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How Sebastian Faulks wrote Devil May Care

04-Jun-2008 • Literary

When James Bond receives a new mission from M - be it saving London from a nuclear missile, or infiltrating the secret lair of a madman bent on global domination - he usually visits Q for the latest gadgets, straightens the collar on his tuxedo and revs up his Aston Martin DB5. When novelist Sebastian Faulks got a call from his literary agent that he had a mission to write the new James Bond novel, well, he wasn't so cavalier as 007 - reports Canada.com.

"I said, 'I'm not sure I can really do this,' " he says by phone from London, the day after the release of Devil May Care. "The last novel I'd published (2005's Human Traces) had been 650 pages about psychiatry in late Victorian Europe. Have they got the right man?"

The call came about two years ago. At a subsequent meeting, representatives from the estate of Ian Fleming explained how they wanted him to write a new Bond novel to coincide with the centenary of Fleming's birth. They were impressed by the way he wrote about the 1960s in his novel On Green Dolphin Street.

Faulks, 55, was familiar with the books, of course, having read a few of them while attending a "rather strict" English boarding school as a child. He remembers he and a fellow classmate were complaining about Latin one day, when the classmate handed him a copy of From Russia With Love.

"I just thought it was the most thrilling thing," he recalls. Perhaps too thrilling; the books were banned from his school for being "racy." Says Faulks: "You had to read them in some clandestine way, under the bedclothes."

So when he left the meeting with the estate - promising to reread the Bond novels and consider the proposal - he didn't think he'd still like the books.

"You think that what you liked at age 12 is not going to be what you like at 55," he says. "(But) pretty much straight away I found that they were much better than I thought they would be."

But, most of all, says Faulks, it was the character of James Bond that kept his attention: "The most important thing about (the books) was that after 20 or 30 pages, you find that you are worried about the well-being of this character. I found myself thinking, 'I've seen the movie, I know he gets out alive!' "

In preparing to write Devil May Care, Faulks studied a magazine article Fleming had written around 1962.

"It was called 'How to write a thriller,'" he says. "He was incredibly candid about his working methods. He said you must write it in six weeks. You must write 2,000 words each day. Don't hesitate. Don't look back. Just let the story drive you on ... He made it sound like, almost, a sort of journalistic assignment."

So that's what Faulks did. He followed the Fleming mantra of 2,000 words a day and wrote the book in six weeks.

Devil May Care takes place in 1967, at the heart of the Cold War.

"I think the key for me was to find an area of villainy that Fleming hadn't used," says Faulks. "When you think 1967 you think flower power, you think drugs."

This time Bond's foil is a shady pharmaceutical baron named Julius Gorner and the book's femme fatale - a hallmark of the series - is named Scarlett Papava.

Faulks had to make some concessions in the writing of this book, however. He wrote a scene involving a shootout in a caviar factory, only to be told one of the movies (The World is Not Enough) had already done it.

"Rather reluctantly, I had to drop that."

Since the book is billed as "Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming," Faulks had to ensure he had mastered Fleming's style. Before he began to write, he wrote a one-page analysis of Fleming's style: how long are his sentences and chapters? What is his tone? It was not uncharted territory. Faulks included a parody of Fleming's writing in his 2006 collection Pistache

"I am a bit of a mimic, I suppose," he says. "I have an ear for other people."

Faulks isn't the first to copy Fleming; a number of Bond books have been released since his death - one, Colonel Sun, was written by Kingsley Amis - and Devil May Care clocks in as No. 36. Faulks thinks the tradition should continue.

"You have guest editors of newspapers, or guest curators of art shows," he says. "I can think of a number of writers who would like a six-week vacation."

When Ian Fleming died in 1964, at the age of 56, his literary output included 12 James Bond novels and two short-story collections.

What kind of legacy did Fleming leave behind?

"As a literary figure, almost none," he says. "These books are not deep, they are not profound, they do not pretend to be and he never said they were."

However, he adds, James Bond is known throughout the world as a symbol of entertainment and escapism to millions of people. You can lose yourself in a movie for a couple of hours or you can dive into a book.

"The amazing thing he has done is he has left this one character. That's not really a literary legacy, but it's a hell of a thing."

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