not to say obsessive, assessment of Shakespearean idiom ever undertaken - counts 29,066 different words in Shakespeare but that rather generously includes inflected forms and contradictions. If, indeed, you treat all the variant forms of a word - for example, take, takes, taketh, taking, tak'n, tak'st, tak't, took, tooke, took'st and tookst, his vocabulary falls back to about twenty thousand, not a terribly impressive number. The average person today, it's thought, knows about fifty thousand words. That isn't because we are particularly expressive, but simply that we have at our disposal thousands of common words - television, sandwich, seatbelt, Chardonnay, cinematographer - that Shakespeare couldn't know because they didn't yet exist.' (from Shakespeare by Bill Bryson)
A quick check of the Internet came up with phrases, we all use today, that were thought to have originated from Shakespeare's work. For example: 'seen better days, full circle, a sorry sight,' and 'strange bedfellows'. But, there are thousands more. He coined the words 'bedazzled' and 'lackluster', for example, or so I'm led to believe.
I have no idea how large my vocabulary is, and I wouldn't know how to measure it. I guess it grows with age and experience and then falls back a little when one's brain fails in its quest to pluck a cached word from the depth of somewhere unfathomable. This happens to me daily now that I'm in my sixties.
What is truly fascinating is that, having come late in life to writing, I have had a tardy insight into how diverse American and British English has become over the years. You may note that I said 'has become.' For American readers, I tend to avoid British/English that might be construed as Bad English. In B/E, I might have chosen: 'has got' but not... 'has gotten' - which is from over the Pond but, somehow, despite my British ear, actually sounds better!
You are taller than me! This is perfectly acceptable in B/E. We would only use ‘I’ if we continued the sentence. You are taller than I am. With the introduction of a new verb, we need I as the subject. If I am writing for a US editor, I would probably write,You are taller than I...but it sounds so wrong and my English grammar book agrees with me.
It’s not just grammar that differs. Leaving an American friend at the airport one day, I kissed her on the cheek and announced that I'd see her in a fortnight.
'A what?' she asked, bemused. Equally bemused, I asked her what her problem was. A fortnight is our word for two weeks, but it's not common in the US and she had no idea what I was talking about.
In the US, words that came along long after the Founding Fathers' arrival were absorbed into US/E. Words such as 'faucet', 'tuxedo', 'sidewalk' and 'overpass' are not often used in B/E. We would say, 'tap', 'dinner jacket', 'pavement' and 'flyover,' respectively.
I had never heard the word 'acclimated' and had to look it up. Of course, it's just our 'acclimatised' with a different ending.
We also have double ‘l’s, for example, in ‘travelled’ and often finish our words with 'ise' instead of 'ize'.
I organise things, but when I write this, I immediately get a squiggly red line underneath because my correctional facility doesn't like it if I’m using the US version, which I may or may not do for P&S depending on how the mood takes me.
Here are sample sentences in B/E using a US spelling/grammar check: I like to practise good behaviour but it doesn't always work. In my defence I live a colourful life and feel that I have a licence to bend the rules a little. Count: 2 sentences. 5 squiggles! The spelling is correct for B/E but not for US/E.
My editing for P&S goes the same way for irregular verbs, such as 'to spell' because in B/E the past participle is 'spelt' - not 'spelled'. We also have learnt, smelt, spoilt and spilt, but these irregularities are also acceptable in US/E - not squiggled at all.
Some time ago, I was asked to go over the written work of an American friend. This was a tit for tat arrangement since he also helped me with my writing. I rarely picked up any problems in what he composed, but I often noted an entirely different seasoning that can only be described as a cultural difference in his expression. His descriptions were pristine in their clarity and they demonstrated wonderful imagination and insight into human characteristics; I was privileged to be allowed to preview it.
However, we had a series of exchanges over his use of the verbs, 'to lay' and 'to lie'. I think that the verb 'to lie' is reaching extinction in the US.
He wrote, 'The rifle was laying across his lap...' I did my bit, as a nit-picking reader, and told him he was wrong to use the verb 'to lay' because that verb needs an object. For example: A hen lays eggs or I lay the table every day (simple present tense). Each sentence has an object. However, I lie down. I lay down yesterday. I have lain down for an hour already. There's no 'thing' as the object of these sentences, so the verb should be 'to lie'. 'Lie', 'lay' and 'have lain' all come from 'to lie'. (Present, past and pres perf). 'Lay', 'laid' and 'have laid' all come from the verb 'to lay' - the one that needs an object!
We had a few laughs because the verb 'to lay' has other connotations but he eventually changed the line to 'The rifle was lying across his lap.'
This made pedantic old me, reviewer with the Union Jack, a very happy bunny. His prose, under my scrutiny, now became a masterpiece of perfection in my opinion. I only made that one suggested change; the rest was mellifluous and engagingly faultless.
Perhaps it should have been left as the original, though, because despite American university websites saying it's a common mistake, my friend’s usage has become so well accepted that even CNN newsreaders use 'to lay' instead of 'to lie'. (I shout at the TV with a futile wail when I recognise to lie’s demise.)
