MI6 caught up with the fourth official James Bond author last month and chatted about his life before, during and after his work with the world's most famous literary spy...

Interview - Raymond Benson (Part 2)
May 20th 2004

MI6 caught up with the fourth official James Bond author last month and chatted about his life, during and after his work with the world's most famous literary spy. In this second part of the interview, we talk about the years he spent writing 007…

The First Word..

How would you describe the balance of influences in your novels between Fleming's original work and the movie series? Are there any aspects which stay particularly close to either camp?

Before I began the first novel, Peter and I discussed how we would approach my series. We tossed around the idea of freezing Bond in the Cold War era but ultimately rejected that to stay in sync with the films. I was to make M a woman, also to stay in sync with the films. Most importantly, I was to attempt to blend aspects of the literary Bond with the more well-known elements of the cinematic Bond. In other words, I was to try and write Bond adventures that had feet in both camps. That was not an easy task.

So, if my books read like film stories, there's a reason for it! Besides, I tend to write cinematically anyway. I had to put in more action and gadgetry but also keep the human side of Bond intact.

I personally wanted to keep Bond a brooder, as he was in the original Fleming's. I wanted him to have all his vices intact (they had been missing for a while)-smoking, drinking, womanizing, gambling… I wanted to bring back characters from Fleming's Universe because that's what a continuation writer does-just like someone writing Star Wars or Star Trek books. I always loved it when Gardner brought back an old character.

Basically I approached the books this way-I wrote what I, as a fan, would have wanted to read in a Bond novel. Luckily, Glidrose and the publishers backed me up.


"I was to try and write Bond adventures that had feet in both camps."

"Connery's most human films are the first two."

Did the work on each of your novels follow (roughly) the same pattern? Can you tell us a bit about the typical timeline for one of your novels and the main phases before they go to print?

I had a strict schedule of delivery. Each book took approximately eighteen months from conception to publication. When one was finished, I immediately began the next one. The first phase was the outline phase. I was required by contract to deliver an outline for approval before receiving the green light to write the book. I usually spent two to three months on the outline, conceiving the plot and characters, working out what locations I would use, and researching what technical things might figure into the story. Once the outline was approved, I would go into the two to three month research phase. This included my traveling to the various locations-observing the people, eating the food, absorbing the atmosphere, staying in the hotels-whatever was necessary. I would interview people for information, such as the Royal Hong Kong Police task force that was in charge of the Triads. Back home I would do other research and prepare for the nitty-gritty writing, which was the third phase. This usually took three to four months.

Once I had a first draft, I would go back over it and revise and rewrite. I usually let two or three "readers" take a look at the manuscript. These were people I trusted that were heavy-duty, very literate Bond fans. (And my wife, who was my harshest critic.) Finally, I would turn in the manuscript to Glidrose. They would always have comments and suggestions, and I'd usually go through another draft before they turned it over to the publishers. Then my editors at Hodder and at Putnam would have comments and suggestions. Most writers have only one editor. I had at least three. The revision process usually took anywhere from one to three months. Finally, when the manuscript was accepted for publication, I would begin all over again with the next outline.

Above: Edition Never Dream of Dying
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USA - MI6 Price: $7.50


"...I wanted to retain Bond's vices and flaws."

Titles in the Gardner era were generally decided by committee of the publishers. Was this true for your novels? Were there any that you particular like or despise?

That's absolutely right. The titles were the last things to be created, and everyone had a hand in that. I usually had a working title for the year I worked on the book. Then, I suggested some further titles, Glidrose suggested some titles, Hodder suggested some, and Putnam suggested some. We'd haggle and discuss and argue and complain.

Each party had to be happy with the final title. Then, if that wasn't enough, the marketing departments from both publishers got involved. Sometimes they threw out what we picked and we had to start all over! It was truly a nightmare. Most of my suggested/preferred titles ended up as chapter titles.

Only one of my titles made it to the final published book, and that was Never Dream of Dying. That was my working title and it stuck all the way through. For the most part, I was able to live with the titles that were eventually used.

"I also had a bug about bringing back the Walther PPK for Bond to use."

Both Fleming and Gardner enjoyed travel and it is evident in their novels. Did you travel to all of your novel's locations? Were there any significant locations that were a product of your imagination, rather than real-life experience?

I tried to travel to every location, failing only in a couple of instances. In those cases I had to do what most writers do when they have to write about a place they've never been-research and more research. Guide books, maps, travel videos-these things help, but the best resource is people. I'd find people that lived in those locations and flood them with questions.

