Charlie Higson at Twitter’s UK headquarters.
Photo courtesy Twitter UK.
If Ian Fleming were alive, would he use Twitter? The James Bond creator loved gadgets and technology, but would he embrace all there is to love and hate about the social media revolution as @IanFleming?
It’s a proposition that inspired Young Bond author Charlie Higson (@monstroso) to partner with Twitter for the #BondTweets project, fittingly held on the eve of the Skyfall premiere. His mission? To condense each of Fleming’s 12 Bond novels into a single 140-character tweet.
Between 2005 and 2009, Higson penned five novels and one short story exploring James Bond’s years at Eton in the 1930s. He’s also a long-time fan of Ian Fleming and within seconds of us starting our Skype chat, Charlie gleefully points out the set of Fleming hardcovers on the bookshelf behind me. Who better to bring the original Bond stories into the Twitter age?
“I thought the conjunction of 1950s Ian Fleming with state-of-the-art Twitter was quite an interesting concept,” Charlie tells me. “I use Twitter a lot. As a writer, it’s a great way to get you to think very carefully about the words you use, how you use them and if there are other, simpler ways of saying what it is you want to say.”
“Fleming was always into new ideas and new gadgets, so I certainly think computers would have appealed to him. Would he have used the internet and Twitter? I don’t know.”
The task took Higson much longer than he thought it would. “What really appealed to me was the idea of trying to get across the essence of each book in 140 characters, without it sort of being a dry plot description. I tried to get across the bits of the books that I really loved, and to make each one entertaining in its own right.”
“A hundred and forty characters is not all that long, so a lot of the ideas I had, I thought, ‘Well, I can’t do that — it just won’t fit.’ So, it was quite a challenge getting enough in there to make them fun to read.”
As you would expect of a bonafide Bond fan, the tougher books for Higson to compress were his favourites, including From Russia with Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “The best books have really good set pieces and characters and things happening. Those are the harder ones to sum up and get right because you’re worried about leaving stuff out that’s important to you.”
Likewise, the easiest books for Charlie were his least favourite Bond novels, though he enjoyed crafting them into tweets. “I quite liked tweeting The Spy Who Loved Me because the book itself is structured into three parts, so I structured the tweet in the same way. You don’t worry about leaving too much out from that one,” Charlie laughs.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Charlie joined Twitter in late 2009. “I wish I’d been in that initial rush to Twitter,” Charlie says. “A lot of people established a presence and a style on there when there weren’t so many people using it. I think it’s harder now. On Twitter, you used to be able to be quite influential, but now you need to have the number of followers that Lady Gaga has.”
The immediacy and reach of Twitter clearly has appeal for Higson. “I found the conversation part of Twitter to be quite fun. You could be having a conversation with people from all over the world at the same time. It’s a fantastic way of keeping in touch with people who read my books, with other writers, people you’d never normally meet, but as a sort of promotional tool, you have to use it very carefully. People don’t want you to go on there and say, ‘Buy my book now – it’s brilliant’. You have to think of ways to talk about your work so that it doesn’t come across like an advert.”
Twitter has also opened up doors for the author – often literally. “Twitter is a fantastic research resource. If I’m writing a book and I want to go and have a look around somewhere, I can say on Twitter, ‘Does anyone here know anyone who works in the Tower of London?’ and within 10 or 15 minutes you’ve got several options. You can use Twitter for a lot of stuff that people who don’t use Twitter don’t realise.”
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
While Charlie didn’t attend tonight’s premiere of Skyfall at Royal Albert Hall, he will be watching the film tomorrow night at an equally exclusive screening with members of the Ian Fleming estate. Higson was impressed with Casino Royale, but was less thrilled by Quantum of Solace. He’s now keenly looking forward to what Skyfall has to offer.
“All the indications are good for Skyfall,” Charlie says. “I’ve deliberately tried not to read to much about it or watch too many trailers because I just want to go out and enjoy it for what it is. Although, I have heard from people who say that it really is very good.”
You Only Live Twice
It’s been around 10 years since Charlie Higson sat down to write the first of his Young Bond novels, SilverFin. “I had great fun writing those books. I remember how thrilling it was to sit down and type the words ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’. It gave me a great, childish thrill. So, I was very pleased that after initial scepticism, the James Bond fan community did accept the books and accepted that I wanted to remain true to the spirit of Ian Fleming.”
Since closing the book on his time as a James Bond novelist, Charlie has gone on to write the bestselling zombie thriller series, The Enemy. “I would’ve loved to have written more Bond books, but in the end, having written five of them, I was at the stage of thinking that I would really like to write something that was entirely of my own creation. It was a very difficult decision to make because I loved doing it and I’d love to do more. I had a full trilogy worked out with Bond’s time at Fettes.”
Sadly for fans of Charlie Higson’s James Bond books, it doesn’t sound likely those plans will come into fruition. “They can’t wait for me forever to come back and write some more.”
“Never say never again?” I put to Charlie hopefully.
“Live and let die,” he fires back, with the quick wit of both a seasoned Twitter user and of 007 himself.
With thanks to Charlie Higson. Follow him on Twitter at @monstroso. You can also check out the full collection of Charlie’s #BondTweets on the UK Twitter blog. Thanks also to Simon Branney.
Matt Weston @ 2012-10-24