This in-depth interview with author RAYMOND BENSON was conducted by JOHN COX for www.commanderbond.net and is reprinted here with their permission, for which the IAMTW is grateful.
Raymond Benson has had a long career “in Bondage.” As a Bond fan he wrote extensively for several fan club publications, and in 1984 wrote what is still considered to be the definitive study of the James Bond character in book and film, THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION. He also wrote the computer game adaptations of GOLDFINGER and A VIEW TO A KILL, and a Role-Playing Game sequel to YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, “BACK OF BEYOND.” Most recently, Benson was selected as the succeeding continuation author to John Gardner, and between 1996 and 2002 penned six original James Bond novels (ZERO MINUS TEN, THE FACTS OF DEATH, HIGH TIME TO KILL, DOUBLESHOT, NEVER DREAM OF DYING, THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO), three movie novelizations (TOMORROW NEVER DIES, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, DIE ANOTHER DAY), and three short stories (“BLAST FROM THE PAST”, “MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTS DOOM”, “LIVE AT FIVE”).
Now Raymond talks candidly to his fans – and his critics – and reveals what it’s really like to write a James Bond novel. Was it a dream come true for a Bond fan to become “official,” or a nightmare for a serious author with a career and a life outside of 007? Most CBners know me to be an unabashed Benson admirer. It’s true. I’m biased. I think Raymond did an amazing job during his tenure and produced books that rival some of the classic Fleming novels in sheer Bondian entertainment. But that isn’t going to stop Raymond from answering criticisms.
So hold on as we turn the spotlight on Raymond Benson and illuminate the world of the literary 007 as never before, and discover what it’s really like to be entrusted with James Bond’s literary license to kill.
[Warning: This interview may contain spoilers.]
How does it feel not to be writing Bond now? What have you been doing with yourself in the past two years?
There are days when I miss it, but overall it feels pretty good. Look, it was a rollercoaster of a gig. It had its ups and downs. I’m eternally grateful to the 1996 Board of Directors of Glidrose Publications (now called Ian Fleming Publications) for giving me the opportunity to do it. I didn’t ask for it, you know. The man who worked as Ian Fleming’s original literary agent, Peter Janson-Smith, phoned me out of the blue in late 1995 and asked if I’d be willing to give it a shot since John Gardner had decided to stop. I was flabbergasted. Peter was Chairman of Glidrose at the time and Booker PLC, a conglomerate that had its fingers in a lot of businesses, still owned it.
Booker’s literary side was small-it was just Glidrose and Agatha Christie Ltd. and maybe one or two other literary estates, and now they’re all on their own away from Booker. About three years into my tenure as the Bond author, the Fleming family bought back the 51% of Glidrose from Booker. There had been Flemings on the Board prior to that, of course. Anyway, for seven years the job gave me the opportunity to travel the world, meet a lot of people that I never would have met, and it got my name into the publishing world. The income wasn’t what people sometimes think it was-you’d be surprised how many people automatically assume I was making millions of dollars. Ha! I made the same amount of money as I would have made at a nine-to-five job. Now that it’s over, I’m back to the ranks of struggling writers that have to find other ways to supplement the writing income-I teach a college course in film studies, I do speaking engagements, I look for freelance work, I even do office temp work when I’m desperate. But I must say that the relief of not having that Bond thing hanging over me is pretty nice. I’m free to do whatever I want. I’ve been writing like crazy. I wrote FACE BLIND in 2002 and it was published in 2003. I wrote another suspense novel in 2003 but I’m biding my time with that one. Hopefully sometime this year you’ll see some announcements about it. Last fall I wrote my Bond memoirs, a small autobiography so to speak, that relates my lifelong experiences with 007. I don’t know what I’ll do with it. I can’t imagine anyone really being that interested. It would probably have to be one of those limited edition books that private presses have done, like Richard Kiel’s book, or Syd Cain’s book. Maybe I can get a thousand copies printed and sold. I haven’t decided. At the moment I’m developing a new project and looking for bread-and-butter writing work.
Did you know that THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO would be your last Bond novel when you were writing it?
No. I knew I wanted a break, though. Keep in mind, each book was begun a year-and-a-half before its publication. I started THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO in the fall of 2000. By the summer of 2001, when I was in the middle of writing it, I was experiencing all kinds of major heartache with regard to Bond. Some of this has been reported before, but lets just say there was a small faction of fans out there that didn’t like my work and had begun a campaign to throw a negative light on me and my work. These few individuals went to great lengths to trash me on Bond website message boards, the Bond newsgroup, and other places. I received threatening emails. One guy wrote to major literary critics and implored them to trash me in editorials. He also wrote to my publishers (my editor at Hodder said that the guy was “obviously insane”). This same person spread around the fan community a disgusting and cruel libelous document that portrayed me as someone that was into criminal behavior. It was so utterly unbelievable that fans would act this way. It was sick, and I do mean sick. Anyway, on top of all that, I was really feeling the pressure of trying to come up with new and different situations for Bond. THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO was a struggle. Maybe it shows, I don’t know.
Of all my Bond novels, it’s my least favorite, but there are a number of people who like it a lot. I was actually going to ask Glidrose for a year off that summer. John Gardner had two separate instances during his tenure when he had a year off. I needed a break from Bond. I had some things of my own I wanted to write. Before I could ask, though, the new Board at Glidrose, or rather, IFP, had decided to suspend the continuation novels for a while. The Board changed sometime around 2000 or 2001, I can’t remember. Peter Janson-Smith retired and was out of the picture. A lot of Flemings from the banking side of the family came into the organization. I really don’t know and can’t comment upon what their plans were at the time or what they are for the future. I do know they wanted to promote Ian Fleming’s works more during the 50th anniversary year (2003), hence the re-issues by Penguin in the UK and USA. Perhaps the feeling was that any author of the Bond series should write only a few books and then stop. So THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO was my last book, by mutual agreement. As Connery says in DR. NO, “You’ve had your six.” Well, I had mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful and have no regrets at all… it’s just that there were elements about the job that left a sour taste.
Would you do more if asked?
I don’t know. Maybe. I doubt I’d be asked. I’m certainly not averse to doing more work for IFP in some capacity and we’ve left the door open for that to happen. No one’s burned any bridges. I’m sure they’ll probably hire a new continuation novel writer someday. I think whoever it is would be more successful if IFP waits a while-a long while.
Will your short stories ever be collected into a single volume?
If Ian Fleming Publications ever decides to do it, then yes. It’s really up to them. I know that we’d really like to find a venue for the uncut version of “Blast From the Past.” As has been reported before, 1/3 of that story was cut by Playboy for space reasons. The “director’s cut,” so to speak, has been published in Italian and in French, but never in English. Maybe if enough people write to IFP and ask for it, something might happen! I do know that IFP are not keen on including “Midsummer Night’s Doom.” That story was commissioned by Playboy strictly as a joke-piece– it was for their 35th anniversary issue and Mr. Hefner and I thought it would be a goof to have James Bond meet Hugh Hefner. That story is more of a celebration of Playboy than it is a Bond story and I hope fans look at it that way. It was a fun piece to write and it’s not to be taken seriously.
On your website your credits show that you once adapted CASINO ROYALE as a stageplay? Was this “official?” Was Glidrose going to produce this? What happened?
At the time it was official. It was late 1985 and I proposed to Glidrose that I write a James Bond stage play. Because of the complicated rights situation (EON owned all performing rights for Bond, except, oddly enough, CASINO ROYALE), the only thing I could do was adapt CASINO ROYALE. Frankly, that’s really the only novel that *could* adapt to the stage. I wrote the play in 2-3 months and then held a staged reading of it in New York City in February 1986, using professional actors. The reading went very well and we then had a discussion with the audience about what worked and what didn’t. It’s a shame that Peter and his colleague at Glidrose couldn’t attend that reading because the outcome might have been different. Anyway, Glidrose paid me (which is more than what a lot of playwrights get!) and then they submitted the play to a British theatrical agent. She was very elderly and in my opinion she just didn’t get it. She recommended that the play not be produced. After further thought, Glidrose shelved it with the ultimate decision that a James Bond stage play simply wouldn’t work. The films had Bond in a monopoly and there was no way a play could compete. I disagreed, but it was their property. Since that time, EON bought the rights to CASINO ROYALE, so now *they* own the production rights– however I own the actual copyright of the play itself. But I can’t do anything with it. I can’t publish it or produce it (because Glidrose owns publishing rights and EON owns production rights).
Why do you think the Bond novels don’t sell as well as they once did?
There’s no simple reason. I’ve heard fans complain about the lack of promotion and all that and to some extent that could be a part of it. But the real reason lies in the fact that there is apathy toward Bond novels on the retail side of the publishing business. There seems to be an attitude on the bookshop level that Bond novels don’t sell and so they don’t order many copies. The books aren’t prominently displayed in the shops and therefore go unnoticed. Reviewers tend to ignore them, as they are thought of as inferior imitations of Ian Fleming. Make no mistake-Gardner’s Bond books and my Bond books were not failures. They made money for the publishers.
There was never a title that was in the red. The publishers had it down to a science as to how many copies to print. They knew how many they would sell. I think ZERO MINUS TEN’s first printing in America was something like 30,000. In Britain there were only 5,000 printed. That’s not a tremendous amount, but they all sold. The book was reprinted in both countries. But in order to be a New York Times Bestseller, a book has to sell at least 100,000. It’s been a long, long time since a Bond novel sold that many copies. I think that’s one reason why IFP chose to suspend the books for a while, even though both Hodder and Putnam were happy with the sales and would have kept going. The problem is that very few non-Bond fans seek out the books and buy them. They serve a niche market. The Star Wars and Star Trek books do better than Bond novels because there’s a much bigger fan base for those franchises. Another reason could be that people are so indoctrinated by the films that the books may seem like footnotes. Since the filmmakers don’t bother to film John Gardner’s or my books, book retailers can’t expect them to move in great numbers. It’s a shame, really.
Some people have accused you of bad-mouthing John Gardner. There’s an oft-quoted line from THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION in which you said that Gardner’s books were like eating at McDonald’s. What do you say to that?
What I said with the McDonald’s thing was over 20 years ago, when I was in my twenties, when I was just a smart aleck Bond fan trying to write clever critiques. I’ve since apologized to John and I tried to make it up to him by writing that lengthy and detailed analysis of his books for “007” magazine in 1993. I have great respect for John. I’ve never said anything negative about his books since then, certainly since I got the Bond gig, and whatever mild criticisms I made in the BEDSIDE COMPANION (other than the McDonald’s line) were nothing compared to what I see written about him–and me–on Bond fan website message boards! I enjoyed Gardner’s books–I own them all in first editions, some of them signed, and I’ve read several of them more than twice.
What about accusations that you “messed with” ideas that previous authors had?
Fans have to realize that every author’s oeuvre of Bond novels should be taken as a whole and separate from other authors’– with the exception that Fleming’s original books are the groundwork, the basis for the Universe. That original Universe is free to plunder, and that includes characters Fleming created. A writer of STAR TREK or STAR WARS would do the same thing. I didn’t look at my Bond books as a continuation of Gardner’s series. I started my own series. I was given carte blanche to use or ignore anything in Colonel Sun, the Gardner books, and even the John Pearson fictional biography. Anything I changed from earlier books was certainly not done out of spite! I wanted my Bond to use the old Walther PPK because I felt that was Bond’s gun, just as the Batmobile is Batman’s car! I was told to make M a woman to be in sync with the films-that wasn’t Gardner’s idea. Someone accused me of refuting events in Pearson’s book because at the end of it he says that Irma Bunt was in Australia. The Pearson book is a fabulous book but it’s not considered a Bond “continuation novel” by Glidrose (it treats Bond as a retiree!). And the fact is that I didn’t refute it–my “Blast From the Past” story suggests that Irma Bunt was “last seen” in Australia but she turns up in New York.
Were you given restrictions or guidelines for the books?
That’s difficult to answer. At the very beginning, Peter and I discussed the direction the books should go. There was some talk about setting them in the Cold War era and freezing Bond in time. In the end it was decided that we should stay in sync with the films and keep Bond updated. I was also told that I should do my best to blend elements of the original literary Bond with elements of the more widely known cinematic Bond. Thus, there had to be more action than what was in Fleming’s books, more gadgetry, a little more humor… If my books seem to feel like film stories, that’s probably why. I write very cinematically anyway. I think THE FACTS OF DEATH is my most EON-like novel. I purposefully set out to write something that felt like a Bond movie with that one. As far as restrictions go, there was surprisingly little. There were a couple of instances when I wanted to dig deeper into Bond’s psyche and personal life and that was suppressed. None of my plot outlines were rejected. Glidrose always had a few comments and minor suggested comments on the outlines before I began to write. Both the British and American publishers had a lot of say as well. It’s not easy at all being the recipient of three editing factions! Most authors have to deal with only one.
Did you set out wanting to use characters from Fleming’s books? There seem to be a lot of them in your novels.
Actually, yes, I really did want to. I like Fleming’s characters and I see no reason at all why they can’t make reappearances. Look, I wrote Bond novels the way I, as a fan, would have liked to see them. I always enjoyed it when John Gardner brought back an old character. It reminds one that the books are part of the old Universe. I felt it was important to tie my books back to Fleming and using old characters was the best way to do it. You know, what’s the difference between bringing back M, Boothroyd, and Moneypenny and bringing back Felix Leiter, Rene Mathis, Marc-Ange Draco, Bill Tanner, the Governor of the Bahamas, and Tiger Tanaka? When you really think about it, the list of characters I brought back isn’t very long.
Speaking of Marc-Ange Draco, some fans have criticized you for what you did with the character in NEVER DREAM OF DYING.