The most significant location that I had to write from imagination was the Himalayan setting in High Time to Kill. I tried to go to Nepal but a travel agent screw-up prevented me from going. Instead, I spent time with the Gurkha regiment in England and found out everything I could about the country. In the end it didn't matter. I wasn't about to go mountain climbing, even if I had made it to Nepal.

All that mountain climbing stuff-which turned out pretty believable, if I do say so myself-came from diligent research.


Above: High Time to Kill
UK - MI6 Price: £4.79

Bond never ages but the world around him is ever-changing. Which elements of Bond's world do you think were most important to update, and which were kept as close as possible to Fleming's era?

As I said before, I wanted to retain Bond's vices and flaws. That's what makes him an interesting character. It might make him anachronistic in this day and age but that's what defines him as Bond. I also had a bug about bringing back the Walther PPK for Bond to use. I just felt that this was Bond's gun. Sure, it may be outdated and all, and I was certainly willing to let him use more modern weaponry at times, but I liked him having a fondness for his old, familiar handgun.

Above: Tomorrow Never Dies Novelisation
UK - MI6 Price: £4.79


"Of the three novelizations, I definitely think Tomorrow Never Dies is the best one..."

Did having the plot, characters and dialogue delivered to you for the novelisation work take most of the fun out of the writing? Were there strict guidelines you had to adhere to, or could you stray off the path a little?

I wouldn't say it didn't take the fun out of writing them. I had much less time to work on the novelizations-roughly about six weeks to do one. The way it worked was that I'd receive an early draft of the screenplay in the spring. The book had to be turned in to Glidrose (and the publishers) no later than the end of May or perhaps June in order for the book to be published in November. So in all three cases, the script was still evolving and being re-written as I worked on the novelization. EON were usually still filming and re-writing after I turned in the final manuscript.

I think I had the most freedom with Tomorrow Never Dies. With that one, both Glidrose and EON didn't seem to care if I changed some lines of dialogue here and there or embellished some scenes. In all three cases I had to invent some scenes to flesh out the books to acceptable lengths. If I had simply put into prose what was in the screenplays, they would have been too short! As the management of Glidrose (and the switch to Ian Fleming Publications) changed, so did the people in charge of licensing at EON.

I had less freedom with The World is Not Enough and especially with Die Another Day. With the latter I wasn't allowed to change a single line of dialogue, although I could still embellish and invent some scenes. Of the three novelizations, I definitely think Tomorrow Never Dies is the best one-it really works and stands alone as something separate from the film. I look back on the other two as being very workman-like.

I don't consider the novelizations to be a part of my original novel series, but I'm pleased to have been given the opportunity to do them. They made me feel as if I was putting in my two cents worth to the film story. In all three cases, working with the screenwriters (Bruce Feirstein, Robert Wade, and Neal Purvis) was an enjoyable experience. They made themselves available to answer questions and such.

"It's interesting, because the film series has never liked to show Bond's human side."

The movie Bond is often seen as an invincible super-hero (although that may have changed in the last couple of outings), whereas Fleming's Bond showed the occasional human weakness and imperfection.

For one example, in your novels you remind us that Bond isn't the greatest at mathematics, yet in the film "The World Is Not Enough" he calculates the ETA of a pipeline bomb in a split second. In your opinion, has the character of the two domains irreparably diverged?

"Irreparably" is a strong word. They've definitely diverged but the character is still recognizable in both camps.

It's interesting, because the film series has never liked to show Bond's human side. It's crept out in a few cases, most notably in OHMSS, and the two Dalton films.

I think Pierce Brosnan does a good job of showing some real human emotion amidst a barrage of non-stop action.


Above: Raymond Benson

Connery's most "human" films are the first two. The problem is that it seems that the filmmakers purposefully squelch Bond's human characteristics. They want to make him superhuman, the guy that can do anything at anytime. Life just isn't that way. The books need to be a little more realistic and believable because you're reading them over a longer time period and you have the luxury to analyze and delve into whether or not the thing is believable.

With a film, it's a two-hour amusement park ride and if the thrills and excitement are there, that's all that matters. I do wish the filmmakers would take their time in telling the story a bit more. There are good screenplays for the later films-good plot lines and situations-but the execution of them has become one of pacing them so quickly that the audience never has time to get emotionally involved.

Keep an eye out for the next part of the interview where we chat about personal favorites the future.

Many thanks to Raymond Benson. Images courtesy Amazon Associates

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