Higson puts the Bond back into books – Exeposé

It’s been a long and memorable 50 years for the James Bond film franchise, but in the new millennium its reputation was flagging. As part of its reinvention, Charlie Higson published the first of his celebrated Young Bond series, Silverfin, in 2005, reintroducing a new generation to the man with the licence to kill.

James Bond is one of the most iconic literary spies of all time, so surely it was a risky move to takeover such a well-loved series? For Higson, there was no debate: “the chance to write a James Bond book was too good an offer to turn down.” Ian Fleming Publications approached him because “they were looking for someone who knew the Fleming books well.” The aim of the series was to reclaim Bond’s literary legacy and “remind people that Bond started in books.” Higson also had three young boys when he was approached so he “wanted to write for them.” Since then he has found it “fulfilling when you get the feedback that kids who don’t usually read have enjoyed one of my books and gone on to read more.”

Higson thinks that “the reason Bond has remained at the top is that they’ve had to keep reinventing him for a new generation.” His Young Bond series aimed to give his young readers a “sense of adventure – we tend to be quite overprotective of them so it was fun to write about an age where children would have more freedom.” Like most people, Higson’s introduction to the character came from the films: “growing up in the 60s it was very hard not to be a James Bond fan.” When he discovered the books he was “amazed at how readable they still are – Fleming was a fantastic, descriptive writer.”

Fleming has more imitators than most thanks to the continuation of the adult Bond series with writers like Sebastian Faulks writing new entries. Higson thinks they’ve “made a good stab of it but it’s made me very appreciative of just how good Fleming was and what a hard act he is to follow. He had quite a lot of personal and emotional conflicts that channelled into the books and gives them a sort of twisted heart.”

This “twisted heart” often manifests itself in a misogynistic view of women which Higson describes as “extremely bizarre and occasionally appalling.” In Fleming’s eyes this attitude was “quite modern and against the respectful view of putting women on a pedestal, but what he felt was modern now feels outdated.” Importantly, Higson points out that Fleming “didn’t ever intend James Bond to be a hero. He’s not meant to be someone we aspire to.”

The creative process of writing makes it enjoyable for Higson, as “when the book is published it comes alive when people read it, it’s an extraordinary and fulfilling process.” There is also a sense of originality that keeps it exciting: “at the end of it you’ve created something that wasn’t there before.”

Higson has said his books are about children’s fear of adults but he’s still waiting to become an adult himself, saying, “I think as long as your parents are alive you still feel like a child.” His second young adult series, The Enemy, is an allegory of adolescence where “the adults are the most monstrous cannibals and the kids are trying to work out a world for themselves. The great thing about horror writing is that you can deal with quite weighty matters but on a fantasy level.”Higson2

Despite the huge appeal of his work to the younger audience, he knew from the start that a film adaptation would be unlikely. The rights are complicated, and Daniel Craig’s new take on Bond means that currently the franchise is very focused on the adult books. Fans may not expect a film but they can look forward to the completion of The Enemy series, though Higson is reluctant to look further beyond that. Finally, of course, we asked the all-important question: who is his favourite Bond? “Sean Connery, because he was the famous Bond when I was growing up, and he did an amazing job cementing in our minds what Bond is like, but I think Daniel Craig is a very close second.”

Tom Bond and Emily Lunn

Originally published in Exeposé http://issuu.com/exepose/docs/week_6

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