Glidrose and the publishers *loved* the idea of what I did with Draco. It was a twist and it was unexpected. The fans that criticized me for what I did with Draco don’t realize that Draco was always a bad guy, even when Bond first met him in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE! He was the head of the Corsican mafia, for God’s sake. He was the godfather! He was a murderer, a smuggler, a gangster, and whatever else you want to call him. He just happened to become an ally of Bond’s in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE simply because of the connection with his daughter. How do you think Draco felt after Tracy’s murder? Could he have blamed Bond? Of course! Could he have held a grudge? Of course! What I did with Draco was perfectly reasonable, given his character as Fleming created him. Don’t let the touchy-feely characterization of Gabriele Ferzetti in the film get in the way of who this guy really was. If you ask me, Ferzetti played him way too friendly. The entire basis of that novel began as an idea in my head-how would Bond react if he was forced to kill a family member? That was how the story began. So I started thinking about what family members there could be. I didn’t want to invent one, like a long-lost brother or something ridiculous. The only family member was Draco, even though he wasn’t really family anymore. John Gardner had supposedly killed off Draco in one of his books but he did it in such a way that it was left open to be refuted. It was a one-line throwaway and for all intents and purposes, it could have simply been a rumor. Which is how I treated it. I wasn’t “going against” what Gardner did, I simply turned it around so that I could use it for my purposes. But you know something-there is one mistake I made in NEVER DREAM OF DYING. I had Chi-Chi still alive. When I re-read ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE prior to writing my book, I completely missed the one-line throwaway of Fleming’s that implied that Chi-Chi was dead at the end. Oh well. You really, really can’t win ’em all. Especially in a Universe as large and complex as Bond’s.
Another criticism that book received was that it was more sexually explicit. Can you comment on that?
Oh my gosh… These are Bond novels. They’re supposed to be racy! If you ask me, my books, and Gardner’s books, weren’t explicit enough! Do the people that said this even have a clue that in Fleming’s day, the Bond novels were considered to be dirty books? Kids weren’t allowed to read them. There was more sex in Fleming’s books than there was action! If you took the level of scandalous sex in Fleming’s books and applied it to Bond books today, they’d be X-rated. Fleming wanted to shock and tease and tantalize his readers. In order to do that today, the books would really have to go to extremes. And believe me, there are plenty of thrillers on the best-seller lists that go way beyond my stupid little paragraph that was in NEVER DREAM OF DYING. Fleming himself was becoming bolder as he got into the 1960s. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN has the word “screw” in it. That had never been in a Bond novel before. I truly believe that if Fleming were writing today, the books would be terribly explicit. The guy had that kind of mind! (I have a hand-written letter that Fleming wrote to a friend, in which he describes himself as having “the mind of a sexy Boy Scout”!) Now, I’ll tell you about that scene in NEVER DREAM OF DYING. Both Peter Janson-Smith and my editor at Hodder & Stoughton asked me to put more sex into the book, and this was after I had completed the manuscript and turned it in. So I spiced up the sex scene between Bond and Tylyn. And I really wanted to do something besides boring old intercourse in a missionary position. Oh My God, the word “clitoris” is in a Bond book! Benson’s a pornographer! Yep, that’s what people called me. They called me and my Bond books pornographic. Unbelievable. Utterly ridiculous, childish, and totally out of character for any true fan of what James Bond is all about. And here’s the real irony-I got more compliments from women about that scene than I’d ever received. That’s the truth. My wife reads everything I write before it’s published and believe me, if anything struck her as pornographic, she would have said so. When I told her about what some fans were saying about that one paragraph, she wrinkled her brow and said, “I don’t get it. Are they mad?”
What do you say when you’re accused of being a “bad writer”?
I write what is referred to as “commercial fiction.” Believe me, Glidrose wouldn’t have hired me if they thought I was a “bad writer.” I had to write the first four chapters of the first book on spec before I got the contract. These had to be approved by not only Glidrose but also the British and American publishers. If the books had been as bad as some of my critics say, my publishers wouldn’t have published them! Did you know that 99% of those kinds of complaints only came from people on Bond fan message boards? They didn’t come from professional reviewers except perhaps in a couple of cases. If those Bond curmudgeons didn’t read the books for the sole purpose of picking them apart, they might see there’s some pretty good stuff in them. Look, I’m not Ian Fleming and never will be. Then again, NO ONE will be in this day and age. I’m convinced that if Casino Royale was delivered to a publisher today, it wouldn’t get published! Publishers want an easy-to-read style when it comes to thrillers, except in the cases they call “literary thrillers” such as MYSTIC RIVER. What a lot of people who frequent these Bond site message boards don’t realize is that there is a huge contingency of Bond fans that don’t frequent websites and message boards. I would hear from them by snail mail, or in person at book signings or other appearances. There are plenty of people that appreciate-and yes, even like-my work. And I’m very grateful to and humbled by my fans and supporters. I don’t take it for granted.
This returns to something you mentioned earlier … In one of your old “Benson on Bond” columns in ‘OO7’ Magazine you spoke about how Bond belonged to the Cold War era just as Sherlock Holmes belonged to the Victorian era. Like Holmes, do you think he’ll eventually return for good?
That’s really not up to me. That’s up to the copyright holders. I rather doubt that the film people will do it. As for the books, who knows…? I think it would be a smart idea.
You once interviewed Timothy Dalton for that same magazine. What was that like? Was he really “Fleming’s Bond”?
In my opinion his on-screen characterization of Bond was Fleming’s Bond. He’s really a talented and intelligent actor. He brought years of theatrical experience to the role and approached it the way any stage-disciplined actor would– by studying the source material at length. He read all of Fleming’s books to prepare and insisted on playing it seriously. It’s too bad the general public (and some Bond fans) didn’t take to him. I really liked Dalton’s Bond and I really liked his two films. It boggles my mind that Licence to Kill is so controversial. There’s really more of a true Ian Fleming story in that script than in most of the post-60s Bond movies.
You’ve been involved in the Bond fan community for a long time. How has it changed over the years?
The Internet changed it in drastic ways, and not necessarily for the better. Back in the 70s and 80s, there wasn’t a whole lot that could bring fans together and that’s about the only good thing the Internet has done for fans. In some of the bigger cities there were occasional collectors’ shows and pseudo unofficial Bond conventions where fans could meet each other and buy, sell, and trade stuff.
There were the fan clubs that published fanzines. I was heavily involved with the American fan club in the 80s and contributed several articles to “Bondage” magazine. I also contributed to “007” magazine in the UK. In the 80s there was a small “inner circle” of Bond fans that were writing on a somewhat professional basis. These guys, including me, have gone on to write real books, join the board of directors of the Ian Fleming Foundation, work on real EON or Glidrose projects, and have moved on beyond Bond. We’re all in our forties and fifties now. This younger crop of Bond fans doesn’t realize what it was like then, when the Bond fan community was an incredibly friendly place to be. Now they have the Internet and the zillions of Bond websites and the newsgroup and there isn’t a lot of respect for one another. It’s all about flaming each other and throwing opinions around and one-upsmanship. When I got the gig to write the Bond novels, there were some complaints that a “fan” shouldn’t be writing them. Well, gee, if a fan–that is, someone that cares about Bond–doesn’t write them, who should? Someone that doesn’t know the Bond Universe? Besides, I wasn’t just a fan. I had been writing professionally since the early 80s. I had spent years working in theatre, the computer game industry, and other disciplines that had honed my craft. That’s the reason Peter at Glidrose came to me. I was already a professional writer but most importantly, I knew my Bond. In the 80s, my JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION was considered something of a Bond Bible. There weren’t many books on Bond available in the 80s and now there are dozens. That book afforded me a different kind of respect back then than I get today from the young fans that populate Bond websites.
Speaking of the BEDSIDE COMPANION, do you think you’ll ever update it?
No. That book is a relic of a time and place that I occupied when I was a very different person. When I wrote that book, I really was a fan that embarked on the project as a labor of love. It’s my good fortune that it was well received. It went out of print in the early 90s and it’s best that it stays that way. I still sell a print-on-demand facsimile of the 1988 edition through my website and on Amazon.com Marketplace, simply because there’s a demand for it. But since I eventually became one of the official Bond authors, it’s not my place to critique other authors’ books or the films. I’d have to do that in order to update the book. It just wouldn’t be ethical. Another reason is that it was unauthorized by EON. Today, EON has several of its own, authorized books out there that from a pictorial standpoint out-class the BEDSIDE COMPANION by a long shot. There are quite a few typos and other minor mistakes in the book, too. For example, in the novels section, I call the sisters in GOLDFINGER Jill and Tilly Masterson, like they’re called in the film. They’re actually named Masterton. That book was a monster to write, it took three years from conception to publication. I’m glad it still holds up, seeing that it’s full of opinions by a young, smart aleck Bond fan. Gosh, the BEDSIDE COMPANION is twenty years old this year–can you believe it? I can’t.
Are you still a Bond fan?
Of course! But it’s different now. I’m on the other side of it. I look back at Bond with fondness. I will still see the films as they come out and probably read the books if and when they are published. But the days of me writing fan-ish articles and critiques are long gone. I like to think I’ve moved on. There are plenty of other things that keep me engaged. I’m a huge fan of many different things, from various types of music and films to other authors and genres. Hey, I’m a guy who likes both James Bond and Ingmar Bergman (and I’ll bet there’s nowhere else on the Internet that you can find those two names in the same sentence!).
Do you have any advice for the next writer, whoever it may be?
Make sure you’ve got thick skin and stay away from Bond websites! Actually I say that with tongue in cheek. The fans are very valuable to the Bond franchise and I say God bless them all–even the ones that didn’t like my work. I certainly didn’t expect everyone to. It’s a much tougher job that anyone out there fathoms. It’s a balancing act between pleasing IFP and the publishers, pleasing the fans, and pleasing oneself. The pressure to produce on a timely basis is immense. One had better love it simply for the sake of Bond. Some folks might say that John Gardner and I sound slightly bitter when we speak about Bond. I now understand perfectly how John Gardner feels about his experience as Bond writer. I’m totally convinced that anyone that fills those shoes will not walk away unscathed. Still-I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
You wrote a very interesting article for “Bondage” and ‘OO7’ Magazines entitled “On the Trail of Ian Fleming” that described your research experiences when you were working on THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION. Would you care to recap some of that for those of us who never saw that article?
I began the project in October of 1981 after I experienced a reawakening, so to speak, in Bond. This reawakening occurred due to the publication of John Gardner’s License Renewed and the release of the film FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. In the space of a couple of months I had read a brand new Bond novel, the first since the sixties, and finally there was a Roger Moore picture that relied heavily on original Fleming material and played it, for the most part, straight. (I think EYES ONLY is Roger’s best Bond film.) Over that summer I picked up some of the original Flemings and started re-reading and I got excited all over again. Since the off-off Broadway theatre business brought in little or no money, I was a little frustrated and wanted to do something else. I decided to try and write a coffee-table style reference book on Bond. Steven Jay Rubin had just published THE JAMES BOND FILMS and John Brosnan had done JAMES BOND IN THE CINEMA and those were the only two books on the movies. Works on the novels were long out of print, the most notable being Kingsley Amis’ THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER. I wanted a book that encompassed everything-Ian Fleming’s life, the novels, the films, trivia, and history. Through a friend of a friend I met an editor at A&W Publishers Inc. and pitched my idea. I had to write an outline and a couple of sample chapters to present. Much to my surprise I got the contract and an advance to write the book.
I had no idea I was about to undertake a three-year project. Talk about a labor of love! I became obsessed with Bond during that time. I re-read all the books in order, taking copious notes as I did so. Viewing the films again was more difficult because no one had VCRs in those days except rich people and the movies weren’t available yet on VHS. I tried to catch them at repertory cinemas and at one point I traveled to Washington DC and the Library of Congress to view some of the films. The Roger Moore pictures I had seen only once when they first came out and I needed to review them. Simultaneously I began to track down people associated with Ian Fleming.
Oh, and here’s something ironic. One of the first things I did was to write to Cubby Broccoli and to Glidrose Publications.
EON’s lawyer wrote me back a terse letter and basically said I had no right to do the book. That was nonsense of course, but it was clear they weren’t going to cooperate with me. I would have to do what Rubin did with his book-buy photos from news agencies like UPI and Wide World Photo. It was Peter Janson-Smith who wrote me back from Glidrose. He basically said that they had no wish to cooperate with me, probably hoping that I would simply go away. I wasn’t going away, by now I was committed. I had a contract! So I had to find people that knew Fleming, not necessarily his family.
So who did you contact?
The first person I tracked down was Al Hart, the editor at Macmillan who worked on the first six books. He was working as an agent in 1981 and still lived in New York. I had a great interview with him and he gave me a number of other valuable contacts-namely Ernest Cuneo, who lived in Washington DC. Cuneo, as you know, was perhaps Fleming’s closest American friend-and the man to whom THUNDERBALL was dedicated. I spent a lot of time with Ernie-he was quite the character. A very intelligent guy. He was in Intelligence during World War II, and that was when he met both Fleming and Ivar Bryce. Over the course of those few years, Ernie and I became close friends and remained so until his death in 1988. He even agreed to write my Introduction, for which I’m eternally grateful. (He also had some great stories about the creation of THUNDERBALL!)
I also contacted Fleming’s American agent, Naomi Burton Stone, who was living in Maine. A particularly valuable contact was Clare Blanshard, a woman who had known Fleming since their days in Intelligence in World War II. She was living outside of London and was a good friend of Cuneo’s-and Ivar Bryce’s. It was one big networking operation. I’d contact one person and they’d give me two more contacts. That’s how it worked.
Where did you go from there?
I spent time at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, studying Fleming’s typescripts, as well as John Pearson’s notes for his biography on Fleming.
Finally, in August of 1982, I took a trip to England for the first time in my life. Clare had arranged for me to stay with her and she helped me arrange meetings with various people. I wrote back to Peter Janson-Smith, explaining that I was coming to England and had appointments with all these people-so he had to take me seriously. He asked that I come in and meet him. We met and he asked to look over some of the material I had already written. I needed permission to quote from the Fleming novels in my book-and it was Glidrose that had to give it. He told me to go about my business in the UK and before I left he would give me an answer.
I met with Kingsley Amis and had a wonderful and hilarious interview with him. John Pearson and I spent some time together. I met with Ian Fleming’s stepdaughter, Fionn Morgan, and got a lot of good information on the Fleming family life. I met with Robert Harling, a close friend of Fleming’s and a member of the Assault Unit that Fleming created during the war. The big coup, though, was meeting Ivar Bryce, probably Fleming’s closest friend. I spent a weekend at his mansion, Moyns Park, and was able to go through piles of correspondence between Fleming and Bryce. Ivar and I remained friends until his death in 1985. Very interesting guy. I also spoke on the phone with Nicholas Fleming, Ian’s nephew, who pretty much the executor of the estate at the time and a member of the Board on Glidrose. We didn’t meet face to face until 1988, during my second trip to England. Before I left the UK on that first trip though, I met with Peter again at Glidrose and was given permission to use the quotes-for a fee of course.
