Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Cautionary Tale for Authors: Len Deighton on James Bond

James Bond - My Long and Eventful  Search for His Father

by Len Deighton

A Kindle Single

This is an old man gossiping in a bar, but the content is interesting to James Bond fans.  I didn’t know there had been a long-drawn out legal battle over who held the rights to James Bond’s screen character.  It’s a cautionary tale for authors.

Ian Fleming created the original James Bond in his first novel (of the series) Casino Royale.  No-one was much interested in making it into a film, though Fleming thought it had real potential.  In the end the only one to show much interest was a film-maker called Kevin McClory - a creative, shambolic, larger-than life Irishman (he was going to marry Elizabeth Taylor until she jilted him for Mike Todd).  Kevin told Fleming that there would have to be a completely new film script and in discussion the two of them came up with the plot of Thunderball (no record of who suggested what) and McClory employed a screen-writer, Jack Whittingham, to write the script - and Jack seems to have created much of the detail. Len Deighton credits him with creating the James Bond character we’ve come to identify, but I’m not sure I totally believe this.

Fleming went off and wrote the book of the film, with the idea of releasing it at the same time.  But the film was delayed because McClory couldn’t raise the funds and so Fleming published the book first.  McClory sued him for breach of copyright, claiming it was all his idea and that began the long and expensive legal battle that ensued.  The court case was about rights to Thunderball, but Deighton’s thesis is that it was much wider than this and that Whittingham and McClory actually created the screen persona of James Bond - the dangerous, suave, gun-toting sex bomb, who is very different to the ‘sad-eyed Bentley driver’ of Fleming’s original in Casino Royale.  This character - the essence of the James Bond Brand, influenced all succeeding books.  Kevin McClory won on an out of court settlement (and the rights to Thunderball), but the screen-writer got nothing.   The legal battle also drew in Harry Salzman - who would make the other Bond movies with Sean Connery, because he needed to feel that he had all the rights available - and it impoverished both Salzman and McClory.

Len Deighton knew all the characters in this saga - he even wrote the screen play for From Russia with Love.  Much of the content of this tale is what was divulged to him over long, liquid lunches in various exclusive restaurants and gentlemen’s clubs. It rambles a bit, as anecdotes tend to do.  The details of who said what to whom and who sued who for what are so tortuous, I quickly lost the plot!  All it needed was a good editor.

The tale is fascinating, but I do hope that the Kindle Singles are going to be of a higher quality generally.  It wouldn’t be good to feel that authors’ waste baskets were being raided for the Kindle Single brand. At the moment, I feel they’re selling on the big names rather than quality and suitability - you need to know what you’re getting as a Kindle Single, particularly in terms of length. 

James Bond:  My Long and Eventful Search for His Father
Len Deighton
Kindle Single £1.49

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Back Road: Rachel Abbott

The Back Road

by Rachel Abbott


Having just read The Back Road in two sittings, I can understand why Rachel Abbott’s first novel, Only the Innocent, reached the Amazon no.1 slot and stayed there.  The Back Road will probably do the same.  Not only is it tightly plotted, with intricate twists and turns, the writing is also of the highest standard.

The novel opens with a punch in the gut and goes on to tantalise.  Leo and her sister Ellie have some seriously bad family history, but both girls have made good - Leo is a successful Life Coach and Ellie has an apparently perfect marriage and affluent life-style.  Ellie has just moved into their childhood home - which she has inherited - and is having a dinner party to celebrate its renovation.  Leo has come, reluctantly, and is courageously trying to face her demons.

The pace slows, momentarily, for us to meet the dinner guests - a mixture of childhood friends and their partners and a new, very attractive, policeman who has recently moved into the village.  The celebrations are overshadowed by a terrible accident that had occurred the previous evening - when a young girl had been knocked down on the back road and left for dead.  Ellie is nursing the girl in the hospital intensive care unit and the prognosis isn’t good.

It soon emerges that several of the guests were not where they should have been when the accident took place (including Ellie) and several couples are hiding secrets from each other - secrets that will put their lives in danger, because (in true Agatha Christie style) one of the guests at the table is a killer.

It’s a very complex plot, which owes as much to Ruth Rendell’s psychological thriller genre as it does to Christie’s plotting, and although I worked out who the likely killer was, a few pages from the end, it only racked up the tension and the climax was completely unexpected.  Past and present collide head on in the final pages. This novel is a very original mix of traditional crime/thriller elements that really, really, works.

