Author Charlie Higson on a Young James Bond movie - `we are not doing a film deal yet `
The sudden success of a new book, Silverfin, which chronicles the adventures of the young Bond as an Eton schoolboy in the Thirties, has quickly provoked fierce competition between film-makers. The novel, published this month, is the first of a planned series of five and has been written by TV writer and comic actor Charlie Higson - reports The Guardian
'I have been a bit taken aback,' said Higson this weekend. 'While I was writing the book, I think I forgot just how big a thing Bond is. What I did know, though, because of my three sons, was that there was a gap in the market for thrillers written for boys in this age range.'
Higson, already a TV star and co-writer of the BBC's The Fast Show, is destined to become a wealthy man of letters, regardless of how much the film deal eventually nets him. Sales of the title, which was published on 3 March, have easily exceeded the early figures for Harry Potter and for Philip Pullman's Dark Materials series. The book is already at number eight in the children's paperback bestseller list.
Publisher Puffin argues the phenomenon will grow into a serious challenger to the biggest names in the children's crossover market, but the Ian Fleming estate, which is in charge of administering the original Bond author's works and commissioned Higson's book, is determined to withstand Hollywood pressure to make a film until the new works are established in their own right.
'We are not doing a film deal yet because we are confident that the books can stand alone for a while. Book buyers everywhere keep telling us they would buy the title even if it was nothing to do with a strong brand like Bond, simply because it is so well written,' said Corinne Turner of the Fleming estate.
This hardline strategy has not stopped film companies Miramax, DreamWorks and Eon Productions, the company behind the adult Bond films, making heavy pitches. The studios have spotted the commercial potential of a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter film series. The estate has been approached by British film companies too.
'We know Miramax, who are publishing the book in the United States, are very interested in the film rights too, and so are some of other big names, but we are holding off,' said Turner. 'The next Higson book will come out in January and we have the manuscript already. The estate has done other continuations of the Bond story in the past - Kingsley Amis wrote one, for example - but we wanted to see if we could take the story back in time. We wanted to go back to Ian's original style.'
Half the Fleming literary estate was sold to Booker plc before the author's death but the rights were sold back to the family in the late Nineties and a wave of new projects, including Bond merchandising and games, is being prepared. Rebecca McNally of Puffin said Silverfin 'was huge' for the publishing house. 'And this is mainly because Charlie has written it so unpatronisingly.'
Silverfin tells how the teenage Bond, an orphan, copes with life at Eton and, on holiday in the Highlands, unmasks a Scottish laird who is also an evil scientific genius. Along the way, the young Bond is attracted to a prototypical Fleming heroine, Wilder Lawless - a name that apes the double entendre of Fleming creations such as Tiffany Case and Pussy Galore, and the romantic heroine of his children's story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Truly Scrumptious.
Higson said he found it hard to come up with names in the Fleming vein, but the most difficult thing was the titles of the books. Like JK Rowling, he has worked out a narrative thread to take his characters through all five books. This, says the Fleming estate, is why they chose him above other writers.
'We looked at the adult thrillers Charlie had already written, of which the best known is King of the Ants, and we thought he was right.'
Film rights to the Bond stories are owned by the late Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli's firm, Eon Productions. This is a strong contender to make Silverfin but is now putting together the 21st Bond film, Casino Royale.
Bond fans can also look forward to a BBC film about the life of Ian Fleming this autumn, starring Ben Daniels as the author.
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