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Charlie Higson reveals the thinking behind the Young Bond book titles

22-Oct-2006 • Young Bond

Mondays Are Hell, The Wound Man, The Richest Man in the World — remember these books? They are some of the bestselling thrillers ever. What about Love From a Russian? Sound more familiar? Maybe not. They were only working titles, after all. If I tell you that they ended up being called Moonraker, Dr No, Goldfinger and From Russia With Love, you’ll know that we’re talking about Bond: James Bond - writes author Charlie Higson in The Times.

Ian Fleming had a genius for names, but even he had to work at it. A trawl through his personal files reveals the author’s attempts to get them right, just right. Love From a Russian doesn’t work, somehow. From Russia With Love is spot on. He tinkered endlessly with titles. There was a comma dropped from the original From Russia, With Love before he was happy with it. Apart from Mondays Are Hell, he experimented with Wide of the Mark, Out to the Clear Sky and the Inhuman Element, before hitting on the far more evocative Moonraker.

His most drastic near miss was with Live And Let Die, his second novel which, like Moonraker, was written when he was still experimenting with the Bond formula. Fleming had his heart set on calling it The Undertaker’s Wind. Far from evoking the scouring wind that blows across Jamaica, bringing with it the scent of death, it calls to mind a fat, sweaty undertaker letting off as he embalms a stiff following a lunch of sausages and beans. Thank God he was persuaded that the title was open to misinterpretation and came up with the considerably more effective alternative.

When I was called upon to follow in Fleming’s footsteps and write a series of Bond books for children, the hardest part was coming up with titles. Following on from all the novels, short stories, films, parodies and rip offs, it is extremely difficult to come up with any title that sounds suitably Bondian without also sounding crass and laughable.

For my first book I had the idea of going for something that in no way echoed Fleming. My suggestion of Out of Breath was swiftly dismissed, however. We (“we” being me, Puffin and the Fleming estate) had to stick to tradition. Then somebody at Puffin suggested that “silver” was a good word. Fleming was fond of gold. He gave us Goldfinger, The Man With The Golden Gun and Goldeneye (the name of his villa in Jamaica). As my books were a sort of “junior” Bond, maybe we should use “silver”.

We started combining it with various other words. The first suggestion was Silverskin, but as it’s a pickled onion, we dropped that idea sharpish. Then there was Silverfish, one of those horrible shrimp things you find in damp bathrooms. Silverback? No. A type of gorilla. I suggested several titles that I thought were more dynamic, like Silverfist and Silverhead, but they sounded too much like dubious sexual practices. In the end we chose SilverFin. It sounds Bondian, it’s mysterious and, let’s face it, it’s not a million miles from Goldfinger.

We had similar problems with the second book. My idea was to call it Double M — it had echoes of 007 and M — but the publishers felt otherwise. This was a children’s book, designed to appeal to pre-teens. Double M wasn’t exciting enough. “All right,” I said, “what about Blood Fever?” Blood Fever it was.

The third book in the series proved even harder to name. The plot is more of a mystery than the previous two. It concerns ciphers, computers, kidnapping and a climax set in the London Docklands, none of which lends itself to a snappy title. However, we see Bond’s first visit to a casino, so that threw up suggestions. There is a crucial game of cards during which Bond tries to “Shoot the Moon”, an all-or-nothing tactic that carries a huge risk. That became my working title for the book, but I had to concede that it sounded too much like a romance novel. We ended up with three titles we all liked — Double or Die, The Deadlock Cipher and N.E.M.E.S.I.S.

The problem was that one day we’d lean towards one title, the next day another. After weeks of argument we came up with the idea of letting the readers decide. Kids love a competition and they can vote via our website. The problem is that I won’t know their decision until publication. On January 3, at a special event, I will finally discover what my book is called.

Ian Fleming died too young. Who knows what other great titles he would have dreamed up? He left a tantalising glimpse in his notebooks. Among unused titles were The Sardonyx Society, The Different Drummer, Choice of Weapons and my favourite — Mobile Butcher’s Service.

Maybe I can borrow one for a future Young Bond novel, or maybe I should just let them remain the ghosts of what might have been.

Charlie Higson is author of the Young Bond books published by Puffin. To vote for the title of the third Young Bond book, out on January 4, visit www.youngbond.com

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