Thanks Rachel - you had me hooked, and, for a puzzle addict, you gave me lots to think about!
Rachel has also, generously, given me a detailed interview talking about her writing generally and The Back Road specifically.  To read what she has to say, click here. 

The Back Road
Only the Innocent
Rachel Abbott's Blog

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Saturday, 16 March 2013

Beside the Sea: Veronique Olmi - Peirene Press

 This isn't a book to read if you're depressed, but it's a book you should read.  I found it disturbing and very moving.  It was apparently a 'controversial' best-seller in France.  Narrated in the first person, vernacular, it's the story of a young, single mother, who is struggling to cope  - with her two little boys, with her own mental health, social workers, teachers, and inadequate money.  We are totally inside her world and her head.  It makes gut-wrenching reading.

She has decided to blow all the money she can lay her hands on  - which isn't much - on a trip to the sea-side for herself and the boys.  They have never seen the sea and she wants to give them one last glimpse of it.  She envisages a blue sky, sand, blue water, but it's winter and it's raining.

What makes the book so brilliant is the way the young mother's state of mind is conveyed to the reader - the occasional dazzle of back-story glimpsed between phrases - the blink of a hidden meaning behind a particular word.  What is also fascinating is the way she observes the world watching her - judging her - a million light years away from where she actually is.

This is a book about a social tragedy that could be happening in the next street - on the next bus you take - in a cafe you slip into for an aperitivo.  You won't look at people in the same way again.

 Beside the Sea, Veronique Olmi
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
Peirene Press

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Consul General's Wife: Aliefka Bijlsma

The Consul General's Wife
by Aliefka Bijlsma
Translated from the Dutch by Kate Brown

Literary Fiction

Melchior, Holland’s Consul General in Brazil, is one of the ‘old school’ of career diplomats.  He enjoys the privileges and the personal power the post confers on him.  But times are changing - budgets are being cut, there’s a new ethical code and new political masters who have sent him a young deputy, Tygo, bent on observing the new diplomatic code to the letter and with instructions to  impose strict budget guidelines.

The story opens with the arrival of a young intern, the daughter of one of Melchior’s old friends.  Nikki is very attractive and very aware of her own powers over men.  More than a match for the licentious Melchior.  Quite unconsciously, Nikki, will contribute to her boss’s downfall.

The Consul General is cared for by a Ghanaian woman, Mercy, who was ‘rescued’ by him 18 years ago, and who cooks, washes and cleans for him, managing his household in the way a wife would do.  Melchior’s actual wife, Leandra, a gifted photographer, considerably younger than her husband, lies in a guest bedroom, suffering from ME, often referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome.   Leandra is a convenient scapegoat for Melchior when things begin to unravel for him.

The author explores the physiology and psychology of ME with great insight.  Leandra is being destroyed by it.  But she is determined to regain her health and get her life back. Her long sojourn in solitude forces her to think very deeply about her life and her career and what kind of future she wants to have.

The novel is very, very well written - a wonderful exploration of the relationships between five people - Melchior, Leandra, Tygo, Nikki and Mercy.  The book touches on some interesting subjects and makes the reader think about a lot of different issues. There is more than one type of colonialisation -  and what exactly is national identity? To what extent are we the product of our childhoods?  How are the mind and body interlinked?

Originally published in Holland by traditional publishers, Aliefka Bijlsman has commissioned an English language edition and published it independently.  She was the first Dutch author to Crowd-Fund the translation of a book.(Aliefka tells the story of how she did it here.)  I really can’t understand why the novel wasn’t taken up commercially world-wide. The story is high quality literary fiction (it’s been compared to Graham Greene). The translation is expertly done. I had no sense that the novel had not been written in English - I can’t praise the translator enough.  There are half a dozen typos the proof-reader missed, but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment - there isn’t an e-book out there, whether it’s a Random House or an Indie, that doesn’t have some digital glitch or 3.

The book is a slow burn - but it repays close attention.  After I’d finished the book (a very satisfying ending and not at all predictable!) I went back to the beginning to read the first chapters again.  The Consul General’s Wife comes very well recommended - and not just by me.

Scott Pack said:
“It is uncomfortable reading at times, but also quite captivating. I was reminded of Borgen in places because of the look inside the home lives of political individuals, but most of all of Thomas Kennedy's Falling Sideways which I read earlier in the year."

I'm a member of the review collective 'Reading Between the Lines'.  For more book reviews and recommendations please go to Reading Between the Lines.