Why diplomats make good authors

As a former diplomat and a strong advocate of taking the long view, I’ve witnessed the good and bad in human nature amongst many I’ve met in my career. I reflect this in my writing, not least in my third novel – A Motif of Seasons.

I’ve also drawn on forty years of being part of the British foreign policy-making machine – including meeting particular historical figures (such as Henry Kissinger, US President Ford, Margaret Thatcher and the late Queen), as well as brave young Iraqis risking their lives to come to work in the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad I helped to reform after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and not least the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iraq at the time, a close personal friend, who was assassinated. Above all, however, it is my first-hand experience of the extent to which fate – the unexpected – often has an impact on human affairs that has influenced my writing the most.

François de Callières, Minister Plenipotentiary to Louis XIV who represented France in the negotiations ending the Seven Years War, wrote a handbook in 1716 listing the arts and purposes of diplomacy. He included what he considered were the personal qualities of a good negotiator:

These are an observant mind, a spirit of application which refuses to be distracted…, a sound judgement which takes the measure of things as they are, and which goes straight to its goal… The negotiator must further possess that penetration which enables him to discover the thoughts of men and to know by the least movement of their countenances what passions are stirring within, for such are often betrayed by the most practiced negotiator. He must also have a mind so fertile in expedients to smooth away the difficulties he meets.

That is a description of diplomacy which – in my opinion at least – is as valid today as it was in the early years of the 18th century. It has also guided me as an author.