Ivar Bryce put me in touch with his wife, Jo Bryce, who lived in New York State. They were still married, they just retained separate mansions. She wanted to live in the US and he wanted to live in the UK. Her mansion was called “Black Hole Hollow Farm,” and actually sat on the New York/Vermont border. Fleming set two stories in this area- FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and the novel THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. Jo was very helpful and allowed me to sift through her mementos and correspondence with Fleming.
By that time NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN was in production, so I made contact with none other than Kevin McClory. Since EON wasn’t talking to me, I thought I might as well talk to McClory! He was incredibly gracious and met with me in New York on at least three occasions.
The book was nearly complete by December of 1982 when A&W Publishers suddenly went into Chapter 11. My book was in limbo for nearly a year. During that time I continued to work at my day job, do some theatre, and update the book (such as with new Gardner works and the two new films released in 1983). Finally at the end of 1983, Dodd Mead bought the rights to the book from A&W and I was back in business. It finally came out in November 1984. An updated edition was published in 1988 and was published in the UK for the first time.
Let’s move on to the role-playing game YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE II: Back of Beyond. I don’t think many fans realize this was the first original Raymond Benson James Bond adventure. Can you tell me more about this?
I was a fan of the James Bond Role-Playing Game, published by Victory Games in 1983. I met Gerry Klug and Robert Kern, the creators, somewhere-at a convention or something-and expressed an interest in writing for them. They were happy to have me, especially with the BEDSIDE COMPANION to my name. In December of 1984 we met again and I got the job to write an original adventure module. Their plan was to adapt existing films and also create “sequels” to films. (Their license was with EON, therefore they had to do EON films and they also couldn’t use SPECTRE or Blofeld.) I think their first “sequel” was GOLDFINGER II. I picked YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and they said to go for it. Since Bond had never been to Australia, I used that as the main location. To write one of those things, you have to be really in tune with the role-playing game itself-i.e., know all the rules, know what’s fun and what isn’t, and all that. I was into games and had been since I was a kid. I wrote the game in December 84 and January 1985. It was then put on hold for nearly a year because if I remember correctly Victory Games had too many games in the pipeline. So I went on to another project-the computer games.
That’s the next question! You did two computer game adaptations of GOLDFINGER and A VIEW TO A KILL. What’re your memories of these?
I was working with a literary agent in New York. He had been approached by Angelsoft, a software entertainment company run by author Mercer Mayer. They wanted a writer to design a couple of text-adventure games. This was in the era when Infocom games like Zork were popular. There are no graphics, just text. A story unfolds as you play the game. They wanted a writer to do a Stephen King adaptation (The Mist) and A VIEW TO A KILL. My agent thought of me. I got the job and immediately started working for Angelsoft in February 1985. I did The Mist first, and frankly it’s the most successful of the three games I did for them. I went on to A VIEW TO A KILL by the spring. I was able to see a rough cut of the film in late spring, the first time that had ever happened for me. Angelsoft was pleased with my work so they hired me to write GOLDFINGER over the summer. I was done with the games by September. The Mist and A VIEW TO A KILL came out in October, I think. GOLDFINGER was published in the spring of 1986. Mindscape was the company that published the games. This experience eventually led me to a seven-year career in the computer game industry as a game designer, but there were three years of other work in-between. I updated the BEDSIDE COMPANION in 1987-1988, worked some more in theatre, worked for a famous architect named I. M. Pei, taught courses at a Manhattan college (including a Bond course), and did other freelance writing gigs. One highlight was interviewing Timothy Dalton for the New York Daily News in 1989 when he was promoting LICENCE TO KILL. That interview was published in its entirety later in ‘OO7’ Magazine. Beginning in 1990, I moved my family across country no less than three times to work for computer game companies. We ended up in the suburbs of Chicago in 1994.
You say you saw a rough cut of AVTAK. Was there anything you remember in this version that was different or wasn’t in the final film?
It didn’t have the music yet. They had pasted in music from previous Bond films for mood. But I can’t recall any scenes that didn’t make it to the final cut.
Former Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein wrote the hit game EVERYTHING OR NOTHING. If asked, would you return to the James Bond computer game arena?
I think that’s a question that would best be answered depending on what I was doing at the moment. I’d consider it, especially if it was simply to write dialogue or a plot line. I’ve been out of the computer game industry since 1997. It’s an industry you have to keep up with on a technological basis and I’m afraid it may have passed me by!
Let’s move on to your tenure as Bond author. Because you had yet to be published as a writer of fiction, was your first short story, “Blast from the Past,” an audition of sorts?
No, not really, but it was something we decided would kick off my series. You see, I had already written the first four chapters of ZERO MINUS TEN before I got the contract to do the complete novel. I had to write the outline and those four chapters on spec-that was the audition, so to speak. All that occurred between November 1995 and March 1996. Mind you, I was still working eight to five at Viacom New Media as a computer game designer, all the way through April 1997! I had no guarantee at the time that being Bond author was going to fly. We had to get one book out and see how it was received. So I wasn’t about to leave my day job, not yet anyway.
Who’s idea was it to publish “Blast from the Past” in Playboy?
I had met Hugh Hefner for the first time in 1994. I had always been a Playboy fan since I was in high school, back in the early 70s. Despite what anyone may think of its pictorial value, Playboy was actually a highly respected literary magazine, especially in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. They published the greatest writers of the latter half of the 20th Century. (Not only that but Playboy is known for paying writers more for fiction than any other magazine.) Ian Fleming’s first published appearance in America was in Playboy and the magazine has a long history with Bond. I admired Hefner for his “great American success story.” He really led a James Bond-style life. Anyway, I knew he was a big Bond fan because of Playboy’s connection with 007. I sent him a copy of the BEDSIDE COMPANION when it was published. I was surprised when he actually wrote me back, thanking me, and we began an infrequent but regular correspondence through the rest of the 80s and early 90s. When I knew I would be attending the James Bond Convention that was held in LA in November 1994, I boldly wrote to Hef and asked if I could come to the mansion and meet him. He said yes! So, we were already acquaintances of sorts. Fast forward to spring 1996. I had the contract to write my first Bond novel. However, my research trip to Hong Kong and China wasn’t scheduled until May. I had a couple of months to kill. I didn’t want to start writing more of the book until after I had done the research trip. So I suggested to Peter Janson-Smith at Glidrose that we contact Playboy and propose an original short story-something to re-establish the literary tie with the magazine. He thought it was a great idea. So I contacted Hef and he was very excited. So we were commissioned to write an exclusive short story for Playboy. I wrote it during April 1996 and it would appear in the January 1997 issue.
James Bond’s son, James Suzuki, could have been a franchise character all his own. Did Glidrose — or EON — give you any flack about killing him off?
The thing is that any offspring of Bond couldn’t be used. EON had bought all the rights to “any offspring” so that they could do JAMES BOND JR. That’s why John Gardner never used Kissy Suzuki’s son. However, I was dying to do it. I’d been dying to have a story explaining what happened to the son since I first read YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. John Pearson mentioned him in his fictional biography, which is where I got the name “James Suzuki.” I kept it. Anyway, after consulting with Peter at Glidrose, we figured out that the only way I could write about the character was if he was dead! You’ll note that the story is about James Suzuki, but he never really appears (not alive, anyway)! I never got any flack from EON. I don’t think they really cared.
You’ve said that you continued the tradition of naming some characters after people you know, just as Fleming and Gardner did. Did any appear in “Blast from the Past”?
Yes, slightly. The three forensics officers that come to James Suzuki’s apartment are named Stuart, Paul, and Dan. In the original typescript, their last names were included but these were edited out. All three are longtime friends of mine-Stuart Howard, Paul Dantuono, and Dan Duling. They would make further appearances with their full names intact. Another guy, Alan Forbes, a taxi driver I had known in New York City, is mentioned as the former head of the MI6 branch in NYC-but he had gone to Texas after winning the lottery. In real life, Alan had gone to Texas, but he didn’t win the lottery. By the way, James Suzuki lived in the same apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I lived when I was single.
You’ve mentioned there’s a longer version of “Blast from the Past” that has never been published in English. Many fans would love to read this. Is there a chance IFP would allow it to be published in a James Bond fanzine like ‘OO7’, or allow you to publish it as an eBook or a print on demand?
That’s totally up to IFP. I think the longer version works better. Reading it now, however, it’s painfully obvious that it’s my first work. I wince at parts of the writing. Still, it’s a pretty good story, if you know what I mean. It’s something that probably could have been developed into an even longer piece, but I think it works just fine as it is. For a first effort, everyone seemed to be pleased with it, including Playboy. It’s a shame they had to cut 1/3 of it.
Zero Minus Ten
Your first Bond novel takes place during the Hong Kong handover of 1997. Was there a concern that this book would be instantly “dated?”
No, we weren’t concerned about that. Lots of Bond novels have aspects that date them. I knew that the book would be published in the summer of 1997 and it was simply too good of a situation not to take advantage of.
The “travelogue” element was an important part of the Fleming books, but less so in the Gardner books. You seem to very much re-embrace this element in your books. Can you tell us how you go about researching your locations and how you flesh them out in such great detail?
I tried to visit every location that appeared in my books. I succeeded except in two or three instances. This was the first time I had gone on a research trip of this nature and I wasn’t sure how long it would really take. I was still working at Viacom so I didn’t have a lot of vacation time. My wife wanted to go with me so we arranged it for just a little over a week in May. In hindsight I could have used a lot more time. Subsequent research trips were two weeks minimum and sometimes as long as four. To start out I did a lot of preparation at home. I contacted the Hong Kong tourist agency, explained some of the things I needed, and hoped for the best. Luckily the name James Bond opens a lot of doors. They agreed to help me see some places that were important in the book-namely the shipping docks and a Chinese single woman’s apartment. Nearly everything else I was able to see on my own. I contacted the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank for an exclusive tour of their fabulous building, where the foot chase takes place. I contacted the Royal Hong Kong Police to get an interview with their Triad experts. I spent a day with those guys and it was fascinating. My friend James Pickard, a British gentleman with a huge Fleming collection, worked and lived in Hong Kong at the time. He was able to provide some guide services. Mostly though, my wife and I explored the city on our own. I took notes, shot photos, and basically absorbed everything I could-the sounds, smells, tastes, and sights. One day we took a guided tour into southern China. I purposefully set the Chinese locations in the story where I knew we’d be going, namely Guangzhou. Even though we were on a tour under the watchful eyes of Chinese guides, I was able to perform my research. At one point we were at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, where Bond hides from the baddies-right across the street are the government buildings where he is caned. I had to take photos and write notes on the sly (and very quickly) so as not to arouse suspicion! It wouldn’t have been too cool to be arrested as a spy.
We also spent a half-day in Macau, exploring the casino I used in the story. That was a strange experience. Macau really is the wild west over there-full of Triad types. My wife and I were the only Caucasians in the casino-and it was packed. They take their gambling very seriously over there-it’s nothing like Las Vegas, which is more like a circus. In Macau, it’s deadly quiet, smoky, and every face is dead pan. I played a little blackjack and roulette and actually walked away with a little extra cash. We got out of there as soon as I felt I had enough information.
I was unable to go to Australia, which features in about three chapters in the book. However, I had some great correspondence with a lady that lived in Kalgoorlie. I got pictures, brochures, and other info from her. She also read my chapters to make sure I got the descriptions right.
I loved that your villain, Guy Thackeray, is an alcoholic. How did you create a Bond villain? Do you first come up with their caper and design a villain who would commit such a crime? Or do you go the other way, design a villain and ask what crime they would commit?
It was different each time, depending on the book. With this one, the situation came first. I did some research on the history of Hong Kong. Why the heck did Britain own it and was suddenly giving it back to China? I never knew the story behind that. After reading up on it, I learned that there was this war between Britain and China in the late 1800s over the sale of opium. Britain won the war and claimed the territory known as Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories. A treaty executed in 1897 gave Britain these colonies, but some fool in England put in the clause that they’d give the territories back to China in 100 years! Britain made good on its promise. Anyway, I figured that there had to be a lot of people, especially business people with money tied up in Hong Kong, that weren’t too happy about the handover. So I created an Englishman that was violently opposed to Hong Kong going back to China. I always pictured Jeremy Irons as Guy Thackeray, by the way. And Chow Yun-Fat as Li Xu Nan, the Triad leader. I was probably influenced a lot by John Woo films and Jackie Chan pictures that I was heavily into at the time.
Was the Mahjong game sequence your attempt at creating a classic Bond novel gaming duel like the Bridge game in MOONRAKER or the golf game in GOLDFINGER? Are you a Mahjong player yourself?
Yes and yes. Gaming sequences are important to Bond novels and there hadn’t been one since Fleming. I pulled a lot of hair trying to come up with just the right game that they could play in Hong Kong. Mahjong made the most sense, because it’s taken very seriously over there. The rules are different, too, so I had to find some people who played by Hong Kong rules. A friend of mine in Dallas, Texas happened to be friends with a Chinese couple from Hong Kong that played mahjong on a regular basis-the Hong Kong version. I flew to Dallas for the weekend and joined in. For a full weekend I did nothing but play mahjong with these Chinese people. Believe me, I learned it!
You’ve said Glidrose encouraged you to blend movie and book elements, but the Q scene in ZMT felt a little forced to me. Was this a case where you felt you needed to include this scene — and the Q character — for movie fans?
Yes, including Boothroyd (not “Q”!-EON owns the rights to the name “Q”) was necessary. I had to include the female M, Miss Moneypenny, and Boothroyd simply to make the book a part of both series. For the first book, especially, I felt it was necessary.
Here’s a tough question from a fan. Henry would like to know: “Did you get any stick from anyone for the portrayal of the Chinese (as, mostly, corrupt Mainland generals, greedy Hong Kong Triads, whores, superstitious, ancestor-worshipping people, etc.) and the Aborigine in ZERO MINUS TEN?”
