Sunday, December 4, 2011

THE SECRET HISTORY OF YOUNG JAMES BOND, PART II

Fever Pitch

With sales of the first Young Bond novel, SilverFin, hitting 125,000 in the UK and the book making the Top Ten Children’s Bestseller lists for 11 weeks, a second Young Bond novel was assured. The original plan was to have a different author pen each book, but once Charlie Higson delivered the manuscript for SilverFin, it was clear he was the man to write the entire series. "I was having too much fun to let anyone else have a go," says Higson.

The second Young Bond novel was originally scheduled to be released only six month after the first. In fact, an ad in the back of the first edition of SilverFin promises Book 2 in Fall ’05. This was mainly to take advantage of the release of the new James Bond film, Casino Royale. But when that film was delayed a year, Ian Fleming Publications decided they didn’t need to rush the release and pushed Young Bond 2 back to Jan ’06.

Charlie Higson's second Young Bond novel -- which had the working title Double M -- promised action in Sardinia with pirates, smuggling, a torture scene, and a major shootout climax inside a cave. "I wanted to set the second book somewhere reasonably exotic," Higson told the BBC. "James Bond is known for travelling to such places. But it had to be somewhere James could get to during the summer holidays. That’s why I chose the Mediterranean. I didn’t want to use somewhere overly familiar like Greece or Italy or Spain. People don’t know much about Sardinia. It’s an interesting island with a history of banditry. I’ve been there a few times and I really like it. I saw an artist’s impression of a cave there. Inside are the remains of a Neolithic village. I thought it would make a great villain’s lair."


On July 11, 2005 Puffin announced the official title of Book 2 on the Young Bond website: Blood Fever. This time a £120,000 marketing campaign would promote the book, including a television advertising campaign which Puffin noted was "a first for the literary James Bond." Francesca Dow, Managing Director of Puffin, said: "We are delighted with the success of SilverFin and anticipate a huge second bestseller in Blood Fever."

Dow had reason to be optimistic. It was clear to all who read the manuscript that with his second book Charlie Higson had written not just another fine Young Bond novel, but one the best James Bond continuation novels by any measure.

"I’d written most of Blood Fever—certainly the first or second draft—before SilverFin came out," Higson would later explain. "So it wasn’t influenced by the first book particularly. I just wanted to push it a bit more into the, kind of, Bond world."

For Higson, pushing it more into "Bond world" included introducing a gay member of James Bond's family with the characters of Uncle Victor and his partner Polyponi.

"It’s not anything that children would pick up on but that’s there for the adult readers," Higson explained in an interview. "They are obviously a gay couple, and why not? Ian Fleming’s best friend was Noel Coward and I think there’s a reference to him in the book. Ian Fleming moved in those circles and knew a lot of people like that. I was interested in that kind of upper class-gay-expats group that ended up in Tangiers a lot of them in North Africa and certainly around the Mediterranean. I quite liked that weird Bohemian slightly outside of society kind of setup. I didn’t want to labour the point though. Fleming was very open minded and as I say Noel Coward was one of his best friends, but he did have a few digs at homosexuals in his books which is perhaps slightly regrettable."

Blood Fever hit bookstores on January 5, 2006 and became the UK’s #1 bestselling children’s book for the week ending 14th January, knocking The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe off the top spot, and even bettering SilverFin which had only climbed as high as #8 on the same chart. The very effective UK cover art showed an extreme closeup of a mosquito drawing blood, continuing the "creepy critter" motif established with the eels of SilverFin.

Blood Fever would hold onto #1 for an amazing eleven weeks. A second edition was quickly released that boasted on its cover; "The Number One Young Bond Bestseller." In-store merchandise, such as a set of seven Young Bond collectors cards (from Waterstones) and a Young Bond pin (Ottakar’s), helped boost sales. Blood Fever was chosen by Nicolette Jones as the Sunday Times Children’s Book of the week. Once skeptical Bond fans praised the book as worthy of Fleming. Young Bond had arrived!

Blood Fever is a tougher, darker, much more violent book than SilverFin. The somewhat timid youngster of SilverFin has grown into a teenager with all the confidence, athletic skill, and luck of Ian Fleming's secret agent. He coolly defies the villain, finds kinship with bandits, and derives visceral excitement by diving off high cliffs and driving fast cars. When forced into a gladiatorial boxing match with a much larger boy, Bond relishes the opportunity to "get his fight on."


A highlight of Blood Fever was the promised torture scene, which involved James Bond being spiked to the ground and fed on by mosquitoes. Higson explained in detail how he came up with his torture scene in my second interview with him on CommanderBond.net:

"Well, obviously I’ve got to come up with a torture which isn’t too horrible because then we wouldn’t be allowed to use it in the books if it’s too graphic. I can’t have him having his testicle crushed in a nutcracker and things like that. So the idea of doing it via third party, by a mosquito, works very well. But it’s mainly having spent many holidays as a kid in the Mediterranean. Certainly for an English person, where we don’t have mosquitoes, one of the vivid memories of going on holiday in the Mediterranean is being bitten to shreds by mosquitoes. So I thought that’s something that kids could relate too. Always in the books I’m trying to think of things where a kid could think, 'Yeah, I can imagine that. I can picture being in that situation.' The thought of being tied down in the middle of a mosquito swamp is pretty unbearable, I thought. So it had some resonance."

The Young Bond series was a hit in the UK, but U.S. sales were less robust, despite two book tours by Higson and superb reviews, including one by the New York Times praising Blood Fever as the "far better" than the new Alex Rider novel, Ark Angel.

As with SilverFin, Blood Fever was released in hardcover in the U.S. by Miramax/Hyperion. This time, however, they didn't stick with the UK cover motif (despite using it on the proof edition) and instead commissioned original artwork by Kev Walker that featured Bond on the bow of a ship. A gun in his hand, which can be seen on the prototype artwork (right), would not make the final cover.

One oddity is that both SilverFin and Blood Fever were edited in the U.S. In SilverFin several gruesome passages are changed – such as when the eel comes out of the dead Meatpacker’s mouth (it emerges from his shirt collar in the U.S. edition). Even Bond’s innocent wrestling match with Wilder is toned down, removing a reference to Wilder’s "muscular legs gripping him like steel." All references to Red Kelly drinking beer and smoking are omitted, which results in almost a full missing page.

While the edits in SilverFin are somewhat understandable (considering Disney was the publisher's parent company), the edits in Blood Fever are perplexing. A particularly disappointing change for Bond fans is the omission of a clever nod to Fleming in Chapter 17. The villain hosts a dinner party where among the attendees is "Armando Lippe from Lisbon" – whom Higson confirmed was intended to be the father of Thunderball villain Count Lippe. But the U.S. edition, for reasons unknown, omits the name Lippe from the paragraph. Instead, Ugo’s dinner guest is now "Count Armando from Lisbon."

But the real issue behind the U.S. slow start seemed to lie with Miramax Books, who did not put nearly the promotional support behind the series as did Puffin in the UK. The reason for this was Miramax was undergoing a management shake up with parent company Disney. Matters came to a head when Harvey Weinstein split off his Miramax film production and distribution from Disney, leaving parts of the company, including Miramax Books, behind. With the issue resolved, IFP negotiated a new deal under Disney-Hyperion, but this would mean the series in the U.S. would trail a year behind the UK, a situation that would be exasperated when Puffin decided to shoot for two Young Bond novels in 2007.

Continue to Part III


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