Can you imagine Bob Dylan's 'Lay lady lay' as 'Lie lady lie... across my big brass bed'? I give the second 10/10 but I doubt that classic will change now.
In return, my friend drew my attention to a word I'd used in an essay. The word was 'whingeing'. It means complaining in a whining, spoilt brat way. It was new to him but I hadn't considered that it was a B/E word. It seems it is. It can also, interestingly, be spelt with or without an 'e' before the 'ing'. Another thing he pulled me up on was my spelling of tit-bit...he wanted me to change it to tidbit but the former is right in B/E.
As a Scot, I have a plethora of lovely words which I daren't use on P&S. Words like: 'thole' meaning to put up with or endure, 'glaikit' meaning vacantly stupid and 'gallus' meaning bold or acting like a rascal.
Interestingly, 'gallus' is from the same root as gallows, which is where we sent our criminals in days gone by.
Orig. derogatory, meaning wild; a rascal; deserving to be hanged (from the gallows). People would come out to be entertained by the fate of the poor unfortunate fellow who was to meet his death by hanging. They'd bring their picnics and make a day of it. How gruesome, but, nevertheless, true! This is the root of 'gala' - from a day of festivities at the gallows. Something to be remembered the next time we have a gala day.
The funniest misunderstanding happened to me a few years ago. I went to a wedding in China. The groom was an American gent in his fifties and his grown up daughters were guests. I found myself sitting next to one of them and she was a charming lady attired in an expensive looking short cocktail dress. She said, 'Dorothy, I had such difficulty knowing what to wear for Dad's wedding. He told me that he didn't mind what I wore as long as I didn't wear pants.' In B/E 'pants' are underwear - 'briefs' being an alternative word. He obviously meant 'don't wear trousers or slacks' but I thought he meant ‘don’t bother with underwear’ and there was a tiny gasp of surprise before I realised my mistake.
This made the 'fanny -packs for sale’ notice less shocking when I met with it in Florida. In B/E 'fanny' is our slang word for vagina. Seeing 'fanny-packs' advertised openly in shops in the US was pretty saliva spraying for me the first time I saw those words displayed!
Needless to say, I'm going to watch out for cultural differences which are not mistakes.
I haven't decided if 'off of' is a mistake or truly another difference but it has come up a few times. 'He jumped off of the bridge' sounds weird to me because the 'of' seems redundant. (off of is incorrect in American English - ed.) My resolution is to ignore this and pay more attention to the content!
Variations, within acceptable parameters, are just richly different building blocks in what is fundamentally the same language. My respect for my US neighbours is intact over most things, but even if we differ sometimes in ideology... or spelling... we also find other places to concur whole-heartedly and do so with lasting friendships. We cannot be issued from the same mould, nor would we want to be. (I thought I'd get another red squiggle here but the fickle checker is happy with mould instead of mold!) (P&S' s spellchecker shows one squiggle in two uses - ed.)
What can I say but vive la difference!
♦ Dorothy Taylor is a retired Scottish podiatrist who loves traveling and lived for many years with her engineer-husband in China.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.
There once was a poet who wrote pretty verse
‘bout birdsong and flowers—could have done worse.
A proser she met one day on a walk.
They nodded hello and started to talk.
“Your stories are thrilling,” the poet exclaimed.
“They take me to places dark and untamed.
Heroes move mountains to champion right.
Villains are vanquished as day turns to night.”
“Your verses are music,” he boldly replied.
“They’re metaphor magic rhythmically tied
with ribbons of wisdom. Know what we should do?
Fusion our efforts and write something new.”
So, working together they each plied their craft.
‘Mid crumpled-up pages there emerged a draft
of story and poem all rolled into one…
Didn’t happen that way, but this has been fun!
No, it didn’t happen that way. The saga and ballad predate the modern prose story. But the dichotomy that currently exists between prose and poetry is more a recent estrangement than a divorce, so let’s see if you can reconcile the crafts, which are really two sides of the same page.
Announcing Page & Spine’s first-ever Story Poem Contest.
1. Your original, unpublished poem must be both metered (have a consistent rhythm of your choice) and rhymed (you choose the pattern) and contain no more than 1,000 words.
2. Your poem must tell a complete story consisting of character(s), conflict, climax, and resolution. Dialog is optional. The topic is entirely up to you. Remember: scenes and vignettes are not stories.
Deadline: midnight EDT, June 26, 2014. Submit to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: Story Poem Contest and title. There’s no fee to enter.
Winners will be announced right here in our July 11th edition and published on our Poems page on July 18th.
Prizes: First Prize, $25 and publication.
Runner–Up, publication at the regular $20 rate.
Judges: N.K. Wagner (Hey, that’s me!) and Lee Allen Hill will wrangle over whose story poem is best, keeping in mind that “best” is a subjective term. Lee is more a story guy and I lean toward poetry (which gives poets and storytellers an even chance). Eventually, we’ll come to a consensus. Don’t worry—not for nothing do we work at Page & Spine International Headquarters, Gift Shop and Trauma Center. As always, all entries will be judged “blind”. Our final decision is…well, final.
Our goal is to have fun and produce some great story poems. Additional exceptional submissions may be offered publication at a later date.