MI6 talked to author Charlie Higson about researching the first Young Bond novel - SilverFin...

SilverFin: In Conversation With Charlie Higson (2)
8th March 2005

MI6 talked to Charlie Higson earlier this month about his work on the new Young Bond series and the first book, SilverFin. Speaking for the first time to a James Bond website, Charlie Higson discussed his work on SilverFin and the future of the Young Bond series in this serialized MI6 interview.

Research

How did you research the character before starting to write SilverFin? Did you read all the Fleming, Amis, Gardner and Benson novels?

I only read Ian Fleming's novels. I had read them before and I re-read all of them. The problem is, if you try and keep up with everything that everyone else has written, it is actually completely impossible. Some of the other books end up tying themselves up in knots trying to keep everything together and keep Bond at the right age. Past the Fleming books, he would have probably have been too old to carry on doing what he did, so it was very much a case of "Fleming is the core". Those are the books that they wanted to continue, so it was very much to fit in with those. The best research you can do if you're writing a James Bond book is to read the Fleming novels, so I re-read them all very carefully and made notes on the bits that relate to his past. I also read a lot of books about the books, and various Bond reference titles.

I also read a lot about Ian Fleming himself and his early life because obviously the character in his books is his fantasy idealised version of himself. It's his voice that comes through very strongly in the books and gives us that sense of who James Bond is. The one thing I didn't try and do was take his voice. I don't think you can, it's so distinctive and so well done - and so outrageous occasionally - but I did want to try and keep the character as much as possible in keeping with what he wrote about and what he himself had done.

"...you don't read the Fleming books for the plots, you read them for the incidental detail, the characters, the villains, the situations... the plots themselves are pretty simple."

 

How did you come up with the plot for SilverFin? How difficult did you find it to be original considering the sheer size of the series?

The problem with James Bond is that all the possible plots have been done, there have been so many books and films, and all the parodies as well... So trying to do anything within James Bond that hasn't already been done to death or has become corny is difficult. But at the same time, what I wanted to do was keep it within the classic Ian Fleming structure of the books.

Really, you don't read the Fleming books for the plots, you read them for the incidental detail, the characters, the villains, the situations, but actually the plots themselves are pretty simple. There really isn't any great sleuthing or detective work. He always puts a lot of effort into making what the villain is doing plausible and interesting and a sort of insight into a world. So I wanted to do that, and keep the plot fairly simple as an action plot, and to have a classic Bond villain.

I thought it was good that it's for kids because you can split that villain between the child who is at school with Bond, and the father, and the henchmen who work for the father. So all the classic Bond elements are there.

What really convinced me that these things work, and would be really fun to do, was that I might be able to do something new as they are set in the early 1930's. You can get away from all the stuff that's been well trodden and get away from the gadgets and the cold war stuff. You can get away from Bond with a clock ticking down to zero...

Speaking of technology, as SilverFin is set in the 1930's, how do you justify the technology used (or alluded to) in the book?

Well the references are there to genetic engineering, and that's the resonance the technology would have today for a modern reader and its good to have something they can relate to, but I did very carefully research what was known at the time. It is conceivable that what they are doing in the book could have been done.

Persues' friend does say at one point, "we might be barking up the wrong tree, genetics is the future". This was during the time that Hitler and the Nazi's were beginning to investigate all that, to try and justify their views. Obviously it was during the second World War that things like experiments on twins were done in the genetics arena. So in the book they are not doing genetics, it does specifically say that they are not trying to do it through breeding, they are trying to do it through the use of hormones - which were known about at the time. Research into that area of freaks and giants etc, had been going on since about the 18th century. So all the science in the book is pretty feasible.

 
Above: Charlie Higson

What are the major differences between the English and American versions?

There are a couple of very mild sexual references, but they're not really "sexual references", they are physical descriptions of the girl - which they objected to. There was one line about her pinning him down with her thighs that they didn't really like. They are very prudish over there.

The other significant changes were to do with violence. I had to change some of the descriptions of Meat Packer's body coming out of the lake. I think the eel doesn't come out of his mouth any more, it comes out of his shirt collar. It's a shame because kids love all that. The problem with American publishing is that children's literature is a huge market but it's dominated by the book clubs and various school bodies and librarians who are very set on what they will and will not read - and some very bizarre stuff is banned there. It's a strange country because you can go down to the local supermarket and buy a real gun, but you can't by a toy gun anywhere.

 

Is the castle in SilverFin based on a real location? Did you visit anywhere for location research?

No. It is real up to about Fort William and once they start driving out of there I decided to make up the villages and the loch and the castle.

The problem with doing a project like this is you've got to do a huge amount of research in a) the James Bond and Ian Fleming area, b) the whole Eton thing, c) the 1930's setting and d) all the technical stuff. Ian Fleming was up on all that and I know everybody is going to be reading the book trying to find mistakes in it. So I felt that once I'd got to the area where all the main action was to take place, I thought I'm going to have to free myself here and make up where this is, otherwise I'm going to be constantly restricted by reality.

There are an awful lot of castles up there, lots of remote little castle on islands... There is one castle near Kyle of Lochalsh on which I loosely based the castle in SilverFin on. There are a lot of them up that way and they are quite distinctive, but I didn't want to be bogged down in researching everything about the location.

I've sort of taken the route that Ian Fleming did, which was to make sure the first two thirds of the book were rooted in solid reality and were heavily researched, which gave him the confidence to do whatever he liked in the last third. If you can get the small details right, you can pull off the big stuff without anyone noticing.

How long did it take to write SilverFin, from the moment you first started sketching out ideas to the final editing process?

Well the main process of writing the book took around a year. There is stuff that trickles on after that. Once it got into the stage of fact checking and re-checking it did go backwards and forwards quite a lot, but the bulk of it was pretty much done in a year. I've just finished the second one, so it's been around two years since I did SilverFin.

SilverFin is released on 3rd March 2005 in the UK by Puffin, and will be released in the USA on April 27th 2005 by Miramax.
Buy Now - Amazon UK
Buy Now - Amazon USA

Stay tuned to MI6 for the next installment. Many thanks to Charlie Higson.

Young Bond Novels
SilverFin
Blood Fever
Double Or Die
Hurricane Gold
By Royal Command

  Essentials
Young Bond Central
Young Bond Articles
Young Bond News
Play Young Bond Games

Interviews
SilverFin : 01 - 02 - 03 - 04 - 05 - 06
Blood Fever : 01 - 02 - 03 - 04
Double Or Die : 01 - 02 - 03
Hurricane Gold : 01 - 02 - 03 - 04 - 05
By Royal Command : 01 - 02 - 03