No, but I was a little nervous about the Triads. They don’t like their ceremonies seen by Western eyes. The Royal Hong Kong Police guys gave me a transcript of an honest-to-God Triad ceremony, which I used practically verbatim in the book. I wondered if I might become the next Salman Rushdie and have a bunch of Triads after me for that, but the RHKP assured me I had nothing to worry about.
One of my favorite parts of the novel is Bond’s ordeal in the Australian outback. It was quite bold to take Bond out of the action so close to the end of the book and, essentially, maroon him for a full chapter. Can you tell me a bit about this sequence and what inspired you to write it and place it where you did?
It was inspired by a sequence that I had in my role-playing adventure, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE-Back of Beyond. It was such a great sequence in the game-it always worked excitingly well during gameplay-that I wanted to recreate it for the novel. I borrowed some of the elements, such as the survival kit inside the shoe. As far as placement in the book, it just felt right. There was a ticking time bomb generating suspense and here was Bond in the middle of nowhere having to walk back to civilization. It was a very unique situation. I like it a lot.
You used James Pickard for a cameo role in this book and you’ve already said that he’s a real person. What other real people appear in this book?
As I said, at the time James was a banker working in Hong Kong. He moved back to Britain after the handover. I had known him since the 80s. Since he was helpful in providing information for the book, I honored him by creating a character with his name-further enhanced by Bond taking the name as an alias. Usually I tried to do this for people who had a role in helping me with a particular book. Other times they were just friends I wanted to include. Another guy was Skip Stewart, the Australian pilot. He’s a friend of mine from Baltimore, although he’s not Australian. David Marsh was a producer I worked with at Viacom New Media. He appears as a customs agent in Britain. Finally, Michael VanBlaricum appears as a nuclear scientist. He was the first president of the Ian Fleming Foundation and is really a physicist.
After your research trip, what were the next steps toward publication?
I wrote the book during the summer of 1996. It had to be delivered to Glidrose in September. The publishers needed final copy by November. I was on time and we spent September and October doing what would become standard operating procedure-comments and revisions, not only from Glidrose, but also from my editors at Hodder & Stoughton and Putnam. I’m happy to say nothing major had to be changed. Glidrose and the publishers were pleased, so I got a contract to write further books. By October of 96, I was already working on the outline for the second book.
What was it like when you first held the published book in your hands and saw “A James Bond Novel by Raymond Benson” on the cover page?
Totally surreal. It took a long time to sink in. It never got to be old hat, either. When each book was published, it was a bizarre experience to look at it.
The collector in me has to ask this question. The cover art for the US paperback ZMT that is featured on Amazon.com is not the cover art that was eventually used. Any idea why they changed it? And, in general, are you pleased with how the US and UK publishers have packaged your books-i..e., cover art, typesetting, etc.?
The cover art you speak of was the original cover art that was designed for the paperback. It had already been submitted to places like Amazon but at the last minute, Putnam’s marketing people decided to change it. I have no idea why. I like the original artwork. Anyway, they came up with the more generic silhouette figure cover very quickly. I love the British covers. The British really know how to do book jackets. They’re illustrative. American publishers tend to go for very simple, bold jackets with little or no illustration that emphasize either the best-selling author, or in this case, the well-known series character-James Bond.
How about the title? Was it yours?
No. The titles always come last. The titles are the biggest pains. I always have a working title while I’m writing the book. In this case it was NO TEARS FOR HONG KONG. Glidrose and the publishers didn’t like that. So what happens is that I submit several titles, Glidrose submits some, and both publishers submit some. We all have to agree on it before one is picked. Then, the marketing departments of both publishers get involved. If they don’t like the title we picked, we have to go back to the drawing board. I believe it was the head of Putnam that first came up with ZERO MINUS TWO. I was puzzled by the “Two” and wondered where she had pulled that number from. I went back to the book and counted the number of days that Bond is in Hong Kong before the climax of the story-and it was ten days. So I countered with the suggestion that the title be changed to ZERO MINUS TEN-and everyone liked that. I then added the little headings to the chapters that describe what day it is, counting down to zero.
You dedicate the book in part to “the people of Hong Kong.” Have you been back to Hong Kong after the handover? If so, how has it changed?
At the time I thought it was a nice gesture, because I had been so enamored with the city that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like under Chinese rule. I haven’t been back. Apparently not much has changed.
THE FACTS OF DEATH
If you don’t mind, I’m going to skip over your novelization of TOMORROW NEVER DIES and come back to all the novelizations later. Let’s jump to your next original book, THE FACTS OF DEATH. They say everyone has one novel in them, and I would say this is especially true of Bond fans–we all have our one Bond book or movie idea. You got to do yours. Did you have another idea fresh in your mind, or was it a struggle to come up with book number two?
I wouldn’t say it was a struggle. (Actually, each one is a struggle! None of them were easy!) The yearly schedule required that I had to have the next outline done by the end of the year, which meant December 1996. I was interested in the Cyprus situation and thought it would make a good setting for a Bond story, since Britain had two important military bases in southern Cyprus. That meant that a lot of the story could take place in Greece, where Bond hadn’t been since COLONEL SUN.
I had become friendly over the Internet with Panos Sambrakos, a Greek Bond fan that had begun a Bond website, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I corresponded with him a lot during the fall of 96 and he helped me with several suggestions. I had originally thought I wanted a villain that was tied up with Greek mythology, but it was Panos who suggested making him a mathematician.
This book deals with a pretty sensitive real-life conflict–the tensions between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. Any flack or political fallout from this? Did you feel compelled to take a point of view on the conflict, or did you go out of your way to keep the book, and Bond, neutral.
It was important that Bond and Britain stay neutral. I had to visit both sides of Cyprus-the Greek side and the Turkish side-so to get cooperation from both I had to present a very fair picture of the conflict. In the end of the book there is a rather maudlin plea for peace, and I guess that’s the viewpoint I wanted-and needed-to take.
I really enjoyed the DECADA. How did you come up with them? Was this revenge on old your old math teachers by any chance?
As I said, Panos came up with the idea of using a mathematician. Further discussion brought out Pythagoras and so I decided to make Romanos think he’s the reincarnated soul of Pythagoras. I hadn’t yet come up with The Union, but I was already thinking in terms of creating a SPECTRE-like organization. I guess the Decada was a trial run. Pythagoras really was the head of a secret society of mathematicians who had a lot of strange rites and practices.
Here’s another question from a fan. Peter asks: “Mr. Benson–I loved THE FACTS OF DEATH and personally thought it was your best novel. Were you inspired to have it take place mostly in Greece by COLONEL SUN or would you have put the novel there anyway?”
It was the Cyprus situation that came first, so Greece-or Turkey-would have been the natural offshoot from there. I decided to go with Greece simply because of my connection with Panos and because I personally wanted to go to Greece!
Can you tell us about the research trip you took for this book?
I was still working out the best way to do research trips. For this one, I thought maybe I should go earlier in the year, so I went abroad in February 1997. That proved to be too early, because many places I wanted to see in Greece were still closed for the winter.
Beginning with the next book, I found that the best time to go was between March and May. Anyway, this one started in England. I hadn’t been to the UK since 1988. There are a lot of sequences in the early part of the book that take place in London and the outskirts where Quarterdeck is supposed to be. I visited all of those places during those first few days, as well as did a lot of Glidrose/publishing business. I did interviews, I met the Fleming sisters, Lucy and Kate (Ian’s nieces) for the first time, I met Roddy Fleming (Ian’s nephew and head of the Fleming bank) for the first time, and I met my British editor for the first time. I then flew to Athens, where Panos met me. He had arranged to take a week off of work to be my guide around Greece. I couldn’t have done it without him. I stayed in the hotel where Bond stayed. We ate in the same places, visited the same casino, and went to all the locations in the book-except Santorini, which was closed for the winter. Chios was incredible. That abandoned, ancient city at the top of the cliff really exists. It was perfect for a Bond story. I flew to Cyprus on my own. I had arranged beforehand, as I did with Hong Kong, for guides to take me around to the places I needed to see. I spent a day and a half in southern Cyprus, where I toured the British military bases and the capital, Nicosia. I met with the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus at the U.S. Embassy, my first time ever in a foreign embassy. We discussed the political situation at length, and this was helpful. The next day I went to the Turkish side. One has to walk across the no-man’s land separating the city-a very strange experience. It’s as if time had stopped in that little half-mile-things were just as they were left in 1974, when the Turks invaded the island. There are still overturned cars and remnants of explosions. The UN peacekeeping forces stay in a hotel in the middle of the no-man’s land. A Turkish tour guide met me on the other side and we spent the day traveling through the north. It’s all very beautiful country. It was an experience I never would have had, I’m sure, had I not been writing a novel.
The first third of the book is set in your former home state of Texas. Tell us about your choices here. Was the Tex-Mex restaurant where Bond and Leiter dine a favorite spot of yours?
I really wanted to bring Bond back to Texas. Yes, it’s my home state. Gardner had Bond in Texas for FOR SPECIAL SERVICES. I wanted to take Bond to Austin, my favorite city in Texas. I figured that Felix Leiter was the best excuse for Bond to be in Texas. Fleming created Leiter as a Texan, so it made sense that he was living there now. It was easy enough to create a Texas-Greek connection in the plot, with M’s lover having taught at the university there. It was certainly a location I didn’t have to visit again to write about. I know Austin like the back of my hand. And yes, Chuy’s, the Tex-Mex restaurant, exists and it is indeed a favorite eatery. Bond always goes native when he’s in foreign places. Felix would certainly take him to a place like that because it is so representative of Austin and of Texas. I also have no qualms that Felix would order a pitcher of frozen margaritas because that’s just what you have to have when you’re eating Tex-Mex. Bond naturally turns up his nose at first, but once he’s eating and drinking, he enjoys it. I truly believe that would be his reaction. Chuy’s now has a sign on the wall that says something like “James Bond Ate Here.”
You said that THE FACTS OF DEATH was an attempt to write an Eon-type Bond movie. Did you envision actors in the roles? If so, who?
I would love to have cast a young Anthony Quinn in the role of Romanos, but I otherwise didn’t have a modern actor in mind. I pictured Lena Olin as Hera. I didn’t have any actors in mind for other roles. I populated it with a lot of real people though. Ray Winninger and David Ashcraft-two investigators in the first chapter-are friends in Illinois. Chris Whitten, a dead soldier, is a friend in the UK. Stuart Howard finally appeared with his full name intact-as a Scotland Yard detective. He returns in DoubleShot too. Tom Zielinski, a Chicago-area friend, appears as the sperm clinic doctor. Jack Herman and Bill Johnson, Texan baddies, were both friends of mine from Austin. James Goodner, another Texan, appears as a law enforcement officer. And finally, Panos Sambrakos appears, more or less as himself.
Here’s one of those annoying questions only a hardcore Bond fan like me would ask. In this book you mention that Bond has a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo R, yet Gardner’s Bentley was a Mulsanne Turbo–the “R” is a newer model. Honest mistake? Or did you imagine James upgraded at some point?
Gardner upgraded it to the R in one of his later books! Better check again!
I will! 😉 This book introduces your own gee-wiz Bond car; the Jaguar XK8. How did you come to choose this car? Did you consult with Jaguar the way Gardner did with Saab and Bentley?
I had a discussion with Peter Janson-Smith about what new car I should give to Bond. The two choices were the Jaguar XK8 and the new Aston-Martin. I decided to go with the Jaguar simply because I liked it better personally. Even though Ford owns Jaguar now, it’s still a British car. It’s designed in Britain by British engineers. I did indeed contact Jaguar and worked with one of the designers of the car to come up with the gadgets. Contrary to what some Bond fans complained of, every single gadget we had in the car was something that was possible. If it wasn’t already in existence, it was on the drawing table. All that crazy stuff such as color-changing pigment and holograms-these were all suggested by the Jaguar guy. He even did some blueprint drawings of the car showing where the gadgets would be. We had so much stuff that I decided to save some of them for the next book, which is why the Jaguar appears in HIGH TIME TO KILL.
Your original title for this book was THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Why was this title rejected? Were you surprised when it was later used as a title for a Bond film?
Would you believe that Glidrose and both publishers didn’t like the title? They thought it wasn’t “Bondian.” Go figure. I secretly enjoyed the irony of all that when EON came to produce their film titled-surprise, surprise-The World is Not Enough. I ended up using the title as a chapter title in the book. Peter came up with THE FACTS OF DEATH. I rather like that title. It’s very Fleming-esque, in my opinion.
High Time to Kill
HIGH TIME TO KILL is a clear fan favorite and arguably your most original approach to a James Bond story. Tell me how you came up with the idea to do a “James Bond meets Cliffhanger” type novel?
Sometime during 1997 I had read Into Thin Air and really liked it. I immediately thought how a great Bond story could be fashioned out of a mountain climbing scenario. So with that book, the entire premise centered around a mountain climbing expedition. Not only was it very Bondian and surprisingly had never been done before, but Ian Fleming was also a huge fan of climbing when he was a young man. It just seemed like something Fleming would have done eventually.
Mountain climbing had a place in Bond’s past, too-his parents were killed in a climbing accident. So that’s where the idea came from. Then and there I knew the setting would be the Himalayas. The next thing was to come up with a reason for the mountain climbing to occur. So I did the old Hitchcock trick and invented a McGuffin-a device that really means nothing but is the impetus for the plot moving forward. My McGuffin was “Skin 17,” the formula for an aircraft hull that could withstand a speed of Mach 7. I consulted with a guy that worked for a military aircraft company and I learned enough about it that I could spin some convincing mumbo jumbo about it, and that’s all I needed. The rest of the story was a test of wills between two men-Bond and Marquis. And that’s really what the story is about-these two men pitted against each other in the most extreme conditions imaginable.
Fate plays a major role in this novel when events are turned on their head by a plane crash. Was it a conscious choice to introduce an act of God as an element in the world of James Bond, or was it just an irresistible “twist?”
It was a conscious choice. I had to get that pacemaker at the top of the mountain. Then it becomes a race to get up the mountain and retrieve it.
The microdot in the pacemaker… great! How on earth did you come up with that?
It just came to me. I really don’t remember how I thought of it.
What about the Visual Library?
That was just an idea I had. When you think about all the information that’s available now on the Internet, such a concept isn’t too far away. I’m sure that similar data resources must exist now.
