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There's a Bond in all of us, says the new 007 novelist Jeffery Deaver

22-May-2011 • Literary

James Bond was always more than a literary creation in a series of entertaining popular novels. He was a model for someone I aspired to be, writes Jeffery Deaver in the Daily Mail.

The wind is abrasive, the temperature dangerously low, the air here at 10,000ft dizzily thin.

Below me, at some distance, is a vapour of fog and blowing snow, quite efficiently obscuring whatever rocks and chunks of ice and trees marble the route down which I’m about to ski.

It’s many years ago and I’m in Vail, Colorado, at the top of one of the back bowls. For those of you who don’t know, back bowls are open ski areas on the far side of the mountains, icy, unmaintained and wholly lacking in those quaint cafes where you can rest and enjoy a beer or hot chocolate. Back bowls are where the search dogs find the bodies after avalanches. Sometimes.

Finally, after my discouraging reconnaissance, I decide it’s time. A solid tap on my helmet to make sure it’s secure, a tight grip on my poles, a deep breath and I’m off.

There is one person who is responsible for this descent – and all those that have preceded it. Not a famous skier, not an athletic coach in school, not a co-worker.

No, the reason I have decided to risk life and limb by hurtling down mountains is James Bond.

One bleak winter day, more than 40 years ago, I read Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which Bond escapes from arch-enemy Ernst Blofeld’s Alpine eyrie on skis. I loved those scenes and, despite living in an area outside of Chicago, Illinois, where the highest elevation was about 300ft, I decided that some day I was going to learn the sport.

For me, James Bond was always more than a literary creation in a series of entertaining popular novels. He was a model for someone I aspired to be. True, I was a young nine-year-old from Illinois when he first entered my life, but why couldn’t I be James Bond?

Imagining a future as this suave, Savile Row-suited upper-class English spy was every schoolboy’s dream, one that transcends continents.And then the unbelievable happened – I was given the chance to become him, if only for a limited period.

I have won a number of awards for my thrillers, and my book The Bone Collector was made into a Hollywood movie, but the accolade I am most proud of is the day I was awarded the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, presented in conjunction with the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association, for my thriller Garden Of Beasts.

What followed was a twist of fate. In the audience was the head of Fleming’s literary estate, Corinne Turner. She was so taken by my heartfelt eulogy to the great man as I accepted the award that she decided Mr Bond would have an interesting new adventure in my hands. It was the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition.

As a writer, Fleming’s Bond books appealed to me as wonderful stories, but they also stood as singular examples of a thriller writer’s craft. I learned, through osmosis as well as design, much technique from Fleming’s work; compactness, attention to detail, heroic though flawed characters, fast pacing, concrete imagery and straightforward prose.

Writing the latest Bond continuation novel, Carte Blanche, has given me reason to reflect on the many ways that Fleming has inspired me as an author, but also to reflect on quite how much this quintessentially English character was an inspiration for my entire life.

As I have already suggested, our lives were hardly parallel. I’m an American, I was not an orphan, I attended a modest state school, I was never asked to leave Eton over some ‘trouble’ with a maid… sadly.

Growing up I was pudgy and had little athletic skill. I never saw military service, though I grew up with great reverence for the military, particular the air force, since my father was a flier in World War II (stationed in East Anglia, by the way).

My family rarely travelled and the only international journeys in my youth were driving 100 miles or so north into Canada, and the purpose of those secret missions was solely to trick fish into thinking that my angling lure was really a tasty frog or caterpillar. Bond’s life was, in fact, about as opposite from mine as could be… and that may have been the reason that I resolved to make myself a bit more like my hero.

Gambling, for instance.

In high school I started a regular poker game. (In the Sixties, adolescents did not play Bond’s game of baccarat.) I still recall one Saturday night when I was about 17. Inspired by the great bridge scene in Moonraker, where Bond puts a stop to Hugo Drax’s cheating by stacking the cards, I did the same. I prepared a deck beforehand, to give my fellow players, respectively, a full house, four of a kind and a straight flush.

You can imagine the giddy betting, the size of the pot… and my fellow players’ expressions when I laid down my royal flush and scooped in the chips. (Yes, yes, I confessed and we all took back our money.)

