Best-selling author becomes depressed after finishing a book

But not for long. The 86-year-old author, John le Carré, says he already has an idea for his next spy thriller

Preview: John le Carré
Preview: John le Carré 01:07

World-famous author John le Carré  goes into a depression when he finishes one of his best-selling spy thrillers – that's where he finds himself now, on the publication of his 24th novel. But le Carré tells Steve Kroft in a rare television interview that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The 86-year-old ex-spy has another idea for a new book, and he can't wait to get to work. The interview will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Author John le Carré CBS News

Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, says the end of a book is the beginning of the most depressing times in his life. "It's a feeling of-- you've depleted everything you've been working on," says Cornwell. "The depression that overtakes me when I've turned in a book, I must confess is real and deep."

"Each book feels like my last book. And then I think, like a dedicated alcoholic, that one more won't do me any harm." 

"A Legacy of Spies," his 24th novel, brings back the world-weary George Smiley, his most famous character, after almost 30 years. Cornwell identifies with Smiley, describing him as "My secret sharer."  He says, in the course of his espionage work, Smiley does things he may find distasteful, but recognizes he has a duty.    

Cornwell was himself an agent in Britain's famed M16 during the height of the Cold War and wrote one of his most successful books, "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," while still undercover. The novel was such a hit, Cornwell's other life as an intelligence officer was quickly blown and he had to give up spying. That book and many of his others have been made into television series and films.

Kroft visited Cornwell at his ocean-side redoubt on the cliffs of Southwestern England. The author, who also wrote "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "The Little Drummer Girl,"  is candid with Kroft about the life, work and a writing process that has made him one of the most successful authors of the past 60 years.

Cornwell should start feeling more cheerful soon. He tells Kroft, "Out of the ashes of the last book, so to speak, comes the phoenix of the new one, and then life's OK again… Each book feels like my last book. And then I think, like a dedicated alcoholic, that one more won't do me any harm."

Asked if he had another idea for a book, he responds quickly, "Absolutely. I can't wait to get to it."