Like many before him, Raymond Benson may forever be associated with the world of James Bond. Yet with his latest work, Face Blind, hitting shelves, the author seems determined to forge a new literary career away from the world of Bond. In doing so, he’s quick to point out that “Face Blind is a suspense novel that is entirely different from the Bond books.”
This difference came in the fact that the “characters, story, universe” were all his own creation, something that obviously granted him much more creative freedom. “I could let the characters go where they wanted to go and I didn’t have to stop and think whether of not ‘whozit’ would do such a thing.”
While such a creative freedom may have seemed like the lifting of a literary technicality for Benson, it did not change his technique in Face Blind‘s penning. As with his Bond novels, Benson still began with the creation of an outline, though he concedes it “wasn’t as detailed” as those he created for the Bond novels. Though again this provided more creative freedom, “I left myself room to improvise during the writing if I needed to. In fact, I decided to kill off a major character halfway through the story when I was writing, and this didn’t occur in the original outline.”
It becomes apparent throughout the process of questioning and responding that ‘freedom’ may best describe Benson’s penning of Face Blind. Like Fleming, Benson is known to have traveled to most of the locations in each of his Bond works for research purposes, yet his ability to situate Face Blind solely in the United States allowed for less extensive travel research. Benson reveals that he was only required to travel to Ohio, where a small number of the novel’s chapters take place. For the scenes set in New York, Benson relied heavily on his knowledge of the city, having lived there for eleven years and having traveled back on numerous occasions. Benson’s use of the city will come as a point of interest for Bond fans, with Benson revealing that he placed Hannah, the female protagonist, in his old studio apartment in the city. Moreover, it is the same studio apartment used by James Suzuki, Bond’s son, in the short story Blast From The Past.
Creative freedom aside, I asked Benson where the idea for the novels plot came from – prosopagnosia (face blindness) isn’t, after all, one of the more commonly known diseases. His answer contains references to Bond related actors such as Pierce Brosnan, John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley, for it was in the 2001 BBC documentary The Human Face that Benson first encountered the idea. “One section of the [documentary] series dealt with disorders of the face, not only actual physical disorders, but disorders in the brain that effect the way people look at and decipher faces. One of these disorders is prosopagnosia in which a person is unable to recognize the faces [of people] except in a strict context.” Benson develops an example to explain such a strict context, for instance, a person suffering prosopagnosia can only identify people by other attributes, such as the location they frequently encounter them in or by their individual voice.
With his latest novel in the bookstores, Benson is happy to admit that future plans are very much in motion. He admits that he has already completed his new book and while he remains tight-lipped about its plot he does reveal that he’s aiming for publication sometime next year. There are also plans to get Evil Hours published, it having only previously appeared as an e-book and print-on-demand novel. While future plans abound, a return to the world of James Bond for Benson does not appear to be on the horizon. “A lot of people ask about updating the Bedside Companion, but it just wouldn’t be ethical. After being in the hot seat of creating Bond novels, I can’t go back again and be a critic of the films, other authors’ novels, or even my own. It just wouldn’t be right.”
But there may be a glimmer of hope, though perhaps only a slight one. Benson makes a note of one other project, a memoir on his experiences with the world of James Bond. However, he concedes it may never see the light of day as he “can’t imagine that there’s anyone who would want to read it.”
Bond fans are certain to disagree.