Bond was quite the marksman, of course, and, though I’ve never had an interest in hunting game, I took to collecting guns and going to the range, even working on weapons myself. Although I lacked any skill for sports like American football and baseball, I found I had a talent for shooting and became captain of the team at school. (By the way, it is much easier to stand or sit in one spot and put holes in paper 50 yards away than to exhaust yourself running up and down an athletic field, only to get knocked down by large opponents).

Live And Let Die finds Bond travelling from New York to St Petersburg, Florida, and onward to Jamaica, where he does battle against the villain, Mr Big, in part by scuba-diving to the man’s yacht and planting explosives on the hull. I grew up with little interest in large bodies of water – not having actually seen one until I was about nine or ten. Still, reading Live And Let Die awoke in me a desire to strap some oxygen tanks on my back and descend into the ocean.

Cars. Ah, you can’t separate Bond from his vehicles, and that’s a passion Ian Fleming also ignited within me. Fast vehicles and spies seem to go hand in hand, but this is a recent convention. Fleming invented the prototype of the international agent who lives – and drives – fast. Because of Bond, I made sure that my first car had a manual gearbox because I wanted to make ‘racing changes’, whatever those were, as he regularly did.

Bond’s first vehicle was a supercharged four-and-a-half-litre ‘Blower’ Bentley, which, after failing to survive run-ins with villains in two books, was replaced by first one then another Bentley Continental.

Trivia: the Aston Martin that Bond drove in Goldfinger was not his own, but was drawn from the Secret Service’s car pool. If the government budget in the UK is anything like that in America, he would today be driving a Vauxhall Astra or a Ford Focus. In Carte Blanche, I decided to give Bond back his Bentley. He now drives a Continental GT.

My entry into the vehicular world was somewhat more modest than Bond’s. That first car I mentioned was a Chevrolet Vega (Google it, and please don’t laugh). But whenever I had the resources I would upgrade. My fun cars have been a Jaguar, a Maserati, and several BMWs, including an old Alpina and more recently an M5 and M3.

I don’t compete in racing (my insurance is high enough already), but I do go to the track occasionally to try to beat my prior records. While I can’t swim as far as Bond or beat him at golf, I can say I have driven considerably faster than what I believe is his highest documented speed in the books: 125mph.

I can point to other influences too: a love of Black Sea caviar, Champagne, well-tailored though not extravagant clothing and a passion for travel and exploring other cultures (read Fleming’s Thrilling Cities, which is as entertaining as his novels). But Bond has been more than just an inspiration for activities and accessories in my life; like other fictional protagonists – Sam Spade, Horatio Hornblower, Sherlock Holmes – he moulded my philosophy, in much the same way that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger have, I’m sure, shaped the outlooks of young people today.

First, of course, he was a patriot. He’s a classic hero, willing to sacrifice himself for his country and its allies. This was a quality shared by both the movie Bonds and the protagonist of Fleming’s novels, but a reading of the books shows that the original character had other qualities as well, ones that are not so evident in the films.

For instance, Bond had a wry sense of humour and was a master of irony. He had a healthy scepticism and was willing to confront authority and question ill-advised decisions, no matter how high the origin. He ignored the doubts that occasionally plagued him and strode forward to do his duty. His distaste for intolerance and contempt for mindless adherence to conformity are clear throughout the books. He preferred to act on his own, rather than be part of a committee or team, and gladly took responsibility for the consequences.

In Moonraker, Bond reflects that it’s his ambition to spend all his money on the things that matter to him and to die with a bank balance of zero. And in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond learns that he might be descended from a family whose motto is ‘The World Is Not Enough’.

These hint at what I think is the ultimate lesson I’ve taken from Ian Fleming’s books: while master criminals or Russian assassins may not be plotting our demise, our time here is limited; accordingly we should, like James Bond, make very sure that every single moment counts and nothing that’s important to us escapes our grasp, whether it be the Rolex watch, the steering wheel of your speeding sports car… or, of course, the sultry woman who just might, or might not, be a spy.

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