MI6 caught up with author Samantha Weinberg to talk about "Secret Servant" - the second title in her James Bond cross-over trilogy "The Moneypenny Diaries"...

Samantha Weinberg Interview (1)
20th February 2007

The biggest change to the 2nd book is the format. It’s gone from a structured diary to a novel, story telling format. How did this come about and why?
It did seem to evolve naturally, in the first book, I felt that I was just introducing the diary, so they had to stick close to the diary theme. But tying it to actually historical events meant that I was quite restricted in what I could do. In the second one I found the historical event that I wanted to focus on - the whole Philby case and because the timeframe didn’t fit with just a year long slot, I thought it might make it more natural to slightly expand the dates and slightly loosen the format a bit.

One other thing I did was slightly relax the whole idea that these are real diaries. I felt that maybe that conceit was just a little too rigid and in fact what I wanted to do was to hopefully make it into a more kind of fluid read as opposed to these are "real diaries" thing.

In an earlier interview when you started the trilogy you said you had an outline for how the structure was going to work. Did book two fill that structure well enough and was there anything missed out or emitted?
It was completely different. I had a vague sense of the subject matter of all three books and the themes that would carry on, but I didn’t have a very strict structure.

One of the things I wanted was to introduce Kate Westbrook as more of a character in book two and I find that I can’t actually play on the Kate Westbrook bit until I’d written Moneypenny. I sort of write the Moneypenny Diary, then print it out and take it as a received something and then tackle it as if I were a different person, Kate Westbrook, and I was looking at this diary.

I couldn’t really think about what was going to happen to Kate Westbrook. Before I’d written Moneypenny that bit was sort of off the cuff. I really want to differentiate the two voices and to do that I sort of have to get into Moneypenny's head and write in the first person narrative. Then get out of her head and try and get into Kate Westbrook's head. I can’t think of both simultaneously. I have to sort of do one and then approach it as the other person. So inevitably things changed. During the writing of the first one I became more familiar with the characters and that inevitably changed how I approached the second one and I'm sure that the third will change too.

Above: First edition UK cover art
Order "Secret Servant" Hardback - Amazon

Was book two easier to write compared to the first book?
Yes, it was easier, definitely easier. I just found that once I started on book two, once I’d got the structure worked out and started writing Moneypenny’s voice just came really naturally. Also, I knew the world that she lived in a lot better. I’ve become more family with that and comfortable with her world and I hope that comes across.

Trying to present the diaries as real in the first one sometimes really stretched my brain a little too far. I was getting so muddled and thinking how can this character work with this, if it’s real. The second one I did kind of relax a little and just had more fun with the story.

Above: Samantha Weinberg


Do you think it helps that you’re bringing more female readers into the James Bond arena through the Moneypenny Diaries?
When the concept first evolved I thought "wow, anyone could read this book". I wasn’t particularly aiming for women or men, Bond fans or non Bond fans. I rather hoped that everyone would like it.

I think its difficult because a lot of women who have the Bond books are so predominantly read by men that women are put off and think “I’m not a fan of the Bond books, I don’t think I can read this” which I don’t think is true, but a concept, a preconception that they’ve got to get over. I think that some of the men are put off by the fact that it’s written by a woman. So what audience it’s reaching is not perhaps as broad as I’d hoped. I think the feedback I’ve had feedback from people has been equally from men and women and they seem to enjoy it as much as each other.

How did you feel at the start of the trilogy?
It was really scary in the beginning approaching it knowing that there are so many people who knew an enormous amount about Bond and about Fleming and taking on that world was really daunting, even though I had such wonderful support form IFP.

You don’t want to upset people and I tried as hard as I could not to make too many mistakes and I tried to stay true to Fleming - but inevitably there are people who do get upset. I’m trying to give people a different perspective on a world they may or may not know, and if they don’t know it, hopefully it’s a full enough picture on its own.

Book two focuses more on the characters and gives a fuller picture of the world 007 and his friends inhabit. How did you decide what journeys to take the supportive character on other than Moneypenny?
Well Bond’s journeys were dictated by the framework in the Fleming books, and the other characters, M, Tanner and the other chiefs and everybody, their journey was very much bound up in the story that evolving around Moneypenny. What I tried to do was give them a role in the story and then flesh out their characters so that they were real people.

In the epilogue there’s quite a massive revelation in the last few pages and that also gives a lot of clues to the characters. I knew I was going to make the revelation at the end of the book, and work backwards through the characters.

Data Stream
Hardcover 320 pages
Released: November 2nd 2006
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 071956767X

Many thanks to Samantha Weinberg

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