In less than three days, the literary James Bond will be making a monumental return in Sebastian Faulks’ novel for the Ian Fleming centenary: Devil May Care.
Since the original announcement of the title in July of last year, details on the novel have remained a closely-guarded secret. Faulks himself recently stated he could tell fans next to nothing about the plot elements.
That has now changed thanks to an indepth interview with the author in The Times.
An Intriguing Proposal
Meeting with reporter Peter Kemp at publisher Penguin’s offices near the Thames in the UK, Faulks discusses everything from the initial invitation to write a 007 novel, following Fleming’s style, the writing process, the future of the literary Bond and much more.
Starting things off, Faulks mentions how he was initially amazed and intrigued by the proposal to write a Bond novel. ‘I don’t think it’s very likely,’ was his first reply at the time. ‘It sounds great fun, and I did love the films, but it’s years since I read the books and I don’t imagine they’re much cop, really–though I loved them when I was 12 or 13.’
However, he did agree to examine Fleming’s originals once again and after doing so ‘more or less straightaway I found I enjoyed them. They seemed to me to do that key thing a thriller needs to do, which is to give you a sense of real and present danger. James Bond is a very vulnerable man, with his nice suit and soft shoes and ludicrously underpowered gun. He finds himself in terrible situations, and he’s all on his own–you just worry for his safety.’
‘I thought, how can I be so gullible that at my advanced age and great cynicism, I’m buying into this? But I did.’- Sebastian Faulks
His chronological examination of Fleming’s novels showed that there were two types of Bond adventures: ‘the crime-busting books, in which Bond is really just a superior sort of policeman, sent to break up smuggling rings and that kind of thing’. While admiring their ‘very fast pace’, Faulks laments that they ‘don’t have that creepy, sinister threat of some sort of imminent nuclear holocaust or war’–something that his personal favourite, 1955’s Moonraker, as well as others, perfectly exemplifies.
Faulks eventually decided the task was worth a go at, but with the stipulation that the novel’s story remained in the period of Fleming’s original adventures. ‘It’s a homage,’ Faulks said. ‘It’s for a man’s centenary. If I have to crack it into the present, it just doesn’t work for me, and it looks opportunistic rather than affectionate.’
Coming Up With The Story
Coming up with a storyline was no easy challenge with Faulks feeling that ‘Fleming had pretty much exhausted the genre. The later books are pretty baroque. He seems completely fed up with the whole thing’.
‘The way I attacked it was trying to think of something the villain could do that wasn’t gold, wasn’t diamonds, wasn’t bird droppings–which is what Dr. No is incredibly into. And I thought, well, what about drugs? Because I’d already decided it was going to be a period piece. And I figured the last novel was set in 1965, and Bond was in a very bad way and needed time to get back on full form, so it had to be 1967.’
‘If you told me you’d found this in Ian’s desk drawer, I would have believed you.’ – Eon Productions on Devil May Care
‘I thought, well, great–1967, the summer of love. I remember it. I was 14. And what was going on? Well, drugs. Drugs were first coming to public notice. The Stones were busted, and there was that famous leader in The Times. And, you know, what are we talking about now all the time? Drugs. It’s still very resonant. And there’s little about drug-dealing in Fleming. It’s not something he did in any depth.’
One of the central locations featured in Devil May Care is the Middle East–resulting from the fact that it had never before been included in any of Fleming’s novels.
The Fleming Touch
Before actually beginning the writing process on Devil May Care, Faulks states that he came up with a checklist of the typical “Bondian” items one could expect to come across in a Fleming story–the Bentley, Morland cigarettes, the sea-island cotton shirts, the loafers, the shoulder-holster guns, the drink, the meals, the girls and more. With this list intact, he compiled a dossier to act as a guide of sorts.
‘I thought, “Let’s just take all the things that we like.” Felix Leiter’s a nice character, Bond’s Scottish “treasure”, May, Miss Moneypenny, M. The bits that I didn’t like were when it just gets too silly–the silly names. And some longueurs, actually, such as the first half of From Russia with Love, where it’s just too slow to get going, Fleming showing off his knowledge of the Russian secret service.’
Another way in which the novel relates to Fleming’s originals is Faulks’ use of real-life encounters as a basis for characters in the story. In the case of Devil May Care, it’s the odd, distinguishing feature of the villain that was inspired by ‘schoolboy memories and his father’s talk of a throwback freakishness that afflicted a fellow undergraduate.’
How To Write A Thriller
As mentioned before, Faulks strictly adhered to the rules set out in a 1960 article by Fleming entitled How To Write A Thriller. According to Faulks, the general idea was that ‘you’ve got to do it all quickly. You give yourself six weeks. You write 2,000 words a day and that will give you the required length. Don’t stop. Don’t agonise. Don’t try to correct your prose as you go along. Don’t worry too much about the details. You can always revise them later and get it checked by experts.’
‘I thought 2,000 words a day is probably twice as much as I would normally do, but it’s not unreachable.’ – Sebastian Faulks
Normally working from 10am to 6pm in an office on his novels, the Devil May Care schedule saw him arriving earlier than usual. ‘Apart from anything else, I was really enjoying it. I was very, very turned on by it.’
One final question posed–and one on the minds of many Bond fans–is whether or not Faulks will be penning another 007 adventure. With the author currently planning to head back to work next month on a novel-in-progress centering on contemporary Britain, the answer at this stage seems to be unlikely.
In the meantime however, there’s plenty to look forward to this Wednesday.
Visit The Times for the complete interview with Sebastian Faulks.
Stay tuned to the CommanderBond.net main page for complete coverage of Devil May Care during this Ian Fleming centenary week.