Tag Archives: james bond

You only write – Twice

James Bond CakePhil: At the moment, Candice and I are wrestling with at that difficult second novel. There’s new plotting and characters and locations to devise. While great fun, it’s also hard work.

On Sunday afternoon, thanks to ITV, I worked out where we are going wrong. Instead of writing a novel, we should write a James Bond film.

The film that inspired me is “The Spy Who Loved Me”. In this, a supervillan captures submarines and their crews from Russia and America in an oil tanker. His plan is to start a war between the superpowers that will leave him to launch a new world order.

Bond, dressed as Roger Moore, boards the tanker and frees the submarine crews who then attack a heavily fortified control room in their efforts to stop the war.

Sound familiar?

It does if you ever saw the film, “You Only Live Twice”. Here Bond, looking like Sean Connery, comes up against a supervillan who is capturing Russian and American spacecraft in order to start a war between the superpowers. He infiltrates the volcano lair with some Ninjas and they attack a heavily fortified control room in their efforts to stop the war.

OK you’re thinking. Similar plots but then this is a Bond film, not high art.

How about a company of supervillans stealing nuclear bombs and then holding the world to ransom with them?

As they say before the adverts on a daytime ITV show, which Bond film featured this plot?

A) Thunderball

B) Never Say Never Again

The correct answer is both.

In passing we might also mention the similarities between the room where Goldfinger reveals his plans for Fort Knox and Max Zorin’s version in “A View To A Kill” and that both see a meeting where someone who didn’t wish to take part in the plans finds themselves a bit dead a few minutes later.

All this makes me wonder if the Bond writers have plots written on Lego blocks. They simply shake the box, pull out half a dozen, clip them together and viola! A new film.

Pretty galling when you’ve spent hours wrestling with Post-It notes to devise something original for a book though.

(Please note: If you are in the market for writers for the next Bond film, you can contact us via the “About the Authors” tab above. Just saying. We’d take part of the fee in cake.)

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Stretching the story

Mark Williams as Father Brown


Candice: I’ve just spent a long but fun day on the set of Series 3 of Father Brown.  This light, afternoon show is based on the stories of G K Chesterton, of which there are a number, but not a many as the episodes from the three series that have been made.  So where do these extra story lines come from?

The description of the show says that they are based on the characters but new story lines, in the same vein as the books.  But they have moved the stories to the Cotswolds and cast a man who must be 6 ft in the role of  a ‘short,stumpy’ character.  Hum.

Then take James Bond, an extremely famous set of books which have been expanded in to many films.  How many of those are based on the actual books and how many ‘expanded in the same vein’?  There have even been additional books written by others including Sebastian Faulks, described as continuation books. Faulks wrote the book in the style of Fleming, and the novel carried the credit “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming”.

So, where do you go when you have run out of source material?  You obviously get someone to interpret it themselves in the style of.  But I question whether this really works?  If the original author knew the character and the concepts, and that is all they wrote, should you really take it on yourself to make something else when they never did?

As a purist I’m not sure I am a big fan of taking things further, and I dont always think it works. You often lose the real sense of the characters and the way the story will flow.  I know we have ideas for up to seven books with Kate and Dave, but if we don’t get past two or three before we decide that enough is enough, well then thats fine.  The characters have told their story.

When Bond returned to the screen with Daniel Craig, Casino Royale was based on a Fleming story but Quantum of Solace and Skyfall arent.  The first is a great film, the other two ok and totally different in style.  Skyfall particularly gives you a completely different Bond.  I have to say I wasn’t sure if it was my thing. The question I want to ask was, would the original author approve.

I do wonder with all of this if it is all about money rather than staying true to your characters.  I’d love to be in a situation where someone offered me money to carry on our stories, but I’d also like to say ‘enough is enough’.




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Win, Lose or Die – Blokelit?

 winloseordiePhil: This post was going to be a review of John Gardner’s James Bond Book Win, Lose or Die. I was going to mention that it’s a sort of blokey chick-lit with war and gun references replacing the shopping and designer brands.

It is of course. There’s loads of detail lavished on weapons systems and recalling military manoeuvres in the Falklands war. It all gets in the way of the plot probably proving that ex-military types are less adept at handling this sort of detail than most chick-lit authors. Since I didn’t grow up reading comics featuring war stories were characters would shout, “For you Fritz, the war is over”, I found myself wishing there was less minute detail on the ammunition.

