Saturday, January 28, 2012

THE SECRET HISTORY OF YOUNG JAMES BOND, PART V

In Command

In many ways, Young Bond 5 was always the book most anticipated by fans. Not only would it wrap up the loose ends of the series, but it promised to reveal the details behind the infamous "maid incident" referenced by Ian Fleming in James Bond's obituary in You Only Live Twice.

"When they first approached me and said they wanted a series of five books to deal with the Eton years, in studying Fleming and reading the obituary, I knew it would have to lead up to the incident with the maid," author Charlie Higson explained in 2008. "Obviously, the implication in Fleming’s original obituary was, basically, he shagged her and got thrown out of school. But I thought it would be fun to do a little bit more with it and say more was going on. It had to do with national security and protecting the Royal Family."

The author decided to name the maid Roan Power and make her Irish, a first for a Bond Girl. Higson, who is a quarter Irish himself, explained, "I wanted her to be closer to home, and I wanted there to be a reason for her to be threatening the English national security. I could have made her English, but by making her Irish, it gave her an automatic reason to hate the English and the whole kind of English upper class system."

Higson would also bring back a villain from SilverFin, Dr. Friend, whom he had first considered bringing back in Double or Die. "I knew I always wanted to bring him back at some point. He’s an interesting character, and because he was kind of secondary in the first book, it was nice to bring him back and put him into a starring role."

The working title for Young Bond 5 was The Shadow War, a title that found favor with the fans. However, publisher Puffin liked Diamond Heart and proposed an idea in which the hardback would have an inset diamond in each cover. The diamonds would be plastic or crystal, but one copy would have a real diamond. However, Higson put his foot down, feeling this was "purely marketing and cover design-lead title idea, and it really doesn't have anything to do with the contents of the book."

The title they settled on was revealed on March 6, 2008 -- the same day Higson completed the manuscript -- and was one the author considered very Flemingesque: By Royal Command. (The Shadow War would ultimately be used as the title of a Young Bond online RPG game launched to promote the release of the book.)

Originally Charlie Higson had planned his fourth book to be a snowbound adventure, but when he sent Young Bond to Mexico in Hurricane Gold, he decided to work his Alpine action into By Royal Command. The specter of World War II and the Cold War also loom large over this novel. By Royal Command is full of political and historical references. Bond even meets a young Queen Elizabeth -- a scene inspired by a real-life encounter involving Charlie Higson's father-in-law -- and encounters the Prince of Wales, a scene Higson reworked after a discussion with the Fleming family.

"I had [the Prince] being quite distant and awkward with James. Because he had no kids of his own, I’d written a character who couldn’t relate to kids. But then the Fleming family read it and, actually, there are members of the Fleming family who knew the Prince of Wales and they said, 'No, no, he wasn’t like that at all. He was actually very friendly with kids, he got on very well with us, he was a very friendly character.' So I had to rewrite it."

Higson admits he had to "tone down" a couple other scenes having to do with the Royal Family because their friendship with the Flemings. "I had to be a little bit careful about what I said. But I still think I’ve screwed up my chances for a knighthood."

With By Royal Command Higson brought the Young Bond series in for a picture perfect landing, touching down cleanly and evenly on every aspect of James Bond's past and future life. It's a surprisingly profound, introspective, and somewhat tragic book. At the same time, By Royal Command doesn't have the level of gruesome violence that had become a hallmark of the series, and even contains a love story.

"I have tried to give it some emotional depth," Higson explained before publication. "It’s a great way to finish off the series, and at the end of it we really feel that James is poised for the next phase of his life."

