MI6 talked to author Charlie Higson about the concept of Young Bond and his first novel SilverFin...

SilverFin: In Conversation With Charlie Higson (1)
28th February 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.

A New Era

Immediate reaction from a lot of fans to the announcement of the Young Bond series was quite negative. Did you expect this?

As a big Ian Fleming fan, if I'd read that some bloody TV comedian was setting out to write books about James Bond as a schoolboy I would be absolutely livid! What right has this person got to do this?! I've tried to be as truthful as I can to the Fleming books. I know that the big thing that is going to send the fanatics into homicidal mania is the fact that in these book James Bond is going to be at Eton for more than two terms. But I have got a very good way of dealing with that! Eton is a big issue, but it all gets explained in book five, in an incredibly exciting way! But you're going to have to wait another three or four years, if I'm still alive by then!

"I know that the big thing that is going to send the fanatics into homicidal mania is the fact that in these book James Bond is going to be at Eton for more than two terms."


How were you approached to write the series?

Well they approached me, I didn't fish around. Over the past few years, Ian Fleming Publications have managed to wrestle back all of the Fleming literary rights, and they are very keen to see that the rights are looked after better than they used to be, and they are properly exploited and not frittered away on cheap stuff.

I know they have various quite high profile projects in the pipeline, Young Bond being one of the first ones.

They wanted to get proper writers to write some books for a younger readership. Obviously once you're about 14-15 years-old, that's the age a lot of people start reading the adult novels. But there is a readership below that, who really know the character from the films and enjoy the character but the books are a bit "too rude" for them to read!

They very much didn't want these books to be like the James Bond Jr. cartoon or James Bond 003 1/2, kind of just cheap, cheesy cash-ins.

Speaking of the earlier spin-offs, how do you see Young Bond compared to others, such as James Bond Jr. and 003 1/2?

Well the Young Bond books are meant to be proper books, and they are about James Bond himself. They're not some nephew or spin-off, and they are completely to tie-in with the Ian Fleming novels, with the timescale and the facts. Well, we have to agree on the facts, obviously Fleming changed things as the books went on.

So, IFP were approaching proper adult thriller writers and children's book authors. The original plan I think was that a different writer would write each book in the series. They obviously changed their minds on that, and they wanted a bit more continuity in the series.

It would be awful lot of work for each new author to have to repeat similar research for each novel...

Yes, I'm not quite sure what their thinking was on that. I think one of the problems they had was actually finding the right people to do it, because there are hardly any thrillers written for children. There's a lot of fantasy stuff, and there's a lot of jokey stuff, and there's stuff on the harsh reality of modern life stuff, but there are very few thrillers. So there weren't a lot of writers they could approach and I don't know about the adult thriller writers. I don't know all the ins and outs of why they went for me.

One reason I do know is that one of the women working for IFP, who has been very involved in this project, had been my original editor when had been writing adult thrillers. She knew my work very well, she knew that I was a big Bond fan, and that there were a lot of Bond references my other writing, and she knew that my writing style was fairly accessible to kids, and that I had kids of my own.

Above: Cover artwork for the British first edition paperback by Puffin.

So you've got your own guinea pigs..

Yes, exactly, to try the book out on... But the exact reason for why they went with me and not the others in the end... I don't know.

An Old Formula... A New Twist

Fleming's novels were famously labeled as "sex, sadism and snobbery". Without the adult themes of sex or the sadism for a younger reader, how true to Fleming's original creation do you think Young Bond can be?

Above: Ian Fleming's personal opinions often leaked into Bond's thoughts.

Well there is sex and sadism in the books, but obviously it's for kids so they don't really want to read too much about kissing and cuddling and all that nonsense, but certainly once you get into the older end of the readership - 12, 13 - they're starting to get interested in that sort of thing. So, there are girls in the books and they are in their way quite sexy...

So it's left largely to whoever is reading it, rather than it being up front like Fleming?

Yes, I think the readers can extrapolate it out. But it's certainly not explicit as it is in the adult books. But you can't write a James Bond book without some good strong female characters. That's what I've tried to do, to get some interesting girls in there, and older women as well, and some James Bond villainesses too.


Well kids love violence... There's a lot of violence in the book. There's some quite nasty stuff. It's obviously been slightly toned down compared to the adult books, sadly the Americans have toned it down even more. But kids love blood and gore and violence and that kind of thing, but obviously he can't go around killing people, he doesn't do that until the war. I also didn't want a teenage hero going around flattening people, but people do get killed. There is that side to it, and the villains are sadistic. I've tried to keep that classic James Bond structure in the books: confrontation with the villain, competition with the villain, gets into villain's lair, gets captured, is tortured, escapes, gets his revenge. That is the classic structure that I've used.

You have to be slightly careful with adults torturing children..

But it's OK the other way around?

Yes [laughs]... that side of it is all there.

The snobbery is probably the area that I've diverted most from Ian Fleming. If you can imagine what a real boy at Eton in the early 1930's would have been like, he would have been quite extreme, and I don't think that would have been at all palatable for a modern readership. It is important that the younger readers reading the book do like the character of James Bond. You do find that those kind of snobbish attitudes do get more extreme and more entrenched as people get older.

Certainly my younger kids at school are not aware of racism. They talk about other children looking different, but they don't read anything into that, or imply that they are any different because of it. But as they get older and go through the system they get exposed to it and I suppose racism can creep in. I've gone out of my way to avoid it, and I know that certain Bond fanatics will say that this is "political correctness gone mad! He's got a friend at school who's a Sheikh!"

But at Eton there were a lot of international students in the 1930's..

Yes! They tended to be like... the King of Siam! But they would have mucked in and got on with the other boys.

I've read quite a lot about it and it was quite open in that way. So it is not beyond the realms of reality that he would have had these friends, and what i wanted to do with Bond at school was make him a bit of an outsider. He's not joining in with the main stream kids in the school or the academic stars, he's kind of at a tangent - he's his own man in a way.

Above: Eton college, where james Bond will stay for more than two terms...

He's popular but he likes his own company and he's a bit of a loner. So I thought it made sense that he did befriend some of the more "outsider" kids at the school, and have his own separate society aside from Eton.

I don't have some of the same attitudes as Ian Fleming had [laughs]... I can't ape some of his more extreme pronouncements, as entertaining as they are. But there are things in there that set up where some of his attitudes for later life would come from.

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.
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