Needless to say, I don’t have to do this as it’s pretty much what I said when reviewing another book from the same author just under a year ago. That’s the problem with a long running blog, it’s easy to repeat yourself.

Looking at my words, I obviously enjoyed The Man from Brabarossa rather more than Win, Lose or Die. I can understand that because the plot in this one doesn’t stack up. In fact there is a hole big enough to drive a battleship in to. A hole so large, you wonder why no-one thought to mention it before publication.

Spoiler Alert: For a chapter or two, Bond is taken off to a US military base for debriefing. Except it isn’t a US base, it’s a fake set up by the bad guys. Later is turns out that MI6 knew he had been sent there, that it was a fake – and didn’t bother to mention any of this to Bond. Had he known, he’d have spotted the dodgy Wren (who readers susssed out about 10 minutes after he met her anyway) and the climax of the story would have never taken place.

You could argue that this might have ruined the end of the book but not as much as wondering what they heck M and the rest of Bonds bosses were playing at.

That’s not the only plot issue either although this one is possibly more timely nowadays. It seems that nearly everything we say is being recorded both on the telephone and in the street. Computers use voice analysis software to listen for key phrases which prompts experts to listen properly to. This all sounds very like the PRISM listening programme revealed last year by Edward Snowden leaking documents. However, in 1989, I think Gardener was over-egging just how much surveillance was going on.

More to the point, why would the bad guys have a slogan they kept repeating which alerted the security services? I know Bond villans are normally a bit thick, after all why do they always reveal their plans instead of just shooting 007, but this takes dumbness to a new level.


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The Man from Barbarossa by John Gardner

The Man from BarbarossaPhil: A meeting between a debonaire man and a femme fatale in a fine restaurant, surely it can only be another lunchtime chat with team nolanparker?

No, this time it’s James Bond sharing some banter with one of this french counterparts, Stephanie Adore.

In book form, James Bond novels are the blokey equivalent of chick-lit. There’s some clunking product placement, pacey plot line and a bit of shagging. Compared to most chick-lit novels the products and rumpy-pumpy are toned down to a huge extent but I guess this tells you a lot about the difference between men and women.

John Gardner was the first author to be officially sanctioned by Ian Flemings family to write Bond stories. He took the existing characters but moved the plots from the 1950-60 period into the near past. TMFB takes place in 1991 during the run up to the first gulf war. The Cold War has ended, the Soviet Union is falling apart and so Bond operates in a far less certain world than he used to. Some changes have been made, there’s no mention of Bond’s Bently for example – it would be an anachronism in the 1990s when the marque was seen as a luxury brand rather than the sports car Flemming originally intended. Besides, by this point it would be a vintage vehicle and probably conk-out if he tried to drive it accross Europe as he had in previous stories.

Bond books are, apart from On Her Majesties Secret Service, very different from the films. The main characters have far more depth. There’s also a lot more build-up. The main adventure doesn’t get moving in this one until over half way through the novel. That’s not unusual for Book Bond, the “Spy Who Loved Me” doesn’t even see his appearance until 2/3rds of the way through the story. Mind you, Flemming seemed to recognise this wasn’t a great idea and never experimented this way again.

The thing is, that despite the big adventure not happening from page 1, it doesn’t matter. There are little adventures, including an assassination attempt, in the run up. The story seems to build and there is plenty of mystery to go before we get to the finale. Maybe the James Bond brand carries things along but this is one book that defies many of the conventions writers have to follow if they want to get into print.

Another is that the text is a bit clunky. Flemming suffered from this, Sebastian Faulks did a better job years later, but nothing like as badly as Dan Brown does. Despite this, the story is strong enough that you want to get to the end. I read the book in stages while waiting for glue to dry on another project and that seems just the right way to handle it. Bond books are not high art. They are good fun pulp reads writen in a hurry and meant to be read like this.

Anyway, I enjoyed TMFB – Action, adventure, beautiful women and incomprehensible cocktails, what else could a man want?