Bond fan Devin would like to know what you had in mind when you created Roland Marquis and how you would compare him with the other villains you’ve created?
I really wanted another Bond, a guy that was his contemporary, someone with the same skill set, someone British, and I wanted the two of them to have a history. So they had been at school together and were rivals. It was perfect. Can’t you imagine Kenneth Branagh playing Marquis? That’s who was in my mind the entire time. He’d be great.
I particularly like the fact that altitude sickness motivates Marquis’s classic Bond villain megalomania in a very believable way. Was this a conscious choice, or just the happy result of fusing a James Bond story and a mountaineering adventure?
Well I had to get the altitude sickness in there somehow! Giving it to Marquis was the logical choice.
So what about the real people in HIGH TIME TO KILL? You mentioned Kenneth Branagh as Roland Marquis-are there any other actors that you imagined playing roles?
I imagined Nicole Kidman as Hope Kendall. Jean Reno as Paul Baack. That’s about it. Real people-Paul Baack, of course, was one of my good friends in the Chicago area (at the time). He and Tom Zielinski have a Bond website called Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. The real Paul Baack isn’t Dutch, of course. Steven Harding, the Union baddie that helps steal the formula, is a real person, a friend I knew in Austin. The name Roland Marquis belongs to a real person that I know in the Chicago area. When I first met him I told him what a cool name he had and asked if I could use it for a Bond villain. He was flattered. The character in the book has no resemblance whatsoever to the real person, though-just the name. Randall Rice, the alias Harding uses, is a friend of mine from Texas. And finally, David Reinhardt, the shooting range instructor at MI6, is my longtime friend and fellow Ian Fleming Foundation board member who hails from Canada.
HTTK is the first part of a 3 book trilogy. Tell us what made you decide to tackle a trilogy of Bond books?
I didn’t know it was going to be a trilogy until I’d completed the outline for HTTK. Then I realized that I had this organization, The Union, and a mysterious leader, Le Gerant, and I thought I could bring these guys back. I talked it over with Peter and he said to go ahead, as long as each book could be read on its own without having to depend on the other two books. I think I accomplished that-you really don’t need to have read HTTK to enjoy DOUBLESHOT, and you don’t need to have read DOUBLESHOT to enjoy NEVER DREAM OF DYING. When you think about it, there are remnants of the plot in NDOD that continue on into THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO. Sure, it flows better and probably is a more satisfying experience if you do read them in the proper order. The same can be said for THUNDERBALL, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.
You’ve been complimented on how well you flesh out locations, and HTTK is one of your best books in this regard, yet you didn’t take a research trip to Nepal for this book. Can you tell us that story?
I meant to go to Nepal and had it all set up. The tour agency I was dealing with-and they specialized on Nepal-screwed up. Once again, I began in England, then went to Belgium, where a good part of the novel takes place.
In Belgium I visited all those locations in the book, including a doctor’s office, the police station, the hospital, and the hotel. I stayed in the Sarah Bernhardt Suite at the Metropole and had a lot of fun imagining how I could smash it up with a fight scene. At the hospital I donned greens and actually stood in an operating room and watched open heart surgery being performed. I went back to London and was all set to fly to Kathmandu-via India. You have to fly to India, spend the night there, and catch the plane to Kathmandu the next morning. I had my visa for Nepal, the plane tickets, and I went to Heathrow to board the plane. The agent says, “Where’s your visa for India?” Huh? “You need a visa for India.” The tour agency never told me that. They had completely forgotten to arrange that little important bit. Well, it would have taken me 24 hours to get a visa for India. My time in Nepal was going to be very limited as it was-only four days. By the time I could get a visa for India and make the trip, I’d have two days in Nepal before I had to turn around and come back. It wasn’t worth the wear and tear on my physical self. I was just going to Kathmandu. I wasn’t going to climb any mountains! So, instead, I spent a couple of days with the Gurkha regiment in Aldershot. They were extremely helpful. They supplied me with videos, photos, books, and spent hours answering my questions. They gave me Nepalese food. I got to know them well enough to create the character Chandra. It turned out that this was all I needed.
How did you research the mountain climbing details? The equipment, the effects of altitude sickness, etc.?
The mountain climbing stuff came from pure research. Books, videos, websites, what have you. My most valuable resource was a guy named Scott McKee, the first American that got to Kangchenjunga’s summit via the north face. He supplied me with maps and the routes that he took, described his day-to-day experiences, and read my book for accuracy when I was done. According to him, I was dead on.
When this book first appeared on Amazon.com it was titled A BETTER WAY TO DIE. What happened? Was there a last minute title change ?
Yes. That was my working title, based on the Gurkha motto. Everyone seemed to like it but at the last minute I think it was Putnam’s marketing people that suddenly wanted it changed. I really don’t know why. So we had to scramble for a new title. Someone at Putnam came up with HIGH TIME TO KILL. I wasn’t crazy about the title, but I could live with it.
You dedicate HTTK to your two mentors; Francis Hodge and Peter Janson-Smith. Can you share a bit with us about these two individuals and how they influenced your life and career?
Peter Janson-Smith you know about. He was Fleming’s literary agent and the man that guided Glidrose for many, many years until his retirement in 2000. He trusted me enough to give me the job of writing Bond novels. He had to have the Board’s approval, of course, and I’m sure he had a hell of a job convincing them! He’s been a good friend since I first met him in 1982. He gave me a lot of guidance during the writing of the books and he was a good editor. Francis Hodge was my directing professor at the University of Texas at Austin. I majored in theatre with an emphasis on directing. Did you ever see that movie, The Paper Chase, with John Houseman? Francis Hodge was a lot like the John Houseman character in that film. He had a lot of mystique in the Drama Department and he was a great teacher. Students were simultaneously afraid of him and in awe of him. He wrote the most widely used directing textbook in the country (Play Directing-Analysis, Communication, and Style). I learned more about life from Dr. Hodge than from anyone else. But most importantly, he really taught me how to tell a story. Everything I learned from him I have applied toward my writing.
In January 1999 you published your second James Bond short story, “Midsummer Night’s Doom.” We’ve already talked about how it was commissioned by Playboy as a sort of “James Bond meets Hugh Hefner” – so instead, let’s talk about your research. I’m thinking of a particular photo of you standing between the two beautiful playmates. Is there a story behind that?
This story was done in-between THE FACTS OF DEATH and HIGH TIME TO KILL. It was summer of 1998 and I was in the middle of writing HTTK. Playboy was about to celebrate its 45th anniversary with the January 1999 issue, which they were already planning and putting together. (They must have all the material for an issue at least four months prior to its publication, and the issue usually hits the stand one month before the cover date; thus the January 1999 issue is actually on sale in December 1998).
I honestly can’t remember who thought of doing a Bond short story again for the 45th anniversary issue, but I suggested doing a sort of humorous tale in which Bond meets Hugh Hefner. Since Hef was a huge Bond fan, had published Ian Fleming, and lived a Bondian lifestyle-and Bond was the ultimate playboy-it seemed to make sense. At least it was a nudge, nudge, wink, wink concept that everyone felt was appropriate. In the summer of 1998, Hef was about to throw the first “Midsummer Night’s Dream” party in five years-the last one was in 1993, I think-in which the guests must arrive in sleepwear. He had just separated from his wife Kimberley and was in party mode. He was also living with three blonde girlfriends. So it was to be a big event, with 1000 people invited. I think it was Hef’s personal assistant that suggested setting the story at the Midsummer Night’s Dream party. This is now an annual event, held the first weekend of every August. Since Hef would appear in the story as himself, it also made sense to feature two real-life Playmates as the Bond-girls. Hef’s office put me in touch with Lisa Dergan, Miss July 1998, and Victoria Zdrok, Miss October 1994. I had wanted a Russian girl and Victoria fit the bill-I actually requested her. Lisa was suggested by Hef’s office. I interviewed them both by phone and then met them in person later on several occasions. I wrote the first draft of the story in July but I needed to fill it in with authenticity. So my wife and I were invited to attend the pajama party! It’s safe to say that it was the party to end all parties-at least from our limited perspective.
The women wore lingerie and the men wore pajamas and it was just as I describe in the story. The food and drink was fantastic and the eye candy was phenomenal. It was a fairly surreal experience-at one point, around 3am, my wife and I found ourselves on the dance floor two feet away from the likes of Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Pamela Anderson. We met all sorts of other celebrities and Hollywood’s beautiful people. It was certainly a unique research trip. Back home, I finished the story quickly and turned it in before the end of the month. Other celebrities and real people are mentioned in the story, but the villain’s name was based on my good friend Doug Redenius, the vice president of the Ian Fleming Foundation. I called him “Anton” Redenius in the story. As I said before, this story wasn’t meant to be taken seriously-it was all in good fun.
What about the very impressive illustration for this story, and the other illustrations used on your Playboy work. Do you know who did these? Do you own any of the originals?
The illustrators are credited in each of the six magazines that featured my stories or excerpts from the novels. Playboy has always had great art direction. Even back in the days of the Fleming excerpts, the artwork was great. Playboys owns all this artwork, although some of the older stuff may have been auctioned off recently.
1999 was a big year for you. Not only did you publish “Midsummer Night’s Doom” and HIGH TIME TO KILL, but you also wrote a second movie novelization (The World Is Not Enough) and another James Bond short story. I’ll come back to all your novelizations later-tell me about “Live At Five?”
TV Guide came to Glidrose, in September 1999 (just as I was finishing DoubleShot) and said that they were doing a special James Bond issue to coincide with the release of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (the issue dated November 13, 1999).
Pierce is on the cover and is interviewed inside, there’s an article on the Bond women today, and some other stuff. They wanted an exclusive Bond short story that had something to do with television. It also had to be very, very short-I had a strict word count limit-and it had to be done, if I remember correctly, in a couple of weeks. It wasn’t easy. I decided to set it in Chicago because I live in the area and had access to a friend that is a television anchor, talk-show host, and local celebrity-Janet Davies, who appears as herself in the story. It was funny because she had to get permission from her bosses at the station in order for me to portray her as having a romantic dalliance with James Bond, even though it was fiction.
“Live at Five” is set in 1985 and marks the first time an entire James Bond story has taken place in the past instead of “five minutes into the future.” What made you decide to do this story as a remembrance?
The idea for the plot had to do with a Russian defector, an ice skater. In order for that to make any sense, the story had to take place prior to 1989, before the fall of the Soviet Union. Simple as that. So I framed the bulk of the story within the context of Bond remembering the events of that time prior to meeting the girl again in the present. The story has a nice twist, I think, when the identity of the girl is revealed.
In most trilogies Part II is always the darkest chapter, and this is certainly true of DoubleShot. In many ways it’s your most daring and controversial book. What inspired you to create a novel in which Bond is physically and possibly even mentally impaired?
Because the concept intrigued me. I was especially tired of seeing Bond portrayed in the films as a superhuman, someone that never gets hurt or has doubts or other physical and/or psychological problems. Fleming certainly did it. Bond is a mess in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, for example. After I had finished HIGH TIME TO KILL, I did want to make the second part darker, and I did it by weakening Bond. I thought, Wouldn’t it be interesting if Bond wasn’t operating at 100%? I used that head injury he sustained in HTTK as the basis for his problem. I did a lot of research on what that head injury could possibly do to a person, consulted a physician, and came up with the lesion on his brain. All the symptoms he suffers in the book are very real and could occur to someone with that condition.
Was this concept a hard sell to Glidrose?
No, they liked the idea. So did the publishers.
This book really divided Bond fans. Some enjoyed the experiment, but others were quite hostile about what you “did” to 007. What do you say to those fans that felt you went too far in this book?
Well, not much. Look, any writer in those shoes has to try new things. After thirty-plus books and twenty-plus films, not to mention comics and computer games and other media that has featured original Bond stories, a writer can’t just keep writing the same thing over and over. John Gardner experimented. Even Fleming experimented (look at THE SPY WHO LOVED ME!). A writer’s got to be willing to get out there and try new things and also be willing to fail. I suppose in some fans’ eyes I failed on that one, but there are just as many fans that think I succeeded. Bond is such a subjective thing because there’s so much baggage that comes with Bond. Everyone has an opinion of what Bond should be. A lot of those opinions are very diverse. I treated the character in this book as realistically and faithfully as I could. Fleming’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is the best precedent I can name for what I did.
We get a nice look at Bond’s domestic life in DoubleShot. You’ve been to London many times… Have you ever gone in search of Bond’s Chelsea flat?
Yes. I pinpointed where I thought Fleming placed it, although I never named the exact street (and won’t now!-but you might be able to figure it out if you know the area). There’s a sequence in the book in which Bond walks from a Chinese restaurant back to his flat. Everything I describe on that walk is there, including the restaurant. I may have slightly changed the name of the restaurant, I can’t remember.
Where else did you travel for this book?
This may have been the longest research trip, and it was in April-May 1999. It began in England again because I also did some work on THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH novelization by visiting the set at that time. For DoubleShot I had to scout out some of the London locations, such as the Ivy restaurant, Bond’s neighborhood, SoHo, New Scotland Yard, and some other places. From the UK I went to Spain. My wife, who hadn’t joined me on a trip since the Hong Kong one, met me at Heathrow after flying in from the US, and we flew to Alicante together. The Costa del Sol tourist agency was extremely helpful in setting up the itinerary. It was particularly nutty because the Spanish press followed us around, everywhere we went. We had this huge “entourage” with us all the time. Very bizarre. We visited all the locations in the book-Malaga, Ronda, Marbella-but most importantly I had to educate myself on bullfighting.
That was my next question-the bullfighting…
The Spanish hold a great respect for it-they consider it an art, not a sport-and I wanted to understand this and portray it in such a way that was respectful. I do believe Fleming would have appreciated it, just as Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles did. Maybe Fleming did, but there isn’t any evidence of it. I read a lot about it but the best insight I got was from one of Spain’s most famous and popular matadors, Francisco Rivera Ordoñez. His grandfather was the one that Hemingway wrote about. Francisco is young, handsome, and had married into Spanish royalty. Usually the press isn’t invited to Francisco’s home but he changed his mind and allowed my “entourage” to visit because of the Bond connection. Francisco was preparing for his bullfighting season by practicing in a private bullring and my wife and I had the opportunity to watch. He killed two bulls “in my honor.” I learned a lot about the ritualistic qualities of the corrida and tried to impart this in the book. I felt it was very Fleming-esque. As far as Spain is concerned, it was one of my favorite countries I visited during my tenure as Bond author. The people were exceptionally friendly and helpful and we were in a particularly beautiful part of the land. Ronda was spectacular. The hotel at the top of the cliff there is a perfect Bondian location.