But as Higson was finishing up the manuscript, tragedy hit the Young Bond Team. Kate Jones, who had brought Charlie Higson to the attention of Ian Fleming Publications and had worked so hard launching the series, was again diagnosed with cancer. Charlie Higson recalls the details:

"Kate left IFP while I was still working on the series to take up a job as a literary agent at ICM. She was very happy there and quickly made her mark in this new field. Luckily she agreed to look at each new Bond manuscript and make her comments for which I was always very grateful, but then, while I was out of the country working on By Royal Command, I heard the devastating news that Kate's illness had returned out of the blue and that she had gone into hospital. By the time I got back to England she had sadly died. This was a huge shock to everyone and it was an enormous tragedy, not only for her family and many friends, but also for the literary world. Kate was a truly brilliant editor and I'm sure would have become one of our biggest literary agents. Some measure of her importance is the fact that all the major British newspapers ran obituaries (they are all still available online). Like many other authors I think I can say that I wouldn't be where I am today without Kate."
Kate Jones

By Royal Command was released in the UK on September 3, 2008. Charlie Higson launched the book during an appearance at the Edinburg Book Festival. Puffin had kept the cover art, which featured a wrap around Union Jack, a secret until publication. As part of a tie-in promotion with the Young Bond online RPG, The Shadow War, all copies of the book contained a secret hidden codeword, "Fastnet", concealed in one of the Young Bond logos on the back boards. However, 20 copies contained a different codeword that promised to unlock more game information. It might have been a little too well hidden, because to my knowledge, no-one ever came forward with the alternate word or revealed what it unlocked.

By Royal Command would share the spotlight in 2008 with the Centenary James Bond novel Devil May Care written by Sebastian Faulks. Devil May Care was released on May 28, 2008, the same day as the paperback edition of Hurricane Gold, and Higson found himself doing as much promotion for Devil May Care and the Centenary events as he did for his own books. Faulks returned the favor by acknowledging the Young Bond series when 007 visits the Paradise Club in Iran and is "reminded of a similar club from his childhood." This was a nod to Bond's adventure at the Paradice Club in Double or Die. "I was very touched by that," says Higson. "I didn’t know he was going to do that."

By 2008, The Young Bond series had sold over a million copies in the UK alone and had been translated into 24 languages. The series even found its footing in the U.S. under Disney-Hyperion, who reissued the books with fresh new cover art by Kev Walker (Owen Richardson would provide the final art for By Royal Command). And even though By Royal Command marked the end of Higson's planned Young Bond series, it was not the last Young Bond publication.

As early as 2004 it was announced that a graphic novel adaptation of SilverFin would be created by artist Kev Walker. Artwork was previewed in new editions of the Young Bond paperbacks, and in October 2008, SilverFin: The Graphic Novel finally appeared to excellent reviews. Charlie Higson and Kev Walker made joint signing appearances at Forbidden Planet in London and at the London MCM Expo. Disney Books would published SilverFin: The Graphic Novel as both a paperback and hardcover in 2010, where it was showcased at the mammoth San Diego Comic Con and aggressively advertised in Marvel comics.

On October 29, 2009, Puffin released Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier, touted as "the complete and definitive guide to the world and adventures of Young Bond". The book contains sections on the characters, weapons, vehicles, etc., from all five books. But most exciting was that it contained a lengthy original Young Bond short story by Charlie Higson called, A Hard Man To Kill.

A Hard Man To Kill is a bridge story taking place between Hurricane Gold and By Royal Command and chronicles the adventures of Bond traveling back to England aboard the French Ocean Liner Colombie (a real ship of the time). Higson introduces an excellent new villain, Caiboche , and brings back Wilder Lawless from SilverFin who is transporting horses. A young Rene Mathis even makes an appearance. It's a terrific story, made even better with original illustrations by Kev Walker (the last work he did for the series). However, with no plans for a U.S. release of Danger Society, this could prove to be Young Bond's most elusive adventure for readers to find.

In 2009 The Herald Scotland reignited talk of a Young Bond movie in a brazen article by Brian Pendreigh that reported "secret discussions" where going on between the Fleming estate and Eon Productions ["James Bond set to go back to Scots roots… for his first kiss"]. Pendreigh stated that Wilder would be played by an unknown actress and that Higson had suggested actors Dougray Scott, Iain Glen or Timothy Dalton for Uncle Max. But Higson shot the story down as "Total bollocks. There is no film being discussed. I never made any casting suggestions."

