MI6 caught up author Samantha Weinberg to look at the first title "Guardian Angel" in her new James Bond cross-over trilogy "The Moneypenny Diaries"...

Samantha Weinberg Interview
19th November 2005

How did the concept for the series come about?
It came out of a chance conversation with my agent, Gillon Aitken, who had recently been appointed by IFPL as their literary adviser. He was thinking about possible directions for the series to go in, and quite by chance – he claims – asked me what I thought about the idea of a biography of Miss Moneypenny. Something went ‘ping’ and I was instantly interested. “How about her diaries?” I replied. We both got quite excited at that point. He asked me to think about it a bit longer and said he would float the idea with IFPL.

Who did you base the fictional niece Kate on? How did you build up a profile of the Moneypenny character? What was the biggest challenge in developing her World?
I realised fairly early on that I needed some sort of interface between Miss Moneypenny and the readers. In order to make the diaries plausible, someone had to fill in the gaps. I hit upon the idea of Miss Moneypenny bequeathing her secret diaries to her niece. I made Kate a history professor to give her a bit of gravitas – and to explain her rather academic approach to editing the diaries. Apart from that, I suppose her character is a composite of me – and what I would like to be!

As for Miss Moneypenny: before I wrote a word of her diaries, I wrote a long biography, describing in detail her family, childhood, her first home, school and university experience, coming to London after her parents’ deaths, joining SIS, and so on, up to her later years. I talked to quite a few women – and men – who had worked in the Service at that time, and using bits of them, again aspects of me – and some artistic licence - built up a picture of her. I knew I wanted her to be strong, intelligent, with an element of suppressed adventure in her. I hope I succeeded in portraying her as someone we would all like to have as a friend.

As for her World – the biggest challenge was to keep within the spirit of Fleming’s original books. I think the books are fantastic and it was both inspiring and terrifying to be trespassing on his World. I knew there would be a lot of fans out there waiting for me to trip up!


Above: 1st edition Jonathan Cape hardback (UK)

How long did it take to research the original works, thus enabling you to write the book? Did you read all the Fleming, Amis, Gardner and Benson novels?
I purposely restricted myself to the Fleming novels. I read them once straight through (though I had read most of them before, over the years) and then again, with a highlighter pen. I broke them up into topics: story, Miss Moneypenny, girl, villain, M, Bond, tricks of the trade – and so on. That gave me a database to refer to – though, as you know, there are occasional contradictions within the books, which are tricky to navigate. Was the light outside M’s office red or green? Which floor was his office on? Was Goodnight’s hair black or blonde? In those instances, I just had to plump for one option.

Above: First edition UK cover art

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How did you go about planning and writing this first book? What material did you omit from this edition?
From the Fleming books, I went to biographies of Fleming. I had decided, by this point, that I wanted to try to push this book a little closer to the reality of life within the Secret Intelligence Service in this period. So I read books about that, as well as talking to former employees.

Once I thought I had all my research material together, I wrote a detailed plan, breaking the book up into month-long sections and within those sections, highlighting the different ‘strands’ of the story in different colours, so I could try to make it balanced, without letting any of the storylines wane for too long. As a former non-fiction writer, I tend to research things in great depth. So, yes, there is quite a lot of ‘spare capacity’, just waiting for the next couple of volumes.

Your book offers a wider view into Fleming’s World exploring the history that sits along side those stories, how did you choose to focus on the Cuban missile crisis for this first issue?
I wanted to chose a well-known historical event and the Cuban Missile Crisis was an obvious contender. Then, when I re-read the books, I discovered that there was a ‘gap’ in the narrative between the end of OHMSS and the beginning of YOLT, that conveniently appeared to occur in 1962, just around the time of the missile crisis. It was a wonderful piece of luck.

Data Stream
Hardcover 240 pages
Released: October 10th 2005
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 0719567408

Can you tell us a little about how the confusion was created about the title?
Well, once we had decided on this real life approach, we thought it would be fun to see if we could convince people that Miss Moneypenny really did exist, and that there were indeed diaries that had just come to light. (Do you know, it nearly worked!). So we had this rehearsed PR line, in which the publishers were meant to insist the diaries existed and IFPL to say that they didn’t know anything about them and were going to look into it… It was fun for us, though unfortunately the artifice was soon penetrated, resulting in a bit of, as you say, confusion.

How did you approach IFPL with the idea? What did the IFPL contribute to your project?
That was originally done through Gillon. Once they had read my original proposal, I went up to London to meet them. We had a short chat and then I had to leave the room while they decided whether or not to go ahead. It was a very nerve-wracking few minutes, but thankfully they seemed to be thinking along exactly the same lines as I was. And so it has proved a remarkably amiable and productive partnership. They said I could look through anything in their archives and were always on hand for advice and encouragement.

How did you arrive at the title Guardian Angel, were there any rejected titles?
It came out of a line Bond wrote to M in a cable when he and Moneypenny were fleeing from Cuba. I wrote it and it just seemed to fit as a title. We never discussed any other.

What range of material/facilities/people did you utilize?
Whenever I could I researched everything from primary sources. I went to Cuba and found the actual missile site in San Cristobal. I spent time in the National Archives in London and the National Security Archive in Washington DC (where I found much of the Cuban Missile Crisis material). I ate stone crabs at Joe’s in Miami, went walking on North Uist and actually stayed with the real Sir Peter Smithers in Villa Morcote in Switzerland. I had a lesson in gun lore from the armourer at my local police station in Wiltshire, shot on a target range in Miami, and had numerous clandestine meetings with former spies in dark London restaurants. All in the name of research !

Above: You Only Live Twice - US cover art

How will you personally measure the success of The Moneypenny Diaries?
That’s a hard one. I would love as many people as possible to read them – and I hope most of them will enjoy them. This period, immediately post-publication, is the worst for an author. Waiting for the reviews, half dreading them, then feeling disappointed when they don’t appear.

Can you tell us a little about book two? When will we be seeing book two?
It will pick up on some of the threads left loose at the end of book one – Moneypenny’s on-going search for the truth about her father, Bond’s disappearance in Japan, the possibility of another mole within the service – and run with them. Possibly, heading in the direction of the Iron Curtain… I think it is due out at the end of next year or the beginning of 2007.

00-Seven Questions

How were you involved in the Bond series?
First as a fan, now as a writer of a Bond-related book – a position I feel very privileged to be in.

What was your first ever Bond experience?
Watching a cine film of From Russia With Love at a children’s birthday party when I was about seven, I think.

What did you think of the last film, "Die Another Day"?
I enjoyed it, obviously, but it wasn’t one of my favourites.

What is your favourite Bond film?
Dr No tied with From Russia With Love

Who is your favourite Bond?
Definitely Sir Sean – though I’ll be interested to see how Daniel Craig fares. He has the right face for the Bond of my imagination (though his hair has got to be dyed).

Which Bond girl should come back?
Well Moneypenny, of course. She’s the best Bond girl of the lot!

What is your favourite Bond moment from the series?
I don’t think I could possibly answer that – there are just too many. I know my favourite line, though, in Goldeneye, when Miss Moneypenny (played by Samantha Bond), calls Bond and asks where he is. He says he has been brushing up on a little Danish. To which she replies: “You always were a cunning linguist, James!” Riské, but very funny.

Many thanks to Samantha Weinberg

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