James Bond and Me – Reading and Writing in 007’s Shoes
Anthony Horowitz, author of the newest Bond novel Forever and a Day, takes a look back at 007's influence on him as a reader and a writer. Make sure to comment for a chance to win!
Some books really do change your life. For me, it was Dr. No, not the first James Bond novel but the first to be turned into a movie in 1962. I read it when I was ten years old, stuck in an all-boys boarding school in North London, the sort of grim institution that the British do so well (Ian Fleming himself had a pretty rough time at Eton College).
The book opened up a whole world to me: tropical islands, exotic food, adventure, excitement…and, of course, beautiful women. That famous scene, when Ursula Andress emerges from the ocean in a white bikini, seemed like a fabulous dream and her character, Honeychile Ryder, would stay in my mind for the next thirty years.
By then, Roger Moore had taken over the part from Sean Connery and, watching him get older with every film – he was 58 by the time he starred in A View to a Kill – I began to think about creating my own teenaged spy. It was no coincidence that I called him Alex Rider.
I have never stopped loving James Bond; the books and the films. Goldfinger is still my favorite – both on the page and on the screen. It’s quintessential Bond with a brilliantly outlandish villain, the best ever sidekick in Oddjob, an over-the-top plot, and those set pieces that Fleming arrived at so effortlessly but which are still so unique: the girl painted gold, the game of golf at Stoke Park, Bond tortured with a circular saw (it became a laser in the film), the bad guy sucked out of an aircraft window.
The film has by far the best title song, at least in my opinion. I still get a tingle when I hear Shirley Bassey rhyming “Midas touch” with “a spider’s touch.” It also has some of the best lines.
“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Frankly, those early Bond films are something of a miracle. What alchemy it was that brought them all together: not just the faultless casting, but Ken Adams for design, John Barrie for music, Maurice Binder for those iconic title sequences. A perfect team.
But of course, the film would not exist without the book which I must have read about a dozen times. I’m in awe of Fleming’s writing style. Look at the opening chapter – Reflections in a Double Bourbon (nobody has ever done better chapter headings). Bond is at Miami Airport, in a contemplative mood, remembering a recent mission.
““Below the indigo sky the flare paths twinkled green and yellow and threw tiny reflections off the oily skin of the tarmac.”
Even when he’s not writing action, Fleming captures mood and atmosphere in a way that is much more sophisticated than it seems.
I know because, twice now, I’ve tried to imitate him.
I was thrilled when the Ian Fleming estate contacted me back in 2014 and asked me to be the fourth modern author – after Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and William Boyd – to write a James Bond novel. It really was like being handed the keys to the candy store, and although I was thrilled to grab hold of them, I was also nervous. People go a little bit mad when it’s Bond. The scrutiny you get as a writer, the press interest, the sense of expectation…it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
The hardest things to get right? Certainly, the title. You start out with a smorgasbord of Bondian words: tomorrow, eyes, diamonds, kill, love, live, die, only, never, forever, secret. You then mix them around until you realize that every formula has already been tried and you have to go elsewhere. My favorite non-Fleming title, by the way, is Colonel Sun by Robert Markham and for that matter, I still think it’s the best of all the continuation novels.
Then comes the villain. He – or she – has to be a little heightened and have some sort of bodily deformation such as a third nipple. Two missing hands wouldn’t hurt either. That said, you have to be careful. Go too far over the top and you’ll find yourself in Austin Powers land.
And of course, there’s the so-called “Bond Girl”, a term so patronizing that I try never to use it. But getting the love interest right in this #MeToo age is, without doubt, a challenge. If in the 21st Century, I were to come up with a former lesbian, molested by an uncle at the age of twelve, and called her Pussy Galore, the world would fall in on me. This is not a criticism of Fleming. It’s just an indication of the way times have changed.
Forever and a Day was the slightly more generic title I chose for my second Bond novel; the book is in some respects a romance and I wanted the title to nod towards that. I have to say that I am proud of my villain: the quite monstrous Jean-Paul Scipio. The moment I thought him up, I knew how he would die and in my experience, this is always a good sign. And with Madame Sixtine, Bond has a woman who is older and wiser than him and in every sense his equal. I loved writing her.
As to whether the book works or not, that’s for my American readers to tell me. You can reach me easily on Twitter.
Meanwhile, in the UK, people are asking me if I will write a third Bond novel. Well, first of all, that’s for the Ian Fleming estate and for the publishers to decide. But I will admit that being a James Bond author has been the high point of my career. I look back at the miserable schoolboy, hiding away with his copy of Dr. No and I wonder if I had any idea that I would end up where I am now. And I don’t think so. Not in my wildest dreams.
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