(Sorry 'bout the delay: I've been really busy.)
Some novels you want to write at some point in the future. Some novels want to be written, and others come on like cholera ...
"The Fuller Memorandum" was the latter.
It was 2007. I was burned out from writing "Halting State" in 2005-06, so the plan was for me to take a year out from writing novels for Ace to finish the Merchant Princes for Tor. Being a commercially-minded guy, the logical thing to do was to publish a short story collection. This is something of a privilege if you're with a major publisher: the collective wisdom is that short story collections don't sell, so the advance is about half the size as that for a novel—if they buy one at all (which will only happen after several novels).
I had enough material for a short collection, so it seemed sensible to write a completely original novella to accompany it—an extra something to keep the folks who'd already read all my short stories interested. That novella turned out to be "Palimpsest" (about which, more in another blog entry). Because "Palimpsest" was the only item in the collection to to have been bought by an editor, I decided to run it past my agent, who has a keen eye for commercial potential. "Charlie," she emailed back presently, "this is great. But it's not a novella; it's the first third of a novel. Why don't you finish it, and I can get the contract amended so that Ace take this in place of that Laundry novel you were going to write?"
My agent, at that time, didn't really get the Laundry files. She was dead right that "Palimpsest" wanted to grow up to be a novel, but I didn't have the other two-thirds of it waiting to be written: and the idea of cancelling the Laundry Files book, #3 on a 3 book contract I was working my way through, brought me out in a cold sweat.
So I sat down and wrote the first draft of "The Fuller Memorandum", all 107,000 words of it, in 24 days (with no time off). And then I keeled over from exhaustion.
The title "The Fuller Memorandum" was a riff on The Quiller Memorandum by "Adam Hall", a pseudonym Elleston Trevor used for spy thrillers. You're familiar with his work even if you don't know of him by name—"The Flight of the Phoenix" (filmed twice) was one of his. So was the movie "The Quiller Memorandum" and an immensely successful (British) cold war spy thriller franchise.
However, at the time I started writing I hadn't revisited the Quiller oeuvre for about 15 years. And I was working my way through the collected works of one of the more remarkable and unfairly overlooked British spy thriller authors, Anthony Price. It is to Mr Price that "The Fuller Memorandum" owes its structure, with the obsessive researching of buried historical records, the painstaking historical process of unearthing what really happened (with lethal consequences for the present), and the deeply sinister office politics. Also: a hat tip to the late John M. Ford, aka "Dr. Mike", who appears in "The Fuller Memorandum" as a kind of memorial to his own Anthony Price tribute novel (now long out of print), The Scholars of Night.
It's to the 24 day death march, motivated by the threat of cancellation, that the book owes its relatively tight pacing and structure: I wrote it so rapidly that I could hold everything in my head, rather than forgetting earlier parts and having to go back and obsessively re-read it. Which is why the first draft was very nearly published intact: it's almost the closest I've ever come to write-once-then-publish.
Buried easter eggs:
The correspondence relating to Roman von Ungern-Sternberg and his boyhood fossil collection is spun out of whole cloth, but Ungern-Sternberg himself was very real, and best described as a bloodthirsty lunatic: an occultist, later Tibetan Buddhist, White Russian general who was a virulent anti-semite and the first to ride under a vertical banner featuring a black swastika on a white circle in a red field. The agent who unearths his fossil collection is of course the equally real Arthur Ransome. And the officer in Naval Intelligence to whom he directs subsequent correspondence uses the identity number of one Ian Fleming.
The London Necropolis Railway was indeed a Real Thing (as is Brookwood Cemetery (which, unlike the railway, is still in use).
Edit: Major General J. F. C. fuller was also real, and even more barking than the wikipedia article suggests. Yes, he was a high-ranking member of the Argenteum Astrum (until his falling-out with Aleister Crowley): yes, he invented the combined-arms doctrine later known as "Blitzkrieg" just too late to see it deployed during the first world war (it was on the cards for 1919). Yes, he was the only British general officer not recalled to service during the Second World War, probably because he was the leading military advisor to Oswald Mosely, founder of the British Union of Fascists. Of course he would have been involved in the Laundry: where else could they put him?
No, I did not attend Sherborne School. (I just did my research.)
Yes, "Panin" is a shout-out to Anthony Price.
Yes, there was going to be an afterword, as with the first two novels. But I crashed and burned halfway through writing it, and couldn't finish it in time—and in any case, "The Fuller Memorandum" was long enough that it could stand alone without padding. Maybe I'll dig it out and try to finish it some day, and put it on the blog.
That's all for now. Any questions?