The Man from Barbarossa at Amazon

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Twitter could kill TV storylines

Dr WhoPhil: I’m not really a Twitterer. I might have a user name (Practical_Phil since you ask) and 38 followers (14 less than someone else) but despite quite a bit of research, I still don’t get it.

Apparently, Twitter is all about conversations and the way you take part in these is to use the appropriate hash tag. I’ve been meaning to give this a go so on Christmas day, I watched the Dr Who special and tuned in to #drwho on my ‘phone.

What I found there was lots of moaning. 10 minutes in and people are pronouncing the episode a terrible failure. As we progress, they are commenting that of course the potential new assistant looks like a character seen in a previous episode because it’s the same actress. And so it went on.

Now the show only lasted an hour. That’s 60 minutes. You could watch the whole thing and even if you didn’t like it, you hadn’t really wasted much of your life. Not for the Twitteratti though, judgements had to be made instantly because their opinions were vital to the sum of human knowledge.

This is all fine. People love a moan and if it keeps them entertained, who cares. Except that despite being aimed at a slightly drunk audience with bellies full of the devils own Brussel Sprouts, the plot was a little bit more complicated than it appeared. Yes, there was the main story about killer snowmen to entertain Granny, but alongside this was a darker plot with an emotionally damaged Doctor finding the will to carry on after the “death” of his last companions.

It brought to my mind the book version of James Bond in “You only live twice”. This opens with Bond recovering from the murder of his wife and we first find him a depressed man in mourning, not unlike the Doctor at the start of his story. Like Bond, by the end of the show, he is back on form and we have a new mystery in the form of Oswin who we are told will become the new companion despite dying twice in two very different eras.

All good you might think. We like slightly convoluted plot lines, mysteries and twists in the end. Except that those hammering Twitter don’t. They want nice, sequential, simple stories that they can comment on and understand at every single point. Mystery, no thanks. They want everything served up on a plate. We can’t waste time building the plot – give it to us now ! They yearn to see behind the curtain and if the Wizard wishes to keep his secrets, the result will be a tantrum.

This might not matter except that the people who commission this sort of stuff read Twitter. They will remember the opinions of people who couldn’t wait until the end to make comment. Commissioners will demand ever simpler plots full of linear narrative. It will be a gradual process but slowly, the complexity of TV drama will fade.

Still, we’ll still have books won’t we? Surely no-one tweets as they read?


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Skyfall isn’t about beautiful women, guns, cars or things going bang. It’s much simpler than that.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/94/Turner%2C_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_T%C3%A9m%C3%A9raire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken.jpg/800px-Turner%2C_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_T%C3%A9m%C3%A9raire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken.jpgPhil: Only a few weeks after everyone else, I finally got around to seeing the latest James Bond film, Skyfall.

It’s really rather good. The last two films in the series suffered from the producers who find CGI so easy that they decided to fill the film with it, giving two hours of relentless, crunching action sparing no room for silly things like plot, character development or changes of pace. (See also: The three Star Wars prequels, that terrible “reboot” of Star Trek, Indiana Jones 4 and loads of other films.)

This time we get something much more complex, but at its heart, far simpler.

Before you think I’m some sort of auteur, pay attention and the hints are dropped with a subtlety that even Agatha Christie would balk at. The important scene is the one where Bond and Q meet in the National Gallery in front of the Turner painting “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up“.

The painting shows a great  sail powered warship being taken to the breakers by a steam ship. Modern propulsion triumphs over the once great, but now obsolete predecessor.

This is the recurring theme through the film. It’s suggested that M should retire because the world has changed. That agents in the field are less important than nerds with computers and so on. By the end though, fortune has been reversed – the iconic 1960’s Aston Martin is a better mode of transport than a modern car, even if M comments on its lack of comfort. At least when it was bought, someone ticked the option box marked “machine guns”  (Well, you would wouldn’t you) and the final blow is struck with a knife. No one dies by iPad.

A strong central theme is important for a story and it certainly provides both poignancy and purpose for Skyfall.

Returning to the painting though, there is another lesson for the writer. Turner didn’t see the scene he portrayed. The Temeraire would have been little more than a hull by the time she was hauled to be scrapped. Masts and cannon would have been removed, as would anything of value. Despite this, the scene shows her in her prime – not because it’s accurate but because it makes for a better story. It’s as much fiction as the film, and just as entertaining.


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