However, while the topic may not have been films, there may have indeed been discussions going on between IFP and the Bond film producers that year. Keen-eyed fans noticed a change on the copyright page of new Young Bond publications. Now Danjaq LLC was shown as the "registered owner" of the individual book titles and the Young Bond logo, which were now being "used under license by Ian Fleming Publications." While I've never been able to get to the bottom of this, it appears Danjaq bought Young Bond outright, if for no other reason to control all incarnations of James Bond.


Even before the release of By Royal Command, talk had begun about the possibility of extending the series. Says Higson, "I always had a storyline that would run over five books and work as a complete series. But, you know, they say it’s done very well, done very well for IFP, done very well for Puffin, done very well for me, so obviously there is a great desire between the three camps to do more books."

Higson, who had embarked on a new series of horror novels for Puffin (currently up to four books: The Enemy, The Dead, The Fear, The Sacrifice), shared his ideas during a book signing for the U.S. edition of By Royal Command in Washington D.C. on May 29, 2010. He confirmed a Young Bond Series II, should it ever happen, would be a trilogy of books set at Fettes, the school Bond attended after Eton, and for which Fleming provided tantalizing information in the same obituary that had guided the first series:

"Here the atmosphere was somewhat Calvinistic, and both academic and athletic standards were rigorous. Nevertheless, though inclined to be solitary by nature, he established some firm friendships among the traditionally famous athletic circles, at the school. By the time he left, at the early age of seventeen, he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at a British public school. - Ian Fleming, Chapter 21, Obit, You Only Live Twice"

On July 8, 2010 Charlie Higson revealed on Twitter that he was headed to a meeting "to discuss the future of Young Bond." As of this writing, the results of that meeting, and the future of Young Bond, is not yet known. But the series has not gone entirely quite. In 2011, SilverFin was republished in a new Special Edition with added material and all five Young Bond novels are set to be re-released in April 2012 with terrific new cover art (below).

The upcoming 2012 reissues

In 2011 IFP and Jeffery Deaver rebooted the literary James Bond as a 21st Century hero in Carte Blanche. So does this mean they have moved on from period Bond adventures, which was such a key part of the Young Bond concept?

I put the question that question to Corinne Turner, managing director of Ian Fleming Publications, who sent back this encouraging response:

"Don’t worry we haven’t left the past behind entirely, but it’s nice to do something different – and keep everyone guessing!"

My guess is that Young Bond Will Return.

Click here to revisit all five parts of The Secret History of Young James Bond

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for all five installments. I thought all of Higson's Young Bond novels go progressively better and By Royal Command was not only the best but has a place in the discussion of best Bond continuation novels of all time. The only nit picky issue that comes to mind that I had with any of Higson's novels was his over use of the phrase "so saying" And so saying if that is the only negative I can come with that must mean I thought they were excellent.

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  2. Great series of articles, brilliantly written and researched. By Royal Command is my favourite, I think, particularly with its numerous nods to OHMSS. I do worry about Young Bond, though, as he's had more than his fair share of near-death experiences, gun-fights etc. even before he's left school. M never mentioned that in his obituary.

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  3. Learned a lot. I stopped at blood fever but I guess I'll have to pick up the series a new!

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  4. Great series, John. Thank you! And a fantastic re-bundling of all your great Young Bond Dossier material into a much more accessible resource for posterity. I know that had to have taken a LOT of hard work, and I'm very impressed!

    Personally, I thought Young Bond peaked with the one-two punch of Blood Fever and Double or Die, but they were all so good that the peak wasn't THAT much higher than the rest of the range...

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    1. Thanks, Tanner. Yes, I really wanted to gather ALL that info I got over the years into something more accessible. Also wanted to tell the story of Kate Jones involvement, which is all new.

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  5. Great article, John! For some reason I balked at the Young Bond series when it came out. Maybe a similar hesitation I felt about Joss Whedon's shows until I realized they were smart and funny. Better late than never! I'm really enjoying Higson's stories right now and all of the work you have done to chronicle the series is really helpful as I catch up. Thanks!
    -Jason
    SPY VIBE

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    1. Thanks, Jason. Glad you're enjoying the books. Keep up the great work on Spy Vibe. :)

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