In early 2015 I was approached by a Canadian publisher to write a James Bond novella.
That’s like, Wow, right?
Actually, no … not really. I quickly discovered that this wasn’t anywhere near as prestigious as it first seemed. At the time, in several countries across the world, the James Bond novels, penned by Ian Fleming, had just passed into the public domain. Those countries which honored the death-of-the-author-plus-fifty-years-until-copyright-expired-law included New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and many other smaller nations. I was one of several authors approached to write a Bond adventure for a Canadian imprint. It wasn’t the only publishing house doing so, because at that moment, anyone could publish Bond fiction providing it was sold only in countries where the copyright had expired.
I soon discovered that this exciting opportunity was far more complicated than my initial jubilation had suggested. The laws of the United States, the European Union and Australia (my home country) determined copyright to expire seventy years past the author’s death. This meant that anything related to James Bond remained the property of the Fleming Estate in those countries, at least until 2035, unless someone changed the law.
Looking further into the opportunity, I soon realized the situation was even more complicated. For example, anything that first appeared in a Bond film was, strictly, not public domain, even such things as Bond’s penchant for witticisms after the death of an adversary, Blofeld’s white cat, almost all the gadgets and even Miss Moneypenny’s flirting with James Bond. In addition to this, there were many continuation novels by other authors, which were not yet public domain either.
Very quickly I realized, that as exciting as writing an unofficial Bond novel would be, it was also a complex and time intensive endeavor. I would have to read and re-read every Bond story ever written, go through all the comics and watch every film again (even the really bad ones) to know what was in and what was out. I was definitely having second thoughts.
But then there was the other side of me, who has — for as long as I can remember — been a huge James Bond fan. I mean, I really am.
One of my favorite memories as a young child is of sneaking out of my bedroom to watch Live and Let Die from the stairwell, peering from behind my parents who thought I was asleep. I’d heard so much about James Bond at school that I was willing to break all the rules. I was desperate to be one of the cool kids who knew what a License to Kill actually was. When my parents finally noticed me, they must have seen that I wasn’t scared of the content that was so inappropriate for my age but, rather, captivated by it all. They let me watch the rest, ensconced safely between them. They told me later that my eyes had never once left the screen, and they had never before seen me being so silent and still for so long.
That was a moment I will always vividly remember for the rest of my life. I had already decided, many years earlier watching Star Wars, that I wanted to be an author, but now I knew what I wanted to write about — sophisticated, confident, secret agents who completed dangerous missions in exotic locations across the globe. I was captivated by the crazy gadgets: the wristwatch that turned into a buzz blade to cut binding ropes, the anti-shark gun that disintegrated henchmen like bursting balloons, the exotic and beautiful women who could tell fortunes by reading tarot cards, and men dressed as skeletons that could rise from the dead, materializing out of coffins overrun with deadly snakes. Then there was the boat chase through the swamps of Louisiana and the assault on the underground lair in the Caribbean — there was no going back for me after witnessing all of that.
To this day I still remember all my James Bond firsts.
First James Bond film in the cinema: Octopussy.
First James Bond film watched without my parents: The Living Daylights.
First James Bond novel that I read: Live and Let Die.
First moment I encountered a scene in novel which made me wish the scene in question was actually in the film: Bond battling the squid in Dr. No.
First Bond film I watched with my wife: GoldenEye.
First Bond girl I had a crush one . . . that one I’ll leave a mystery.
I went on to read pretty much every Ian Fleming novel ever written, and many of the novels by the continuation authors. I was surprised at how different the books were to the films, and while I didn’t appreciate how original they were for their era, at the time I had never quite encountered anything like it. What Ian Fleming had achieved — that few authors before or after him have ever achieved — was the creation of a fantastical, almost unbelievable and yet utterly captivating fictional world, grounded in reality. James Bond, Agent 007 at the heart of it — the hero who could stop any evil mastermind scheme dead in its tracks. The novels that stuck in my mind for their sheer originality were Live and Let Die, From Russia with Love, Dr. No, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. I desperately wanted to write novels like that.