Where did you go from Spain?
After the week in Spain, my wife flew back to the US and I went on alone to Gibraltar. I spent a few days there, touring the mountain and the village. The highlight was meeting the Governor of Gibraltar at “The Convent,” which is the seat of the government. I had no idea what the reaction would be when I wrote to say I wanted to tour the building because I wanted to set a James Bond story in there-and a terrorist plot would be foiled inside! But he was very gracious.
From Gibraltar I went across the strait to Morocco, my first trip to Africa. That was certainly a very different world. I started in Tangier and had hired a guide to show me around. One day we went out into the country to Chefchaouen and some of the other locales in the book. From Tangier I went to Marrakesh. I thought I would be using that city, since I had featured it in one chapter in HTTK, but I ended up moving the spot to Casablanca. Marrakesh was my favorite place in Morocco, that’s for sure. It’s everything you imagine Morocco to be. Casablanca wasn’t as exotic as I expected but it was perfect for the Union locations I had set up. The DoubleShot trip was really an incredible experience (I even rode a camel!), but exhausting. I didn’t want to go on such a lengthy trip again in the future, but I’m afraid the next one was nearly as long.
Sounds like you had some amazing experiences.
I should point out that I’m not going into very much detail here about the research trips. These are capsulized accounts. I mentioned that I had written a memoir about my Bond work, and that’s where I go into a day-by-day breakdown of everything that occurred on these trips. Those who really want to know the nitty-gritty of what I saw, who I talked to, and when, will just have to wait until that’s published, if ever!
Duality plays an important role in DoubleShot, and you follow this theme through with twin Bond Girls, Hedy and Heidi Taunt. How do you answer criticism that Bond bedding twins was just a little too much of a male fantasy, even for a James Bond novel?
Really? Too much of a male fantasy? For James Bond? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s how I answer it. Actually it was Hugh Hefner that inspired it. He had twin girlfriends at the time. If Hef could do it, why not Bond? Besides, not a whole lot happens between Bond and the twins until the very last page of the book. Would you believe my British editor really liked those characters and wanted me to bring them back in the next book?
Why didn’t you?
Featuring the twins once was enough!
Bond fan Devin would like to know what your thought process was in creating the villain Domingo Espada. Was he “based on anyone or any past character specifically, and how did you want him to come off in the final novel?”
Espada wasn’t based on anyone-I just imagined what a retired matador would be like. There are people in Spain that feel that Gibraltar should belong to the country and not to Britain. That was the impetus for setting the story in that locale-another territorial dispute. Espada is simply one of the hard-liners that look at Gibraltar as a “thorn” in Spain’s heel.
Your “henchwomen,” Margareta Piel, is certainly one of your most kinky creations. Was she inspired by the great cinematic Bond femme-fatales like Fiona Volpe, Fatima Blush, and Xenia Onatopp?
I wouldn’t say she’s inspired by any of the film characters. She’s inspired by that type of female character-the femme fatale, as you say. The Hera character in THE FACTS OF DEATH belongs in the same category. They’re all cut from the same fabric.
Bond uses the alias “John Cork,” a name Bond fans will recognize as the co-author of The James Bond Legacy and co-producer of the DVD documentaries. Can you talk a bit about why you chose John, and what other real-life characters appear in this book?
It was simply John’s turn. He’s a good friend and fellow board member of the Ian Fleming Foundation. Other folks that appear in the book are Peredur Glyn (as Bond’s “double”), a guy I got to know off the Bond newsgroup-I thought that was such a cool name; Stuart Howard returned as the Scotland Yard agent; Brian Berley, an artist friend, appeared as a law enforcement officer; the female doctor in London, Kimberley Feare, is named after a girl I knew high school and am still friends with; and the manager of the Chinese restaurant that Bond eats at, Harvey Lo, was the manager of a Chinese restaurant in New York that I used to frequent when I lived there.
DoubleShot… Your title?
Nope. My working title was Doppelganger. After the book was written I was pushing for Reflections in a Broken Glass. My American editor came up with DoubleShot. I like it.
Never Dream of Dying
NEVER DREAM OF DYING is my favorite book of yours. I think Tylyn Mignonne is your best drawn female character and Bond’s relationship with her is truly romantic. Did you set out to make your 5th original book a love story?
I did indeed. I wanted Bond to fall in love again. I felt it was important. The fact that it tied in with the business with Marc-Ange Draco, relating as it did to Bond’s relationship with Tracy, contributed to the way the book clicked.
When you first decided to do a book in which 007 would become involved in the world of celebrity and show business, did you consider setting some of the action in Hollywood?
There is a scene or two in Hollywood, but I always wanted the main action and climax to be at Cannes. It’s more exotic and has the feel of the European jet-set. It’s a more Bondian location than Hollywood!
Tell me about your research travels for this book?
This was another long trip that occurred in April-May 2000. Again, I started in England and then took the Eurostar to Paris. Kevin Collette, a French Bond fan and journalist, had offered to be my guide in Paris and Cannes. He was covering the Cannes Film Festival for work so I was riding on his coattails, so to speak.
Once again I visited all the relevant locations that appeared in the book. I made one change in the story locations once I got to Paris. I had originally planned for the scenes in which Bond runs through the dog show to be in a movie set, but I was unable to find a suitable one in Paris. Kevin got me into a television studio and that worked even better, so I used that. I spoke to a member of the French police bomb squad to get info on the methods the Union were using to attack the film festival. Victoria’s Secret sent me tapes of some of their fashion shows so I could get an idea of what those were like since I was unable to attend any in person. I did get inside the Louvre to scout out how a fashion show could occur there.
Did you go to the Cannes Film Festival?
Kevin and I took the train to Cannes to arrive in time for the festival. It was madness.
This was one place where the name James Bond didn’t open any doors. If you weren’t famous or if you didn’t have that coveted press badge, then you were dog doo-doo. I guess I was dog doo-doo. I had to observe all the events from the sidelines. Kevin and I bribed a friend of his that worked as a security guard in the main theatre in order for me to get inside and get the lay of the place quickly. Luckily I was able to soak up enough of the atmosphere of the festival to be able to write about it. I had a lousy time in Cannes.
And from there?
Things picked up after Cannes. Guide duties were taken over by Pierre Rodiac, a French Bond fan and president of Club 007, one of the two big French Bond fan clubs. (The other club, Club James Bond, is run by Laurent Perriott, whom I met in Paris. He and his cohort Francois-Xavier Busnel showed me a good time in the city one night.) Anyway, Kevin stayed on at Cannes to do more work while Pierre and I went to Monaco. Pierre had arranged a tour of the Monte Carlo Casino, where a scene in the book takes place. I wanted to play one of the games but couldn’t afford it. You have to be able to drop $500 without blinking in order to have a good time there! From there we went to Nice, which was really lovely. The film studios outside of Nice were perfect for my purposes at the beginning of the book. These were the same studios used by Hitchcock for TO CATCH A THIEF, and by Truffaut for DAY FOR NIGHT, among other famous pictures. We also found a great equestrian farm nearby that doubled as Tylyn’s home.
The next leg of the trip, in Corsica, was one of the best of my Bond adventures. Pierre and I flew to Corsica, rented a car, and toured the island for a week. It was fantastic. We started in the north and made our way south. The most interesting locales were the prehistoric sites that feature in the book, where Stonehenge-era monoliths and stone-castles still exist. Fascinating stuff. We ended up in Bonifaccio, which I’m sorry I couldn’t use in the book. It was by far the best place on the island, but logically I had no reason to take any characters there.
You’ve already talked about how you handled the character of Marc-Ange Draco, and the controversy surrounding it, so let’s talk instead about some of the other Fleming characters who appear in this book. Rene Mathis, for example…
He’s an important character in the Bond Universe. I wanted to bring him back. This being France and all… I don’t think there were any other Fleming characters besides Draco and Chi-Chi.
What real people appeared in this book?
Pierre Rodiac, my guide in Corsica, became the alias of Le Gerant. Kevin Collette, my guide in Paris and Cannes, became “Bertrand” (his middle name) Collette, Bond’s ally in France. Dave Worrall, another Ian Fleming Foundation director, became a physician. Laurent Perriott became a French policeman. The sadistic eye doctor, Dr. Gerowitz, has a name borrowed from the real ophthalmologist I spoke to about the lasers, Dr. Rob Gerowitz. The assassin “Schenkman” is, of course, Richard Schenkman, the president of the American James Bond Fan Club during the 80s and now a filmmaker in LA. Dan Duling (also in “Blast from the Past”) finally made it into a book with his last name-he’s the director of the film they’re shooting in France. Stuart Laurence, the lead actor, is actually Stuart Howard-when Stuart was an actor in New York he had to use a stage name because there was already a Stuart Howard in Actors Equity. That was his stage name. Robert Cotton is a Bond fan I know through the newsgroup-he was the screenwriter of the film they’re shooting. Gilles Jacob, the head of the Cannes Film Festival, makes a cameo as himself, along with other stars that are mentioned. Finally, Tylyn takes her name from a Playboy Playmate that’s a friend of mine, Tylyn John, Miss March 1992. However, I always pictured the Swiss actress Irene Jacob in the role of Tylyn Mignonne.
The retina tattoo and the eye torture is quite grisly, but very effective and Bondian. Is this rooted in reality?
Yes. I consulted an ophthalmologist and ran everything past him. There have actually been ophthalmologists that sign their initials on the back of a patient’s retina after performing laser surgery! Drawing a simple tattoo isn’t too far removed from that. Yeah, that was one of the worst tortures in a Bond book, all right. I’ve had that surgery done to me, too, and it doesn’t feel very good when they do it right!
Bond fan Fraser asks: “Mr. Benson: How did you expect the fans to react when you introduced Bond’s male secretary in the novel? Also, how did you come up with that idea?”
I wasn’t sure how they would react but I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I simply introduced him in NDOD and had planned to expand his role in further books. The plot of Tattoo didn’t really exploit him well, and after that, well there weren’t any more books. I wanted to develop him into a cool ally that worked out of London and sometimes crossed the lines of regulations in order to help Bond. We’ll just have to say that Nigel is an unfulfilled idea.
In this book the villain’s target is the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve heard it said that a flaw in selecting this as a target is that vain showbiz glitterati are not necessarily the most sympathetic victims. Did this ever occur to you when you were writing the book, or come up in editorial sessions?
I disagree. Think about it a minute. What if dozens of our favorite movie stars were suddenly killed in a tragic accident or, God forbid, a terrorist attack? We’re talking about beloved celebrities. True, some celebrities are not beloved, but think about it a minute. It’s terrible and tragic when innocent people are killed, but it makes a far more spectacular impact when famous people are killed. Remember when John Lennon was shot in New York? Of course, he was John Lennon, but you see, the entire world mourned him. In America it was like when John F. Kennedy was shot. What if you had a whole bunch of people that had fans and admirers all over the world, and these people were suddenly murdered? If you think 9/11 made a statement, what kind of statement would that make? No, I think I hit it right on the head. Goro Yoshida, the guy hiring the Union to do this, wanted to strike at Western commercialism, and what better way than to hit at the motion picture industry?
The ending, when Bond and Tylyn say goodbye in a Nice cafe, reminds me very much of the bittersweet ending of MOONRAKER. Was this a nod to Fleming by any chance?
Not consciously, but I did want Bond not to get the girl at the end. In a way, I guess I was thinking about MOONRAKER but it wasn’t an intentional homage.
NEVER DREAM OF DYING was, for once, your own title. Was it clear sailing, or did Glidrose and the publishers fight you on this?
It was clear sailing, for once. That was my working title and it stuck. Everyone liked it. It sounds like a Fleming/Bond title, doesn’t it?
You’ve mentioned how you prefer the UK jacket art to the U.S. editions, yet with NDOD the UK jackets changed. Why the change? Did you have any input in regards to jacket art during your tenure?
I still don’t know why the jackets changed. They hired a new artist. Maybe someone at Hodder wasn’t happy with the covers, I really don’t know. I never had any input into the Hodder jackets. I was able to suggest things for the Putnam jackets. For example, I suggested the pair of faces for DoubleShot and the Corsican knife for NEVER DREAM OF DYING. Most of the time, though, I had no say in what was on the jacket.
I’ve noticed almost all your author photos were shot by Paul F. Dantuono. Who is he?
Paul, whom I mentioned earlier as being one of the characters in “Blast from the Past,” is a photographer I got to know in New York. We became the best of friends. He’s a very talented photographer and did some real high profile work for ad agencies, corporations, as well as fabulous artsy stuff for his own amusement. He’s since moved to Rhode Island.
The Man With The Red Tattoo
Seeing as this book deals with international terrorism, how did 9/11 effect the writing or the marketing of this book?
It didn’t in any way. The book was finished before 9/11. The outline was written in the fall of 2000, researched in the spring of 2001, and written during the summer of 2001. By 9/11 it was in the hands of the publishers. They didn’t change a thing.
Where were you on 9/11?
I was at home. I was online at the time and a friend instant-messaged me to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first I thought it was probably a single engine plane pilot that had made a huge mistake, but my friend insisted that I go turn on the television. I did and was in time to see the second plane hit the tower. Like everyone, I was in shock the rest of the day-the rest of the week!
Red Tattoo is set almost entirely in Japan and is one of your best books location-wise. Tell me about the research trip you took for this book?
I have to hand it to the Japan National Tourist Organization for their help, above and beyond the call of duty. They really got into the project and were probably the most helpful in any of the countries I visited. My friend James McMahon, who lives in the Chicago area, is a huge Japanese enthusiast. He can speak the language well, has been there numerous times, knows the culture and history, and is simply well versed in all things Japan. Add to that, he’s a huge Bond fan and knows the books and films inside and out. I asked him to accompany me to Japan to be my guide and it was a very smart move. He was also helpful in the initial planning of the novel. He made excellent suggestions for locations around Japan and provided insight into a number of aspects. The JNTO helped us plan an itinerary that incorporated all the locations I needed. On the Japanese side, my friend Yoshi Nakayama, a journalist and Bond fan in Japan, helped organize a number of things that the JNTO couldn’t do, such as the visit to the Soaplands establishment to interview a Soaplands girl and the boss (who was most assuredly a Yakuza). (And I assure you that interviews were the only things that took place there!) Yoshi also arranged for us to meet Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, who were both extremely gracious and welcoming. We had dinner at Mie Hama’s house! One of the more interesting things was the visit to the Seikan Tunnel.
