Brett F. Woods
Brett F. Woods

Brett F. Woods received his Ph.D. in literature at the University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, England, where his principal research involved geopolitics and the evolution of British espionage fiction. He is a senior executive fellow of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the author of numerous essays, monographs and books, both fiction and nonfiction. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
      His latest book, The Spy Novel, will be published by Wind River Press in 2003.

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Writing, Research and Random Thoughts

Benjamin Disraeli once wrote that the best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it and, to a lesser extent, this more or less sums up my writing career. While I have published two political novels—The Britannia Obsession (1986) and Autley House (2002)—and three nonfiction books that run the gamut from financial matters to military history, I am admittedly more comfortable writing nonfiction, particularly essays, about things that capture my interest for one reason or the other. I find myself pondering some obscure matter—generally in historical, political or military terms—research the issue, and then proceed to write an essay about it. Once the essay is published, I seem to find something else to think about and the process begins anew.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico which, I believe, is one of the country’s most unique cities. Situated at 7000 feet in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe was established in 1610 and is the oldest capital city in the United States. It is truly an area of incredible natural beauty, one of the country’s great art and culinary capitals, and extremely tolerant of writers, painters, carvers, musicians and all manner of artist. In short, for those with a creative bent, it’s a wonderful place to live and work.

Of late, for the last fifteen years or so, my interests have sort of gravitated to geopolitics and political fiction, and this has drawn me to examine how extrapolations of certain geopolitical events—the American Revolution, British Imperialism, and the Cold War, for example—have consistently and significantly threaded their way through the fabric of the genre, thus providing us a glimpse into society’s political underbelly through the use of cover stories, double agents and international intrigues. This drew my attention to the early twentieth century writers of British espionage fiction such as Erskine Childers, William LeQueux and John Buchan. These three—followed by the like of Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler and Graham Greene—first explored the concept of the espionage story as a medium wherein fiction and nonfiction might fluently coexist. While my recent novel Autley House adopted this approach, I have also thought to examine its evolution in considerably more detail in my forthcoming nonfiction book The Spy Novel: A History of Espionage Fiction.

Aside from the essays that I always seem to be writing or researching, I do have in mind another political novel based upon my travels in Central America in the early 1980s. In general, the theme will follow the premise that novels do not depict life, but rather that they depict life as represented by ideology. I want to explore the struggle between individual integrity and social coherence from the perspective of an individual enmeshed in the thematic conflicts and ambiguities that flourish in the absence of clear-cut authority—kind of a representation of history becomes the history of representation-type approach. Central America in the early 1980s seems the ideal political venue as it was clearly a place of relative values and few absolutes. I’m fairly energized about this project and I plan on beginning the actual writing—if the research is completed—after the first of the year. In the meantime, I’m also working on a modest military history of World War II that directs itself to selected Pacific ground campaigns. The research has been finished for years now, and I have a very rough first draft, so perhaps it will finally be completed before I begin the novel in earnest.

Eventually, I might like to teach writing, history or perhaps political science at the college level while I continue to research and write about obscure things that perhaps only I find to be of interest and that may well go unpublished. And, in this regard, another Disraeli quote seems especially relevant: when writers sent Disraeli a manuscript to review, he often thought to reply: “Dear Sir: I thank you for sending me a copy of your book, which I shall waste no time in reading.” Be assured, after twenty-five years of putting words on paper, I am certainly no stranger to receiving similar correspondence. Writers, I believe, should write. And I do unabashedly fancy the written word. So should my next completed project be rejected by some editor in a far off place, it will surely not be the end of mankind as we know it, nor will I repair to a darkened room to contemplate darker thoughts. I will simply add their rejection to the others and move on to another of my little projects. For me, the research and the writing are the real dynamics and, at this stage of my life, I doubt that this will change.