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Charles Cumming

Charles Cumming

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Charles Cumming is a British writer of spy fiction
Spy fiction
Spy fiction, literature concerning the forms of espionage, was a sub-genre derived from the novel during the nineteenth century, which then evolved into a discrete genre before the First World War , when governments established modern intelligence agencies in the early twentieth century...

. The son of Ian Cumming (1938–) and Caroline (Ramsay) Pilkington (1943–), he was educated at Ludgrove School
Ludgrove School
Ludgrove School is an independent preparatory boarding school for about 200 boys, aged from seven or eight years to thirteen. It is situated in the civil parish of Wokingham Without, adjoining the town of Wokingham in the English county of Berkshire.-History:...

 (1979–1984), Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

 (1985–1989) and the University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is a public research university located in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university...

 (1990–1994), where he graduated with 1st Class Honours in English Literature. The Observer
The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...

has described him as "the best of the new generation of British spy writers who are taking over where John le Carré
John le Carré
David John Moore Cornwell , who writes under the name John le Carré, is an author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Cornwell worked for MI5 and MI6, and began writing novels under the pseudonym "John le Carré"...

 and Len Deighton
Len Deighton
Leonard Cyril Deighton is a British military historian, cookery writer, and novelist. He is perhaps most famous for his spy novel The IPCRESS File, which was made into a film starring Michael Caine....

 left off".

In 1995, Charles Cumming was approached for recruitment by the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service
Secret Intelligence Service
The Secret Intelligence Service is responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence. Alongside the internal Security Service , the Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence Intelligence , it operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence...

 (MI6). A Spy By Nature, a novel partly based on his experiences with MI6, was published in the UK in June 2001. The novel's hero, Alec Milius, is a flawed loner in his early 20s who is recruited by MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 to sell doctored research data on oil exploration in the Caspian Sea
Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of and a volume of...

 to the Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...


In August 2001, Charles Cumming moved to Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

. His second novel, The Hidden Man (2003), tells the story of two brothers investigating the murder of their father, a former SIS officer, at the hands of the Russian mafia
Russian Mafia
The Russian Mafia is a name applied to organized crime syndicates in Russia and Ukraine. The mafia in various countries take the name of the country, as for example the Ukrainian mafia....

. The Hidden Man also examines the clandestine role played by SIS and the CIA during the Soviet war in Afghanistan
Soviet war in Afghanistan
The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a nine-year conflict involving the Soviet Union, supporting the Marxist-Leninist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the Afghan Mujahideen and foreign "Arab–Afghan" volunteers...


Charles Cumming's third novel, The Spanish Game (2006), marks the return of anti-hero
In fiction, an antihero is generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero, and is in some instances its antithesis in which the character is generally useless at being a hero or heroine when they're...

 Alec Milius, who becomes involved in a plot by the paramilitary Basque nationalist
Basque nationalism
Basque nationalism is a political movement advocating for either further political autonomy or, chiefly, full independence of the Basque Country in the wider sense...

 organization ETA
ETA , an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. The group was founded in 1959 and has since evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group with the goal of gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country...

 to bring down the Spanish government. The Spanish Game was described by The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

as one of the six finest spy novels of all time, alongside Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a 1974 British spy novel by John le Carré, featuring George Smiley. Smiley is a middle-aged, taciturn, perspicacious intelligence expert in forced retirement. He is recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole in the "Circus", the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence...

, Funeral in Berlin
Funeral in Berlin
Funeral in Berlin is a spy novel by Len Deighton.- Plot :The protagonist, who is unnamed, travels to Berlin to arrange the defection of a Soviet scientist named Semitsa, this being brokered by Johnny Vulkan of the Berlin intelligence community...

and The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a play and adventure novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution. The story is a precursor to the "disguised superhero" tales such as Zorro and Batman....


Typhoon, published in the UK in 2008, is a political thriller about a CIA plot to destabilise China on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. The story spans the decade from the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong
Transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong
The transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China, referred to as ‘the Return’ or ‘the Reunification’ by the Chinese and ‘the Handover’ by others, took place on 1 July 1997...

 in 1997 to present-day Shanghai. In particular, the author highlights the plight of the Uyghur
Uyghur people
The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China...

 Muslim population in Xinjiang
Xinjiang is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. It is the largest Chinese administrative division and spans over 1.6 million km2...