I remember you telling a story about Seikan Tunnel to Bond fans at a luncheon in Chicago. You had an interesting experience there…
For those who’ve read the book, there’s a lengthy sequence that takes place there-it’s the longest underwater train tunnel in the world. Civilians aren’t allowed to go down there, but the JNTO helped me arrange it with Japan Rail. They took us down (in hardhats) so that I could map out a chase route. James and I were on our way to Sapporo, in Hokkaido, so the Japan Rail people arranged for the train to stop in the tunnel, unscheduled, so that we could get on! You should have seen the faces of all those passengers when the train stopped unexpectedly in the tunnel and in walked these two gaijin (foreigners)! What the heck are these two guys doing here??
What about the other Japanese locations?
Since the novel and film of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE took advantage of the main island of Japan and the southern portions, I took Bond into the northern island, Hokkaido. Incredible and beautiful place. Truly a magnificent country, Japan.
Benesse House on Naoshima Island is truly a Bondian location. The buildings there could well have been designed by Ken Adam. In actuality, they were designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando, who happened to be on the premises when we were there. It was an interesting challenge to adapt the art museum at Benesse for my purposes.
While you’re on these trips, how do people react when you tell them you’re the guy who writes the James Bond books?
As I’ve said before, it opens a lot of doors. There was always a lot of confusion in many of the countries-they thought I wrote the Bond films and that was always a problem. Some paper in Spain reported that I was there researching what would be the next Bond film and of course that was incorrect. In Japan, when James and I arrived at Naoshima Island, where Benesse House is located, there was a huge crowd of people waiting at the pier for the ferry. That had never happened to me before.
[For an excellent day-by-day account of Raymond’s research trip to Japan, read James McMahon’s TO NIPPON, WITH LOVE at Her Majesty’s Secret Servant.)
Gunfights and fistfights abound in MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO, and the body count is quite high. It’s probably your most violent book. Is this because you’re trying to evoke the milieu of an Asian action movie in this novel perhaps?
It’s my most violent book? Really? It doesn’t strike me that way. To answer your question, no, I wasn’t trying to evoke an Asian action movie. I think I was influenced by Asian action movies more with ZERO MINUS TEN than with THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO.
The end of Chapter 17 is certainly meaningful and moving to readers of Fleming. Did you do this for the fans, or did you feel it was critical to give a nod to Bond’s ordeal in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE?
It was critical. I wanted the “Kissy ghost scene,” as I called it, not only for me, but for the fans, for Fleming, and for Bond. It had to be done. It was the heart of the book. It’s also the best scene in the book.
Many fans were delighted by the return of Tiger Tanaka. Were there any other Fleming characters in this book? How about cameos by real people?
No other Fleming characters, other than the mentions of Henderson and Kissy. Yasutake Tsukamoto plays a major role as the head of the yakuza clan. “Take” (“Tah-keh”) was the head of the JNTO in Chicago and he was most instrumental in arranging my research trip. I was pleased to honor him by making him a major character in the novel. My friend Yoshi Nakayama portrays Tanaka’s assistant.
Ikuo Yamamaru is the real leader of the Ainu people. I honored him by making him Bond’s ally in the story. Reiko (Tamura) was inspired by a Japanese journalist I met by the name of Reiko Ishizaki-a lovely woman who was my vision of the character. She interviewed me for NHK television. On camera, she asked me what my ideal Japanese Bond-girl would be and I replied, “Well, you.” She turned a thousand shades of red and gestured for the cameraman to cut! Bob Greenwell is a real guy at the UK morgue that features in the early part of the book. He supplied me with all the info pertaining to that location. William Kanas is a lawyer friend of mine that I turned into the artist that sculpted the object in which the Kappa hides. And finally, Chris Lodge is a UK inspector. Chris is the son of noted British novelist David Lodge. David had attended a charity auction in which a “character in a Bond novel” was donated by IFP. David won the auction and gave it to his son Chris.
Time for a fan question. Ed would like to know: “How did you come up with the character of Kappa and more specifically, was the character of Kappa a conscious reaction to Nick Nack in TMWTGG?”
Again, I thank James McMahon for the Kappa. He told me about the mythology behind the Kappa character and I thought it was too good not to include it. So I made the Kappa a henchman. And no, I never thought of Nick Nack, although I can understand in hindsight how some people might see a similarity. The two characters are small people. Other than that, though, there isn’t much else. The Kappa is grotesquely deformed, facially.
I know this book went through a rather difficult titling process…for the longest time I remember you calling it simply “The Japan Book.” Can you tell us how you finally arrived at the title THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO?
Yeah, I think it was the most difficult one to name. My working title was RED WIDOW DAWN. The “red widow” referred to the mosquito, and the “dawn” referred to the time of the attack. IFP nor the publishers liked that. I submitted another list of possible titles. At one point, someone submitted the title Bite! (I kid you not.) One of my titles was THE MAN WITH THE COLD TATTOO. I rather liked that. This eventually evolved into Red Tattoo and I went back into the manuscript and made Yoshida’s tattoo entirely red.
You’re co-hosting a trip to Japan in September that will feature visits to many of the locations in THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO. Feel free to plug. What can Bond fans expect from this trip?
If the tour company can get 30 paying customers, then it will happen. It’ll be great, I can assure you. I’ll be a guide, Doug Redenius will be a guide, and James McMahon will be a guide. Also Yoshi Nakayama. We’ll visit most of the locations featured in the film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and my TATTOO novel. The guests will also get to meet Akiko Wakabayashi. Just visiting places like Noboribetsu and Benesse House is worth the price, I can assure you. Any serious Bond fan will want to come on this tour. Don’t let the price deter you, because it would cost at least that much anyway for a trip to Japan.
Let me slip in one collector question. “Doublenoughtspy” asks: “As a big collector of Fleming and Gardner Proofs – can you talk about what proofs were done for your Bond novels? For instance I know there were no proofs for the movie novelizations. But were there UK & US proofs for all of the others? Do any proofs exist for the short stories?”
There were no UK proofs for any of the books, including novelizations. Putnam produced proofs for the original novels only. I don’t know how many of each title they made. I was given a handful, which usually went to some select friends. I know some proofs sold for a lot of money to collectors through various venues. I can tell you that the only book that went through some significant changes between the proof copy and the final was ZERO MINUS TEN.
Many fans have asked if you had any plans, outlines, or story ideas for a seventh book? Is there anything you could share about what might have been in Benson Bond 7?”
As I said earlier, I was pretty burned out when THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO was done. I was about to ask IFP for a year off when they decided to stop the continuation novels temporarily. I really didn’t have an idea yet what I was going to do with a “next” book. There was, however, another Bond short story I wrote in-between NEVER DREAM OF DYING and THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO. It wasn’t very good. I did it on spec, just for something to do during the off months between the outline and research trip for THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO. It was called “The Heart of Erzulie,” and it took place in Jamaica. IFP thought it was too much of a Fleming pastiche. I guess I agree. Oh well, it kept me busy for a month.
An unpublished Raymond Benson James Bond short story!? Can you share any more details? Isn’t ‘Erzulie’ a Voodoo Goddess?
You’re correct. The story had a voodoo theme to it. Believe me, it shouldn’t see the light of day!
I saved your three movie novelizations for last so we could talk about these as a set.
To start, how the heck do you spell novelization!? -With an “s” or with a “z”? And is this a word that is used among the publishers, or do they call these books “Movie tie-ins” or something else to that effect?
It’s that UK vs. US spelling thing. In America it’s a “novelization.” In the UK it’s a “novelisation.” But I also found that the UK publishers (and IFP) tend to call it a “book of the film.” My American publishers refer to them as “movie tie-ins.” And then everyone also refers to them as novelizations. Go figure.
John Gardner wrote two novelizations during his tenure (Licence To Kill and GoldenEye). Are novelization duties a requirement of the reigning “continuation author”, or is it a separate deal all its own?
It’s a separate deal, independent of the continuation novel contract. With the original novels, the writer is paid by royalties; with the novelizations, the writer is paid a flat fee.
It’s really EON/DANJAQ’s baby-they pay for it. It’s considered one of the pieces of merchandise that is produced to promote the film. If IFP didn’t have the exclusive rights to create James Bond novels, then EON could shop the novelization around to anyone they wanted. But because of the complex deal arrangement, they have to go to IFP. Then, IFP gets the writer and finds the publisher. So far, IFP has simply gone with whoever’s currently doing the original books-John Gardner while he was aboard, and me when I was doing it. They certainly don’t have to do it that way. There’s nothing in the continuation novel contract that states that you’re going to get to do any novelizations.
Can you talk about the process of writing a novelization and differences between doing these and the original novels?
The time period is much, much shorter. I normally had about six to eight weeks to write a novelization, whereas I had a whole year for an original. With the novelization, you’re handed the plot, the dialogue, the settings, and you just have to flesh the script out in prose. Sometimes you have to embellish some scenes or even add some because if you just put into prose what’s in the script, you’d be about 30,000 words too short! There is still some research involved. For example, with TOMORROW NEVER DIES, I had to do some research on Vietnam, and with DIE ANOTHER DAY, I had to do some on Korea. I didn’t travel to locations. It was research that was done from books, the Internet, libraries, and what have you. I did, however, visit the sets in the UK for TOMORROW NEVER DIES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. I didn’t get to go for DIE ANOTHER DAY. Sometimes I ask for and receive design drawings from the film people.
You’ve said you sometimes picture actors as the characters you write… When you’re writing the noveliztions, do you picture the cast members?
It’s helpful. I’ve often asked for head shots of actors I didn’t know just to get a feel of what they look like.
Who do you picture as James Bond? Is it a different Bond from the one you picture when you write an original?
I should distinguish right here and now that I don’t consider my novelizations a part of my Bond “series.” In my novelizations, Bond is Pierce Brosnan. No question about it. The dialogue from the films is practically verbatim in the books. In my originals, I always pictured the shadowy guy I imagined when I first read the Fleming novels as a kid. I never pictured Sean Connery. He was more like the guy in the Daily Express comic strips.
Did you ever consult with the screenwriters?
Yes. I talked to Bruce Feirstein on TND and TWINE, and I communicated with Robert Wade on DAD. It was mainly asking the odd question to clarify something in the script. They were always very supportive of the work I was doing.
Does your novelization need to be approved by Eon and the studio? How involved is Glidrose (IFP)?
Everyone and their dogs approve it. First Glidrose/IFP certainly approves it from a book standpoint. Then EON has to approve it. I’m not sure exactly who it is at EON that approves it-I’m pretty sure that with DAD, Robert Wade saw the manuscript. Then, as with the originals, the British and American publishers get involved in the editorial process!
John Gardner attempted to keep continuity with the literary Bond in his novelizations, resulting in some awkward moments (Felix Leiter being feed to sharks-twice!). Did you feel you needed to keep continuity, or did you treat the movie Bond as separate a character altogether?
At first I tried to. In TOMORROW NEVER DIES I made a reference to the fact that Bond had just been to Hong Kong (in ZERO MINUS TEN) but I gave up doing that with the other two. It’s just too complicated. The films are separate from the books-it’s like two parallel universes featuring the same character! There have also been things in the film series that contradicts what’s in the books, and vice versa. So it was best to simply think of the novelizations as what they were-books of the films. I wonder if anyone caught the reference I made in TOMORROW NEVER DIES to the discrepancy between the literary Bond’s early life and what the films have said about his early life? (Hint-it has to do with his education.)
As a matter of fact, I think I have! You explain why in the film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE Bond claims to have studied at Cambridge?
You got it!
Did you ever seek the advice of John Gardner-whether it be how to handle the novelizations or the Bond books in general?
No, it wasn’t necessary.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES
TND is famous for having a very short production schedule that put great pressure on the filmmakers. Did this effect you as well?
I don’t remember it being any different from the other ones-for me, that is. The script kept going through a lot of changes, even while I was writing, but at some point we “froze” the script I was working from because it would have been impossible to keep changing the novelization to keep up with the script. I think if you compare the final film with the novelization, there are more differences than in the other two I did. TND is by far the best of the three novelizations I wrote, in my opinion. I had more freedom with this one, I was able to expand scenes, add stuff, change dialogue-whatever I wanted, and nothing was ever a problem. I think it’s important that the novelization not be exactly the same as the film. Who wants to read a carbon copy of what is essentially a visual medium? The book should be an add-on, something to give fans of the film a little more background, something more to chew on.
It should be a different experience within the same universe created by the original film. I think the novelization of TND accomplished this. The other two didn’t.
You flesh out, very effectively, Eliot Carver’s backstory. Can you recap for fans of the movie who may not have read the book, and tell us how you came up it?
I’m not going to recap it-just read the book! But to answer your question, I made it up. There were some clues in the dialogue that he was raised in Hong Kong and inherited the newspaper from a Lord Roverman… I really can’t remember what all was in the script that may have been cut. I made up all the stuff about Carver going after his father and hiring a man to blackmail him.
What about the other characters? You reveal that Stamper is impervious to pain, something that is all but missing from the finished film.
It was in the script I worked with. I was surprised when I saw the final film that all of that had been edited out! Ironically, the character of Renard inherited this trait in the next film.
Bond fan Johnny Oreskov asks: “I quite liked the idea of having Bond and Wai Lin speaking Danish to avoid being understood by their enemies in the stealth boat. An intelligent move by Bond, and a nice pay off to the linguistics joke from the beginning. Was this entirely your addition or did it come from the script?”
That was my addition. You’re right, it was a nice payoff.
In this same vein, I really enjoyed the chapter in which Wai Lin is given her mission, a sequence that isn’t in the film. Why did you feel this chapter was necessary?
