With just a few days to go until the publication of his James Bond adventure Solo, the new 007 continuation author William Boyd was interviewed by Sathnam Sanghera for the Saturday magazine of The Times newspaper today (September 21).
British readers were also given the exclusive bonus of a preview of the new novel, when the magazine printed the full opening chapter of Solo, with another chapter to follow in the newspaper on Monday (September 23). This is quite a coup for The Times because, as Sanghera noted, the contents of Solo have been one of the most fiercely guarded literary secrets of the year.
In one of the most detailed interviews he has given so far about his passionate enthusiasm for 007 and his world, the new James Bond author, who was interviewed at his home in Chelsea in central London (just off the Kings Road), talked about his involvement with Bond as if, wrote Sanghera, ‘it were the fulfilment of a life’s dream’.
In fact, according to Sanghera, the 61-year old author even said that Bond would be his subject if he were ever to go on Mastermind (the famous BBC specialist knowledge quiz show). But Boyd was clearly keen to distinguish the literary Bond from the film Bond in the interview: ‘The problem is that the literary Bond is seen through the filter of the movies. When I say I am writing the new James Bond novel, people say, “Is Daniel Craig going to be in it?”‘
The interview with Sanghera also revealed that Boyd went through an 18-month writing process on the new James Bond novel, a process that required him to run synopses and drafts past the Ian Fleming estate (Ian Fleming Publications Ltd). Boyd apparently had several geeky arguments with IFP, who were concerned about Bond being seen as just an assassin, and also were not happy about Bond’s relationship with ‘M’ (‘They weren’t happy with it, felt it needed more focus and precision’). When he was commissioned to write the next Bond book by IFP, Boyd’s early assertion that ’95 per cent of the imagination’ in the book would be his alone created some uncertainty about whether we would be getting something reminiscent of Fleming or a novel very much along the lines of Boyd’s own work.
But Sanghera was happy to reassure readers of The Times magazine that Solo really does feel like a Bond book, ‘in terms of mood and character’. According to Sanghera, we will also get Fleming’s obsession with food and clothes, a traditional Bond villain with a deformity, who also has a traditionally sadistic way of dispensing with his enemies (‘hauling them on ropes, the dead bodies lifted aloft by their their jaws with a hook…’), and, like all good Bond books, an outlandish plot.
At the same time, however, Sanghera noted that Boyd’s new Bond novel is no pastiche. In fact, the plot is apparently more complex than Fleming’s tended to be, the story strands are not tied up as neatly, and the prose is more lyrical. Interestingly, Solo will also be longer than your average Ian Fleming novel: Boyd commented: ‘I think it might be the longest Bond novel at 336 pages’.
Possibly the most striking departure from Fleming will be the book’s location. Boyd has placed 45-year old Bond in Zanzarim, a fictional country in late 1960s Africa, where a struggle between the ‘Lowele tribe’ and the ‘Fakassa tribe’ over the control of oil has sparked a civil war. Boyd, who was born in Ghana and partly raised in Nigeria (going to boarding school in Scotland) is, of course, something of an expert on Africa and describes himself as an ‘Africanised Scot’. He also witnessed some of the instability that occurred in Africa in the 1960s. At one point in the interview, Boyd commented: ‘I just thought West Africa was a great place to put Bond down. I knew the atmosphere there in 1969; I was going to Nigeria regularly at that time and it was, in hindsight, one of the most profoundly life-changing experiences I have gone through’.
As many Bond aficionados know already, Solo is set about five years after Fleming’s final Bond adventure The Man With the Golden Gun (1964), but Boyd also pointed out: ‘There is no attempt to write a pastiche Fleming novel, which I couldn’t do and wouldn’t do’. He explained: ‘It’s my own voice; I’m dealing with things and subjects I am interested in’. On the other hand, Boyd insisted to Sanghera that the book is still in tune with vintage Bond, saying that ‘it is scrupulously rooted in the world of Fleming’s books…’.
And, according to Sanghera, Boyd’s new James Bond novel ‘is a fantastic read’.
The hardback first edition of Solo, by William Boyd and published by Random House, will go on sale in the UK on Thursday, September 26. Boyd will also discuss his new 007 novel at a special launch event at the Southbank Centre in London (next to the River Thames) on the same evening, and at the famous Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, on September 30.