Read a full transcript of Boyd's public Q&A session at the Southbank, celebrating the UK launch of 'Solo'
Questions from the Audicence
You spoke about keeping the literary Bond distinct from the filmic one. Do you think you succeeded in doing that?
Yes, I think I did succeed, totally, because I've written films, I've directed films. I'm a novelist who moves from the world of novel to the world of cinema, and the two art forms are really very distinct. If I were writing this novel thinking that it would be a potential film, it would be sixty pages long instead of three hundred and twenty-six. You move from a world of absolute freedom and total generosity, to a world of compromise, parameters, and impossibilities. It sounds very banal to say, but film is photography - you're always looking through a lens. Therein lie its strengths, but also huge problems. Daniel Craig is a wonderful actor, really one of our finest actors ever - I've directed him in a film, so I know what I'm talking about - but even Daniel, with all his massive talents, cannot replicate the nuances of one paragraph of a novel, it's just impossible. So, whenever you're writing a novel, you'd be very well advised to forget everything about the world of cinema. When it came to writing a Bond novel, it was the literary sources that leapt out, not the cinematic ones.
How come you have included "M" but not "Q"?
Well, there is no "Q" in the novels. There is an "M", who is very, very well-described by Fleming, and is based on Fleming's old boss in Naval Intelligence in World War II, but the character "Q" is an invention of the films. There is a "Q Branch" in the novels, where "Q" stands for "quartermaster". If you were in an Army battalion and you needed a new shirt you'd go to the quartermaster, so that's what "Q Section" does in the novels. So, there are people who work in "Q Section", but there's nobody called "Q", although I have written a particularly snotty young man who advises Bond about what inoculations he will need when he goes to Africa and asks whether Bond wants his tickets paid for in advance, but there isn't a "Q". But "M" is very, very closely described, and he's a very key figure in the Bond novels, not just because he's the head of the Secret Service, but because Bond and M's relationship is very, very intense throughout the novels and he is a man who is loved, honoured, and obeyed, as the marriage vows go! Fleming's father died in World War I, Fleming orphaned Bond, at the age of eleven, both his parents died at eleven, and I think there's a very strong paternal link between "M" and Bond, which I sort of investigate. It's all there in the Fleming novels, but, alas, there is no "Q".
There's a "Q" expert though in the novels.
Well, there's a man called Major Boothroyd in the novels, but Fleming happily picked the brains of many of his friends. I knew a man - the very first person who published me, as a very young writer in my early twenties - called Alan Ross, and Alan knew Fleming at the end of his life, and they used to watch cricket together at Hove in Sussex. Which was very odd, because Alan had been in the Navy in the War, and he had had a nervous breakdown as a result of what he experienced on destroyers in the War and had electro-convulsive therapy, so Fleming used to ask him what it was like and Fleming put that into "You Only Live Twice". Alan got his reward as "Commander Ross" in "The Man With The Golden Gun" as a result. So, he went to all his friends who had specialist information and used it in his novels. He often rewarded them by making them characters in the novels.
Did you enjoy writing the old Fleming's characters such as Bond and "M", or did you prefer creating your own new characters in the James Bond world?
Well, I think I probably enjoyed creating my own characters, because I had complete freedom. I used Bond and I used M and I used Felix Leiter - who is Bond's great friend and an ex-CIA agent, who now works for the Pinkerton's Detective Agency - so, Felix Leiter shows up and there is a very brief couple of paragraphs where there is an exchange between Bond and Moneypenny. Bond's suffering from flu and a sore throat and is a bit irritated by Moneypenny's slightly snarky banter. So, again, it's just a nod. Unlike every other character in the novel, and there are many of them, including the two women that he has a relationship with, and the villain - and there are several villains - are invented by me. So, it was a pleasure to people the novel with my inventions alongside these iconic figures from Fleming's.
If Bond was a real person with his fifty-cigarettes-a-day, his half-bottle of vodka, and his steak dinners, he'd be either obese or dead by the time he got to forty-five. How do you bring him to modern readers who may not be so bowled over by his extravagant lifestyle?
I think it's not a problem. I mean, people read novels set in the past and 1969 is not quite ancient history, but it's still a long time ago, so I don't think there's any problem for a reader. If you're reading Hilary Mantel on Henry the VIII, it's not that difficult. I've set novels almost exclusively in the Twentieth Century, and some of them at the very beginning of the Twentieth Century, and I think that time travel aspect of fiction is one of its great many lures, and so to go back to Chelsea in 1969 and see Bond walking up the Kings Road is a part of that time travel pleasure. The fact that he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day, well people did! The mountain of booze he consumes is mind-boggling. I felt like an anxious wife married to an alcoholic. I was counting Bond's drinks as I read through the novels, thinking "No, no! Not another!" Even in that opening excerpt that I read, he drinks a bottle of champagne and then a bottle of claret. One of the great drinking sessions that is not drawn attention to is when Bond flies from London to Istanbul in "From Russia, With Love". In those days, of course, you had to stop and refuel.