As I said before, you have to expand the story to fill out a book. You’re given a word count that must be met, so you have to do something! It made sense to give some backstory to Wai Lin. How did she come to be at Carver’s party in Germany? What was she after? It’s kind of glossed over in the film so I gave her a reason to be there.
You said you visited the set. Did you sense any tension between the director, cast, and producers?
I visited the set but I didn’t see any filming. They were all away on location someplace. I went mainly to look at set designs, costumes, and gadgets. You remember that underwater drill thing the bad guys used to punch a hole in the ship? From the script it was impossible to visualize what it looked like. I especially wanted to see the drawings of that.
Henry asks: “Is it true that an early draft of the TOMORROW NEVER DIES script resembled your ZERO MINUS TEN, with a planned attack on the Hong Kong Handover?”
I’ve heard that but I’ve never seen it. I can’t confirm it. Perhaps Bruce Feirstein can!
Both Pierce Brosnan and the director Roger Spottiswoode have said that the movie was called “Tomorrow Never Lies” until an MGM typo changed it to TOMORROW NEVER DIES. Did this effect you? Is your original manuscript called “Tomorrow Never Lies?”
The one I worked from was always called “TOMORROW NEVER DIES.” I got it quite late, April 1997. I think filming wrapped in June if I’m not mistaken. The book had to be turned in by June as well.
What did you think of the finished film?
I enjoyed it but I’d really rather not comment on what I think of this film or that film, or these books or those books-for the same reason that I don’t update the BEDSIDE COMPANION.
I don’t feel as if I’m in a position anymore to be a critic on this stuff. Because I was involved in the creation of a tie-in product accompanying the film, it’s really not right for me to comment one way or the other. I will say that TND might be my favorite of the Brosnan films.
The UK hardcover TND is fantastically rare and sells for $300 and up on eBay. Do you know why this is?
There weren’t many printed. I think less than 3,000.
Did you manage to put any real people in the book?
Yes. James McMahon makes an appearance as a naval captain, I believe, and a guy I know named Melvin Heckman appears as Bond’s mechanic! I also wanted to refer to “M” by the name I gave her in THE FACTS OF DEATH, Barbara Mawdsley. I believe that was the only thing that EON wouldn’t let me do.
The World Is Not Enough
TWINE seems to be a bit more of a straightforward novelization than TND-we don’t get quite the same amount of character backstory and, from what I can remember, no additional scenes. Why is this?
There’s some, mostly in the explanation of Elektra’s fake kidnapping and her relationship with Renard. That’s all mine.
Other than that, if I remember correctly the script didn’t leave much room for embellishment.
How did you approach the character of Elektra King? Psychologically she’s quite complex. Did she feel more like a “literary” character than, say, Christmas Jones?
I had a lot of trouble with her. I never could reconcile her motivations in the story. There were some ethnic/political aspects to the character in the very first draft of the script that I saw, but these were cut out and I wasn’t allowed to use them. I can’t really comment on what those were.
Did you have any trouble reconciling two such different “Bond Girl” character types in the same story?
Not really. When you think about it, it’s still the formulaic “good girl/bad girl” situation.
Fan Rory Congi asks, “Given the apparent underlying emotional themes in TWINE — particularly during the scene where Bond shoots Elektra — did you ever intend to go into a deeper depth in regards to how it effected Bond personally. If so, what stopped you?”
I don’t think so. It happens at the climax of the story so there’s not a lot of room left in a denouement to explore that.
I recall you saying that you visited the set of TWINE during your research tour for DOUBLESHOT. Can you tell us about the experience?
Again, the unit was away on location. I had a long session with Peter Lamont, the production designer, so that I could understand all that nuclear reactor stuff worked in the submarine toward the end. I walked on the set of the underground mine. I saw the set that gets sawed up by the helicopters with the rotary blades. It was a visual reference research trip.
The title The World Is Not Enough was revealed quite early, but then there was a period when Eon started saying they weren’t certain this was going to be the actual title. What were you told the title of the film was going to be and did it ever change?
I don’t recall that. I seem to remember that as soon as I was involved with the novelization, that was the title.
There is a line missing at the end of the UK edition of TWINE. Any idea why this is?
Yes, and I’m still mystified by it. I had built in a recurring motif of a Turkish lullaby – in part to explain Elektra’s character. It worked very well. But for some strange reason, the British publisher didn’t care for the ending that referenced it. They cut it right out. The American publisher, however, liked it, and kept it in. That’s why I’ve always maintained that the American edition is my preferred “cut.”
Die Another Day
This 40th anniversary film features many “winks and nods” to Fleming and past films–you included a few that were not in the film. Where these in the script, or did you just get into the sprit of things and create your own?
The ones that were in the film were in the book, but it was actually IFP’s idea to include something from every film in the book, even if it didn’t appear in the script. I think I was able to do that.
Some of the references are fairly obvious, but some may be a little obscure. I wonder if there are any fans out there that caught them all. I seem to remember at one point IFP was considering having a contest to see who could find them all, but that idea was dropped.
Wow! So you’re saying there’s a reference to EVERY Bond film in your novelization?
Well, there were when the manuscript was turned in. Four of them ended up being edited out… I guess that’s why there never was a contest!
Your book contains a terrific chapter with Bond in Seoul, Korea, something that was not in the film. Can you tell us about this?
That was one of my two contributions to the story. In the original script I worked from, that hospital scene (after Bond is released from prison) is in Korea. He escapes and suddenly he’s diving off a ship into Hong Kong Bay. How did he get there? I had to come up with an elaborate way for him to escape the hospital, find funds and clothes, and make his way to Hong Kong. I was surprised to see in the final film that they edited it to make it look like the hospital is on a British ship that’s already in Hong Kong Bay. That wasn’t in the original script at all.
Another terrific addition to the story is the chapter where you detail exactly how Moon survived the waterfall plunge and his backstory with Miranda Frost.
Again, I felt it was necessary to explain how a wanted Korean officer could suddenly become a Caucasian millionaire in less than a year.
Were there scenes or chapters that you wrote for this book, or any of the books for that matter, that you had to later cut because they were cut from the film?
Yes. For some reason my hands were tied much more with DIE ANOTHER DAY than with the others. There were new people at DANJAQ involved with overseeing the licenses and merchandising, and there were new directors at IFP. The previously mentioned Seoul scene and the chapter explaining how Colonel Moon survived the waterfall, met Miranda Frost, and changed his identity were the only original things I was allowed to add. For this book I was sent daily updates on the script and had to change the text to mirror the new script pages up until the book was finally turned in. I wanted to add more to Jinx’s background and explain why she happened to be at the Cuban clinic, but it was thrown out.
Did you think that could have had something to do with the now aborted “Jinx Movie”?
No. This was way before that idea was even being floated.
In your novelization, Verity is clearly a lesbian and clearly not Madonna. Why is this?
That scene went through many versions, probably more than any other scene. In the original script she was clearly a lesbian but all that was cut when Madonna took the role. I thought all the references in the book were cut too but maybe some remained-or perhaps those changes came after the book was already at the publishers. I can’t remember.
Bond fan “Triton” asks; “I am interested to know if the Q in the novelization of DIE ANOTHER DAY is Major Geoffrey Boothroyd in the literary continuity or if he is another character?”
I’ve always thought that “Q” is Major Boothroyd-at least Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is him. In the films DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE the character is known as Boothroyd. It wasn’t until GOLDFINGER that the films started referring to him as “Q.” It’s still Boothroyd. Cleese is another matter. He inherited the “Q” title, but he’s not Boothroyd, just as Judi Dench’s “M” is not Sir Miles Messervy! However, I believe that Bernard Lee and Robert Brown played the same character. In my original novels, I more or less patterned my Boothroyd after Desmond’s characterization. Desmond was a friend, he supported my work, and I came to view the character and Desmond as indistinguishable.
The invisible car was very controversial-did you feel obligated to explain the technology in your novelization to make it more credible?
Did I really explain it? 🙂
The title of this film was revealed while the movie was deep in production. When did you learn the title? Did you ever hear it called by another title–“Cold Eternity” or “Beyond the Ice” perhaps?
Never. All those titles like “Beyond the Ice” are baloney. Those were rumors generated by fans or press and were never seriously considered. When I got the script it was called DIE ANOTHER DAY.
The cover art on Amazon.com is not the cover art that was used in the book. Any idea why?
No idea. I think it was because early poster art was submitted by the publishers and then they changed the cover afterwards.
Any real people in the book?
One. A local friend and Bond fan, Ed Werner, appears as “Mister Werner,” an employee at the ice palace.
Would you come back and write the novelization for Bond 21 if asked?
I suppose I would if I were asked. I guess it depends on what I’m doing at the time.
Let’s talk about your post-Bond work? Evil Hours was your first non-Bond thriller, correct?
That’s right. It was inspired by a true-life case that occurred in my hometown in West Texas when I was in high school. There was a serial killer going around abducting women and dumping their bodies in the oil fields. This was before the term “serial killer” had even been coined. It occupied the headlines for years during that time and I was always interested in exploring it for a story. In early 1998 I decided to spend the two to three months between Bonds to write it. THE FACTS OF DEATH was completed and ready to be published, and I had outlined HIGH TIME TO KILL. My research trip for HTTK wasn’t scheduled until March/April of 1998, so I had some time. I went back to Texas, contacted as many people I could find that were associated with the case, went through the case files at the sheriff’s department, and quickly decided that I couldn’t write a true-crime book.
There were too many open-ended questions about the case. So I decided to create a novel out of some of the aspects of the case. I created a fictional town, made up a lot of situations and characters, and wrote a real story with a satisfying conclusion. I’ve always called the story something of a cross between Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet).
It’s really about the dark underbelly of what appears to be a safe small town. After I finished the book I didn’t do anything with it. I got busy with HIGH TIME TO KILL and then suddenly I was into my busiest year as Bond author, 1999. In the year 2000 I met some people involved with a new online e-book company called Publishing Online Inc. They were interested in publishing the BEDSIDE COMPANION as an e-book and print-on-demand book, which I was happy to let them do. They then commissioned from me a “serial novel” that they could put on their website to attract customers. I gave them Evil Hours and they were very pleased. It was sold as an e-book and print-on-demand book. Unfortunately, the company went out of business a year later! I got the rights back. Very recently, Twenty First Century Publishers have re-published it with a new (and better) cover. I also did some revisions here and there of the text. Evil Hours is better now than it was. I still have a limited handful of the original Publishing Online editions for sale through my website at a reduced price, but I also encourage fans to pick up the new edition.
You also wrote a book about the rock band Jethro Tull. Like The James Bond Beside Companion, was this another labor of love?
Yes. I know the band personally and I’ve always been a big fan, since the very early days even before Aqualung! Being a child of the sixties and someone that was in high school in the very early seventies, I was greatly influenced by the so-called “progressive rock” movement. My tastes in music are very eclectic but if I had to pick a particular style that I’m most enamored with, it would be prog-rock. Tull was into that genre for a little while in the seventies, although they’re really a band that has gone through a number of changes and styles. They’re still touring, selling out concerts, and putting out albums. Actually, here’s an interesting story-there’s a James Bond connection to Jethro Tull. The early band that evolved into Jethro Tull was originally called “The Blades”-named after none other than the card club that Bond frequents in the Fleming novels. Ian Anderson was and still is a huge Bond/Fleming fan. That’s how we got to know each other!
Last year when the band was in Chicago, the Ian Fleming Foundation presented to Ian a large framed piece of art that Dave Reinhardt, one of the foundation’s directors, put together, in appreciation of the Tull/Bond connection. It showed facsimiles of the MOONRAKER first edition cover, the first page of text that mentions Blades, the DIE ANOTHER DAY novelization cover and first page of text that mentions the fencing club of Blades, and miniature reproductions of the bridge card hands from MOONRAKER and the two swords used in the film!
Are Jethro Tull fans as opinionated as James Bond fans?
Of course! 🙂
Speaking of music, you’re an accomplished pianist and composer. Many Bond fans have heard you perform a Bond “suite” on the piano. Didn’t you do this recently for John Barry?
Yes! It was in June 2002, at the Ian Fleming Celebrity Golf Tournament at Stoke Poges in the UK. The Ian Fleming Foundation puts this on as a fund-raising event.
The Foundation tries to give a “Goldeneye” Award every year to an individual that has contributed something significant to the world of Bond. That year the award went to John Barry so the evening became something of a Barry tribute. John was there with his wife and young son, David Arnold was there to introduce him and give the award. Other EON people were there-Michael Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Lee Tamahori, Rosamund Pike, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, and others. I played a 12-minute “suite” of John Barry-Bond music, solo, in front of that elite crowd and Barry himself. I was very nervous. But it went over well and Barry gave me a big hug on stage. It was truly a gratifying moment in my life, as I’ve always had great respect for him.
Face Blind is your most recent book. Can your tell us a bit about the book and how you discovered the unusual condition “prosopagnoisa”?
Again, through a Bond connection! John Cleese hosted a four-part documentary on BBC television called The Human Face. Guest stars included Pierce Brosnan and Elizabeth Hurley. One segment talked about things that could go wrong with faces and face recognition. “Face blindness” is a real condition-albeit very rare. As soon as I saw that show, I thought it would be a great premise for a character. I did some research and found a couple of people that actually have prosopagnosia and interviewed them. I do hope everyone gives Face Blind a shot-I feel it’s my best published book.
You’ve written a new thriller… Can you tease us with a few details?
Until I’ve sold it, it’s best not to talk about it. Suffice it to say that it’s another suspense thriller in the Benson mold with twisted characters and a complex plot. I’m also in the process of developing a new mystery/suspense series of my own.
Will any of your post-Bond work be turned into movies?
That would certainly be nice. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
During this series the most frequently asked question from the fans was whether you’ve read any of the James Bond fan faction on the web, and if you have, what are your general impressions?
I have not, not because of any prejudice or anything like that. When I was actually writing the Bonds, I wasn’t allowed to read anything about Bond that a fan had written. Sometimes a person wrote to me with a Bond “idea.” Once I realized that it was someone’s idea, I had to stop reading it. This was a contractual and legal obligation. I usually had to forward those things to IFP.
On behalf of everyone at CBn, I want to THANK YOU for giving us so much of your valuable time and for being so open and so candid with your answers.
And thank you to all the fans that have supported me over the years. I love you all.