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  1. "A grown-up in a world of boy racers."

    Less than a month out from the publication of the third novel in her James Bond spin-off series, Samantha Weinberg has contributed an excellent account to Times Online of her time spent with the world’s most famous secretary: Miss Moneypenny.

    'The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling'

    The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling

    Samantha Weinberg, under the alias of Kate Westbrook, became the first female author to pen a 007 novel, when she wrote 2005’s The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel (the U.S. publication of which is, at last, imminent). This was followed by 2006’s instalment, subtitled Secret Servant and this year’s Final Fling. A couple of short stories round out her contribution to the world of Bond.

    In her article, Weinberg dissects what makes Miss Moneypenny such an icon. “[It] undoubtedly owes much to Fleming’s genius for picking memorable names (Goldfinger, Oddjob, Pussy Galore). But it’s also down to Moneypenny herself. Of all his characters, she is the only one who is unequivocally likeable. Bond is cruel, M ruthless, most of the girls damaged dolly birds; Moneypenny alone is intelligent and loyal, a grown-up in a world of boy racers.”

    From a handful of rather vague descriptions in Fleming’s original 14 novels, Weinberg fleshed out a lush history for the secretary, from her colonial childhood in Kenya through to her complicated double life as an employee of MI6. Though Weinberg is quick to note the impact the character’s cinematic incarnation had upon Miss Moneypenny’s legacy, and particularly the impression left by the late Lois Maxwell.

    “[Maxwell] explained to me shortly before her death last year, ‘I decided – with a little nudge from Sean [Connery] – that, when Moneypenny was still in the secretarial pool, Bond invited her to spend a long weekend at his aunt’s cottage in Kent. They had a most splendid time, but she knew that if she allowed herself to fall in love with him, he would break her heart. And he knew that he would never get his 00 number’.”

    Similarly, Weinberg offers Roger Moore’s take on the Moneypenny enigma. “Bond was quite willing to bed any female, but when it came to Moneypenny, although he enjoyed flirting with her, he treated her unlike any other lady – that is, with great respect. She brought humour, humility and class to Bond’s world.”

    'The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel'

    U.S. art for The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel

    Weinberg notes a strong desire to make her and Ian Fleming’s Miss Moneypennys one and the same. “When I took on Moneypenny four years ago, I was determined to be true to Fleming’s creation. I wanted anyone who had read his books to recognise her character from my books – but also to relate to her in the present.”

    “Moneypenny had to have a birthday, a family, a dress size, somewhere to live and someone to love; she needed memories of childhood, her first kiss and favourite holiday. Before I wrote a word, I had to know what she ate for breakfast and who cut her hair, as well as how she would react in any given situation.”

    Citing her temporal distance to the events of the 1960s – something Fleming did not have – Weinberg argues this enabled her to “inch [Miss Moneypenny’s world] a little closer to the real events that were hidden from the headlines”.

    “While the Bond books were highly coloured accounts of secret service action, Miss Moneypenny’s diaries could be a bit more real, a little murky.”

    “I can’t pretend that it hasn’t been a romp at times. I managed to persuade myself that, to inhabit Moneypenny fully, I needed to go where she went, which provided me with wonderful opportunities for research trips to Cuba, Jamaica, Moscow, Miami and Berlin. I also met some spies: men and women who had been in the service at the time she hypothetically worked there.”

    While Miss Moneypenny has never before been given a richer history than in Samantha Weinberg’s series, her character is famously absent from Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. The author is proud to have kept the character alive in print.

    “A year and a half ago, Casino Royale was released and, like millions of others, I loved it; as promised, it was a return to Fleming’s Bond: brave, hard, cruel. But it had one gaping absence: Miss Moneypenny. Apparently her services have not been required for the forthcoming Quantum of Solace, either. I think that’s a shame.”

    “I’m just delighted to have been allowed an opportunity to put on her pearls each day, and to keep her alive – between the covers of a book.”

    For the fascinating full article, be sure to check out Times Online.

    The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling will be published in the UK by John Murray on 1 May. Meanwhile, The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel will be published in the U.S. by Thomas Dunne Books on 13 May.

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    Matt Weston @ 2008-04-08
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