Over time my relationship with Bond had changed. I grew to appreciate how sexist the books and the films were, and how the series had only really matured when Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson took over the production of Bond films, with the introduction of first Pierce Brosnan and later Daniel Craig as Bond. I came to understand that Bond was not really an individual you would admire or enjoy spending time with if you knew him personally. He was cold, ruthless and a brutal killer, with a pathological need to appear-wealthy-at-all-times. But I still really enjoyed the movies, still counting Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as the best the series has produced.
So, to fast forward three decades from the day I’d crept down those stairs to witness Roger Moore’s first appearance as 007, to the day I was offered the inspiring opportunity to write a Bond story of my own.
Within hours I had a plot line.
By the end of the day I’d started writing it.
I returned to the Fleming novels to familiarize myself with the setting and the era, and made detailed notes to ensure I got the back story right. It didn’t take long before I had about ten thousand words of a Bond novella set in the tropical seas of 1950s Far North Queensland.
And then all of a sudden, I stopped writing.
Literally — mid-sentence — I put it down and asked myself, what the hell was I doing?
There have been many authors before me who have picked up where Ian Fleming left off. I can name almost all of them off the top of my head: Kingsley Amis, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Charlie Higson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver, William Boyd, Anthony Horowitz and Steve Cole. They had all done admirable jobs at writing Bond, but none of them were Fleming. Why did I think I could contribute?
So I dropped it, realizing that I wanted to create my own series instead. I threw myself into the completion of the first novel in my Benevolent Series: The Benevolent Deception (if you read it carefully, you’ll notice there is a Bond reference that is a big clue to what is going on across the series). As soon as Deception was released I started the sequel, The Benevolent Conflict, keen to continue the story.
But fans of Deception were keen to delve into the next installment. When I explained that it was a work in progress, the disappointment was palpable.
And so, I decided to release this novella. The unofficial James Bond novella I had begun in 2015.
I went over it again with fresh eyes and realized that this truly was, with a few minor adjustments, an obvious prequel to The Benevolent Deception. This story was the perfect introduction to the character of Simon Ashcroft from Deception and with a few links to modern rather than 1950s geopolitical events, The Assyrian Contraband quickly came into existence.
Many of the elements of the story are Fleming inspired, such as the exotic tropical ocean location, the disfigured megalomaniac villain, the wounded but strong and sensual women, the brutal torture scenes and the sharks. Of course there are sharks. No Bond story ever felt complete without a shark in there somewhere.
So this then is not my unofficial Bond novella — that was abandoned long ago.
This is my tribute to Ian Fleming, and everything he created that inspires me in the thriller fiction genre today. He left a lasting legacy, and I’m a proud contributor to the genre he created for us all to dabble in, in our own way.
This article originally appeared in the Afterwords for The Assyrian Contraband.
The Assyrian Contraband
A former counter-terrorism agent risks it all to save two sisters from the worst kind of death . . .
As a former intelligence officer and counter-terrorism expert, Simon Ashcroft thought he’d left the violent world of insurgency behind him, until a young woman is kidnapped and Ashcroft is tasked to rescue her.
A trail of clues leads a wary Ashcroft and the woman’s distressed sister to a remote tropical island, where they quickly confront an army of murderous thugs and a bloody trail of bodies. The rescue mission is anything but straightforward, and Ashcroft realizes there is more to this mystery than a simple kidnapping.
When the enemy reveals himself, he is everything Ashcroft expects and worse, a ruthless financier of global terrorism, willing to destroy anyone threatening his illicit cash pipeline funding the world’s cruelest and most barbaric ideology, the Islamic State.
Kidnapping was only ever the beginning . . .
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3 thoughts on “Why writing a James Bond novella was a bad idea”
Well done on another book. This is a great post, mate. I’m forwarding it to my husband who is a Bond fan as well and just said he needed something new to read. Your books will interest him. I’ll download the prequel and the Benevolent Deception for him tonight!
Thanks Mary-Lou! I hope he enjoys them both.
I had to make him stop reading to make dinner! All good. But seriously, enjoyed your post.