MI6 talked to author Charlie Higson about the concept
of Young Bond and his first novel SilverFin...
SilverFin: In Conversation With Charlie Higson
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
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,
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
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
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
Now - Amazon UK
Now - Amazon USA