'007 is dead': Anthony Horowitz gives new life to James Bond in Forever And A Day
In a few of his publicity shoots, British novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz strikes a convincing James Bond pose — only, not with a gun, and at most, with a pen in his hand. Horowitz has now released Forever And A Day, his second Bond novel, authorised by the Ian Fleming estate. At the Jaipur Literary Festival held at Diggi Palace, Jaipur, earlier this January, Horowitz had in fact announced Forever And A Day as a follow-up to his 2015 novel, Trigger Mortis, which was a sequel to the 1959 Fleming novel, Goldfinger.
The new Bond novel begins with a heartstopping shocker of a disclosure: “So, 007 is dead”. Soon enough, you realise, Horowitz is carefully laying out a prequel to Casino Royale — the 1953 debut novel, and very first Bond adventure written by Fleming. The opening is as hair-raising as it gets, even as the book’s synopsis suggests: “The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. One body. Three bullets.
007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime.”
As it turns out, this is the story of how James Bond, as we know him, came to be James Bond. This is how a former World War Two Naval Commander named James Bond came to be the most admired secret agent in the world. This is the making of the British Secret Service agent, and hero of a dozen novels and two collections of short stories — not to forget the movies, famously starring Sean Connery, apart from Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, among others, with Daniel Craig playing the lead in the most recent outing, Sam Mendes’ Spectre (2015). Craig is also expected to reprise his role in Bond 25 (2019).
As far as Bond thrillers go, Forever And A Day, the 40th official novel in the James Bond Series, is set up like the mother of all Bond escapades — offering backstories and historical nuggets; look out for the episode where Bond first comes across a martini that’s “shaken not stirred”. The villain, an enormously loathsome Corsican drug-dealer named Scipio, serves well to make for some engrossing reading, while Horowitz appears to play things safe — relatively speaking — with the mysterious Madame Sixtine, set up as a rogue agent, and the book’s female lead. Matter of fact, Horowitz is wary of making the
distinction about ‘Bond girls’, and calls it an “objectifying and objectionable” idea. Bond does get a few knockout one-liners, though; at one point, when Sixtine accosts him, asking if he might be a psychopath, Bond casually replies, he doesn’t feel like one.
The writer credits all the resources he was given access to by the Fleming estate, as Forever And A Day includes previously unreleased material written by Fleming himself. Ultimately, as the jacket note for Forever And A Day promises: “It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera.”
Horowitz, who also authored two Sherlock Holmes novels and the massively successful Alex Rider series, as well as The Diamond Brothers and The Power of Five series, interacted exclusively with Indulge, discussing apprehensions about a Bond “origin novel”, staying clear of sexual overtones, and adding an original touch to the Bond legacy. Excerpts from the interview:
Describe the moment for us, when you thought of the line, “So, 007 is dead.” As far as great opening lines go, how would you describe this one?
The first line of Forever And A Day is actually the reason why I wrote the book. I can’t really explain how it came to me. But when it was suggested to me that I might come back a second time, it simply popped into my head. That was when I knew the book would take place before Casino Royale, and tell how Bond got his license to kill.
Did you ever think of it as a risk, to try and imagine a prequel to Casino Royale, and the origins of Bond? What were your safety measures, in order to do justice to the Bond legacy?
All writing is a risk — and if it isn’t, then you may not be writing anything very interesting. My safety measures were fairly simple. I simply asked myself at every step of the way if Ian Fleming would have approved of what I was doing. And I never did anything that was too wildly out of character with what he had done before.
With your second official Bond novel now, do you feel more in control over Bond, as a character? While you’re certainly giving Bond new life, how much of this, do you believe, would Ian Fleming approve of, himself?
I certainly felt more comfortable following the response to Trigger Mortis and it seemed to me that even being invited back a second time gave me a certain imprimatur. But I was never over-confident. I hope Ian Fleming would have approved of my writing, but I don’t take it for granted.
You also seem to be taking on some very popular myths about Bond — such as his preference for martinis being shaken not stirred. Was this merely for a personal kick, as a writer, or is there something more to the backstory?
It wasn’t a personal kick. I didn’t write the book simply to amuse myself. I suppose I’m playing with the legend mainly for the James Bond fans who may have asked themselves the same questions. There are loads of “easter eggs” hidden inside the book for readers who know Bond well.
Tell us a little about the villain, the Corsican drug-dealer, Scipio. How did you think up this character? Were there any real-life references for Scipio?
Scipio is loosely based on a number of Corsican gangsters who are referenced by name in the book. I wanted to give him an abnormality — like so many of Fleming’s most memorable villains — and it struck me that, curiously, there had never been a massively obese villain in any of the books (Mr Big is big and muscular, not fat). I have to say that I’m quite proud of the fact that he uses a translator. This makes me smile and adds, I hope, an original touch.
How would you imagine longtime Bond fans accepting this story, as one that speaks of the birth of the legend that is Bond. And, how far will this go, in your expectations, to introduce Bond to newer groups of readers?
Well, it’s very much my hope that my Bond novels will attract new readers to Ian Fleming’s original books which are, frankly, much better than mine! He was a brilliant originator and a great writer of action and character. As to the mainstream Bond fans, I’m glad to say that their reactions have been almost entirely positive.
You seem to have toned down a lot of Bond’s infamous sexist personal nature, even as Sixtine appears to be more worldly-wise than previous Bond girls. How much of a conscious decision was it, for you, to be careful with the sexual overtones, in this Bond story?
It was always my intention, long before #MeToo, to give Bond a sophisticated, older love interest. That just seemed more compelling. But of course I have to be aware of modern mores. I’m still perfectly happy to meet Pussy Galore as a woman created in the late-1950s but to try to replicate such a character now would only get me into trouble. The important thing for me was not to allow this debate — no matter how valuable — to spoil the pleasure of what is, after all, a light-hearted thriller.
We have to ask, how rigorous is the research process for you, working on a Bond novel? While you’re very careful to attribute previously authored material, how wary are you, at the same time, of not straying too far with the narrative, in a sense, while still having fun with Bond?
I do a lot of research. I travelled to France and visited all the locations for Forever And A Day. I went onto a ’50s steam ship. I learned about the heroin trade. All this is in the ‘acknowledgements’ at the back — but it matters to me to get things right. I used nothing from any of the other continuation authors because I felt that their work belonged to them. I did, of course, borrow heavily from Fleming.
Are you comfortable with Forever and a Day being called a sort of “back-to-basics” Bond story? How would you rank or place this book, on your bookshelf, alongside the many other, earlier Bond novels?
I’m afraid I don’t rank my own books in any way at all! No…I don’t think it’s a “back to basics” story and nor would I call it an “origin novel”. Like Trigger Mortis, it slots into the existing timeline and although I’m tempted to say it should sit on a shelf next to Casino Royale, I wouldn’t dream of putting it there. I’ll be perfectly happy on the shelf underneath.
Give us a sense of how excited you are — not just about this novel, but the whole idea of retelling Bond’s story? And, what are your plans going ahead, for Bond?
I’m excited — and relieved — that the book has had such a good response and I’m proud to have been the first recent writer to be invited back a second time. As to the future, I don’t really know. If the Ian Fleming Estate, who have been extremely supportive from the start, were to ask me to do a third Bond novel, I would certainly consider it. I even have the faintest whisper of an idea. But we’ll see…
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Forever And A Day by Anthony Horowitz (Paperback), Jonathan Cape/Penguin Random House,