Here was a woman who needed no introduction: the ex-head of MI5 turned writer of spy fiction, Dame Stella Rimington. If ever there was a full RBS Main Tent more suspicious of itself, this was it. It filled form the back to front!
Rimington gave us an overview of why she turned to writing fiction following her retirement from MI5. To some it may seem a logical step but it would appear she fell into it after a process of trying other things; fiction writing is her sixth chosen career.
Her new novel involving British security office, Liz Carlyle, was vetted like the rest of her novels but was permitted to be released after the security services enjoyed it first. Personally, I think they’re abusing their position in order to get the scoop on a talented writer, but that’s beside the point. “I dread the day I hand them a completed manuscript,” she said, “for them to turn around and say, ‘you’ll have to change the entire plot’.”
Many of the questions asked by the audience deviated from the release of the actual book she had come to promote, Rip Tide, with the audience preferring to try and chip away at her previous career. The impact it had on her family for one, when her daughter only began to suspect her mother was different when two men in Macs turned up at the door one day and snapped a photograph of Rimington in the house; tabloid intrusion not for the first time—but it could have been worse.
On which security agencies were better to work with: “there are various around Europe that are similar to ours but many that are different. The KGB, for example, clearly had no intention on changing to a democratic model when the Cold War ended but we went anyway. The American model is totally different—we’re the only real one that is civilian based.”
It was a fascination encounter with a woman who quite clearly enjoys the release that writing fiction allows, although being a Man Booker judge has been a double-edged sword once the lorries loads of books started to show up. She was pivotal in breaking the male-dominated “industry” as it was when she first joined, though, and her intelligence, seriousness and subtle humour were evident in every chosen word.