, a semi-autonomous region of The People's Republic of China. The acclaimed novelist William Boyd
William Boyd (writer)
William Boyd, CBE is a Scottish novelist and screenwriter.-Biography:Of Scottish descent, Boyd spent his early life in Ghana and Nigeria, in Africa...

 described Typhoon as "a wholly compelling and sophisticated spy novel – vivid and disturbing – immaculately researched and full of harrowing contemporary relevance." Typhoon was listed by The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2009.

In March 2008, Charles Cumming published an interactive online story, The 21 Steps, as part of a Penguin
Penguin Books
Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...

 We Tell Stories
We Tell Stories
We Tell Stories is an alternate reality game launched in March 2008 by Six to Start in conjunction with Penguin publishers. Six authors have contributed stories to the project, one each week, which are displayed on the site using interactive internet media...

project. Readers follow the protagonist's travels through Google Maps
Google Maps
Google Maps is a web mapping service application and technology provided by Google, free , that powers many map-based services, including the Google Maps website, Google Ride Finder, Google Transit, and maps embedded on third-party websites via the Google Maps API...

. Cumming's novels have been translated into six languages. His work is published in the United States by St Martin's Press. In 2009, Cumming left Penguin to join Harper Collins. His fifth novel, The Trinity Six, a thriller about the Cambridge spies
Cambridge Spies
Cambridge Spies is a 2003 four-part BBC television drama concerning the lives of the best-known quartet of the Cambridge Five Soviet spies from 1934 to the 1951 defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union...

, was published in 2011.

Charles Cumming is an Assistant Editor of The Week
The Week
The Week, styled as THE WEEK, is a weekly news magazine.-History:It was founded in the United Kingdom by Jolyon Connell in 1995. In April 2001, the magazine began publishing an American edition; an Australian edition followed in October 2008. Dennis Publishing publishes the U.K. and Australian...

, and regularly writes book reviews for The Mail on Sunday
The Mail on Sunday
The Mail on Sunday is a British conservative newspaper, currently published in a tabloid format. First published in 1982 by Lord Rothermere, it became Britain's biggest-selling Sunday newspaper following the closing of The News of the World in July 2011...

. He has appeared on Sky News
Sky News
Sky News is a 24-hour British and international satellite television news broadcaster with an emphasis on UK and international news stories.The service places emphasis on rolling news, including the latest breaking news. Sky News also hosts localised versions of the channel in Australia and in New...

, BBC World
BBC World
BBC World News is the BBC's international news and current affairs television channel. It has the largest audience of any BBC channel in the world...

 (interviewed by Mishal Husain
Mishal Husain
Mishal Husain is a television news presenter for the BBC's international news channel, BBC World News, presenting Impact between 1400 and 1600 GMT every Monday to Thursday as well as presenting the Sunday evening editions of the BBC Weekend News on BBC One...

), The Book Show (a Sky Arts
Sky Arts
Sky Arts and Sky Arts HD is the brand name for a group of art-oriented television channels offering 18 hours a day of programmes dedicated to highbrow arts, including theatrical performances, movies, documentaries and music...

 production) and Radio 4's Today programme
Today programme
Today is BBC Radio 4's long-running early morning news and current affairs programme, now broadcast from 6.00 am to 9.00 am Monday to Friday, and 7.00 am to 9.00 am on Saturdays. It is also the most popular programme on Radio 4 and one of the BBC's most popular programmes across its radio networks...

. He is one of the trustees of The Pierce Loughran Memorial Scholarship fund which provides tuition fees for the Yeats
W. B. Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright.Yeats may also refer to:* Yeats ,* Yeats , an impact crater on Mercury* Yeats , an Irish thoroughbred racehorse-See also:...

 Summer School in Sligo
Sligo is the county town of County Sligo in Ireland. The town is a borough and has a charter and a town mayor. It is sometimes referred to as a city, and sometimes as a town, and is the second largest urban area in Connacht...

, Ireland. In 2008 he was a First Story writer-in-residence at Cranford Community College, London. He is also the founder and President of the José Raúl Capablanca
José Raúl Capablanca
José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera was a Cuban chess player who was world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. One of the greatest players of all time, he was renowned for his exceptional endgame skill and speed of play...

Memorial Chess Society. He is married with two children and lives in London.

External links