So, he flies to Rome airport and he has two Americanos at the bar in Rome airport, then they fly to Athens and at the bar in Athens airport he has two Ouzos, and then, as they fly from Athens to Istanbul he has two dry Martinis and half a bottle of red wine. Well, you know, he'd have to have been poured off the plane, but not a bit of it, he's straight into action! The fun, if you like, is in seeing those old habits, which nobody took any exception to at all, and we're now much more clean-living folk, but we certainly don't drink quite as much as that - especially not to go on a very dangerous mission.
You mentioned earlier on about the coincidences in Fleming's novels, and you have Bond analyzing the coincidences in the book. Was that why you included that, because of the coincidences that happened in the Fleming books, you thought you'd bring that into your story?
Good point. I've written two spy novels of my own, and whenever you have a complex plot there's a great deal of thought that goes into eradicating coincidences, because coincidences are the easy way out of a tight corner. One of the attitudes I gave one of my spies was that if it looks like a coincidence then it probably isn't. As a spy, I think that's how you view the world. Bond bumps into this woman three times in the course of a couple of hours, and the spy in him is immediately thinking "is she following me?" So, it's that kind of awareness of the unlikelihood of coincidence, turning the concept on its head, that prompts him to investigate her further. I think that as a novelist writing a complex plot that you're allowed at least one coincidence. After all, life is full of coincidences!
Have you read any of the other continuation novels and which was your favourite out of the Fleming novels?
I read Kingsley Amis' novel, "Colonel Sun" when it came out. Kingsley Amis was a complete Bond fan. He wrote two books about Bond, one under his own name and one under a pseudonym - Lt. Colonel William ("Bill") Tanner - called "The Book of Bond or, Every Man His Own 007", how to be a James Bond type person in your daily life. A bit sad, really, but that was the extent of Kingsley Amis' fandom. So, I had read "Colonel Sun" but I hadn't read any of the other continuation novels. But when I finished "Solo" I thought that I ought to read Sebastian Faulks' novel. I know Sebastian quite well and I thought I ought to read it, just to make sure that there's no unwitting overlap. So, I read it and I was really impressed. He's done an incredibly thorough job and Sebastian overtly tried to write in a way that he imagined Fleming would write, and I think it's almost uncanny, in a way. But he certainly knows his Bond as well as I do. But my favourite Bond novel is "From Russia, With Love" because it's a real spy story. It's a classic spy story of a honey trap set for Bond, which he falls right in to. I think it's possibly structurally, and in terms of writing, Fleming's best. But I also like his last novel, which is much maligned, "The Man with the Golden Gun", which again is a straightforward mission: "Go and kill this bloke." I'm writing an introduction to it at the moment, so it's very much on my mind at the moment. But I think "From Russia, With Love" - which was the first one I read as a panting pre-adolescent - I still think was his best work.
This is an incredible launch, but was there ever times in your career that you wondered if it would ever get to be like this?
Well, I certainly never imagined seven Jensen Interceptors leaving the Dorchester Hotel to put a book on a Jumbo Jet and fly it around, so it's quite astonishing. But I think this is what happens when you enter the phenomenon of Bond - it is truly global. I think for people who are not British, it's Big Ben, the Queen, James Bond, and Princess Diana, and that's Britain! So, you forget as you enthusiastically take on the job that you are entering this world where everybody knows the name James Bond. I was talking to a Frenchman who came to fix something in my house six weeks ago and I told him that I was writing the James Bond novel that was just about to come out and he said "Ah, oui, James Bond. C'est mondial." And of course, he was absolutely right, it is mondial. So, to answer your question, I never really expected it, and actually it's not very good for novelists to have all this hoopla. We have to be anonymous, faceless people. I do write a lot of films and I've had a lot of films made, so I have seen the world of movie excess and a lot of my friends are actors who have become incredibly famous, not just Daniel Craig, and the scene - not just the amazing rewards, because, in a way, they want that - but also the terrible price they pay for that fame. But, as a novelist, in a way it's the last thing you want. You want to be able to move unobserved through the crowd, taking notes, and I suspect I will retreat into that world once all this razzmatazz is over.
Sign up for occasional email updates from MI6. Get notified of breaking Bond news, and digests of recently releases features: