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LONDON - Sebastian Faulks is comfortable in the past, and readers love him for it. It's the present that has eluded him.
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The British writer is best known for intelligent, stirring historical novels that have sold in the millions: the World War II Resistance saga "Charlotte Gray" and "Birdsong," a story of love and war set in the trenches of World War I.
Faulks' latest novel, "Engleby," is a departure - so much so that he offered to have it published under a pseudonym. It is contemporary, moving from the 1970s to the present day, and features a main character who, like Faulks, attends Cambridge University before working as a Fleet Street journalist. Mike Engleby is intelligent, articulate and unnerving, an acerbic observer of modern Britain who may be, readers come to suspect, a bit of a monster.
"I've found contemporary Britain difficult to write about because it seems to me to have lacked gravity or grandeur," Faulks said during an interview at his cramped attic office overlooking a leafy west London square. "This is some cultural problem which I don't really understand. It simply isn't the same in the United States."
Buoyed by his success at writing the present, Faulks says his next book will be set in contemporary London, in a style that keeps "as close to realism as I can."
In the meantime, Faulks is the new voice of agent 007. He was commissioned by the estate of James Bond creator Ian Fleming to write a new Bond adventure for the centenary of Fleming's birth next year. The result, "Devil May Care," will be published in May.
Faulks said he enjoyed the discipline of writing the Bond book.
"I'd spent nearly five years in psychiatric hospitals and medical libraries writing an immensely long and difficult book ('Human Traces')," he said.
"It's possible there are no two books in publishing history more dissimilar than 'Human Traces' and 'Devil May Care.' And that was really the attraction of it."