MI6 talked to author Charlie Higson about researching
the first Young Bond novel - SilverFin...
SilverFin: In Conversation With Charlie Higson
8th March 2005
MI6 talked to Charlie Higson earlier this month about his work
on the new Young Bond series and the first book, SilverFin. Speaking
for the first time to a James Bond website, Charlie Higson discussed
his work on SilverFin and the future of the Young Bond series
in this serialized MI6 interview.
How did you research the character before starting to write
SilverFin? Did you read all the Fleming, Amis, Gardner and Benson
I only read Ian Fleming's novels. I had read them before and
I re-read all of them. The problem is, if you try and keep up
with everything that everyone else has written, it is actually
completely impossible. Some of the other books end up tying themselves
up in knots trying to keep everything together and keep Bond at
the right age. Past the Fleming books, he would have probably
have been too old to carry on doing what he did, so it was very
much a case of "Fleming is the core". Those are the
books that they wanted to continue, so it was very much to fit
in with those. The best research you can do if you're writing
a James Bond book is to read the Fleming novels, so I re-read
them all very carefully and made notes on the bits that relate
to his past. I also read a lot of books about the books, and various
Bond reference titles.
I also read a lot about Ian Fleming himself and his early life
because obviously the character in his books is his fantasy idealised
version of himself. It's his voice that comes through very strongly
in the books and gives us that sense of who James Bond is. The
one thing I didn't try and do was take his voice. I don't think
you can, it's so distinctive and so well done - and so outrageous
occasionally - but I did want to try and keep the character as
much as possible in keeping with what he wrote about and what
he himself had done.
don't read the Fleming books for the plots, you read them
for the incidental detail, the characters, the villains,
the situations... the plots themselves are pretty simple."
How did you come up with the plot for
SilverFin? How difficult did you find it to be original
considering the sheer size of the series?
The problem with James Bond is that all the possible plots
have been done, there have been so many books and films,
and all the parodies as well... So trying to do anything
within James Bond that hasn't already been done to death
or has become corny is difficult. But at the same time,
what I wanted to do was keep it within the classic Ian Fleming
structure of the books.
Really, you don't read the Fleming books for the plots,
you read them for the incidental detail, the characters,
the villains, the situations, but actually the plots themselves
are pretty simple. There really isn't any great sleuthing
or detective work. He always puts a lot of effort into making
what the villain is doing plausible and interesting and
a sort of insight into a world. So I wanted to do that,
and keep the plot fairly simple as an action plot, and to
have a classic Bond villain.
I thought it was good that it's for kids because you can
split that villain between the child who is at school with
Bond, and the father, and the henchmen who work for the
father. So all the classic Bond elements are there.
What really convinced me that these things work, and would be
really fun to do, was that I might be able to do something new
as they are set in the early 1930's. You can get away from all
the stuff that's been well trodden and get away from the gadgets
and the cold war stuff. You can get away from Bond with a clock
ticking down to zero...
Speaking of technology, as SilverFin is set in the 1930's,
how do you justify the technology used (or alluded to) in the
Well the references are there to genetic
engineering, and that's the resonance the technology would
have today for a modern reader and its good to have something
they can relate to, but I did very carefully research what
was known at the time. It is conceivable that what they
are doing in the book could have been done.
Persues' friend does say at one point, "we might be
barking up the wrong tree, genetics is the future".
This was during the time that Hitler and the Nazi's were
beginning to investigate all that, to try and justify their
views. Obviously it was during the second World War that
things like experiments on twins were done in the genetics
arena. So in the book they are not doing genetics, it does
specifically say that they are not trying to do it through
breeding, they are trying to do it through the use of hormones
- which were known about at the time. Research into that
area of freaks and giants etc, had been going on since about
the 18th century. So all the science in the book is pretty
Above: Charlie Higson
What are the major differences between the English and American
There are a couple of very mild sexual references, but they're
not really "sexual references", they are physical descriptions
of the girl - which they objected to. There was one line about
her pinning him down with her thighs that they didn't really like.
They are very prudish over there.
The other significant changes were to do with violence. I had
to change some of the descriptions of Meat Packer's body coming
out of the lake. I think the eel doesn't come out of his mouth
any more, it comes out of his shirt collar. It's a shame because
kids love all that. The problem with American publishing is that
children's literature is a huge market but it's dominated by the
book clubs and various school bodies and librarians who are very
set on what they will and will not read - and some very bizarre
stuff is banned there. It's a strange country because you can
go down to the local supermarket and buy a real gun, but you can't
by a toy gun anywhere.
Is the castle in SilverFin based on
a real location? Did you visit anywhere for location research?
No. It is real up to about Fort William and once they start
driving out of there I decided to make up the villages and
the loch and the castle.
The problem with doing a project like this is you've got
to do a huge amount of research in a) the James Bond and
Ian Fleming area, b) the whole Eton thing, c) the 1930's
setting and d) all the technical stuff. Ian Fleming was
up on all that and I know everybody is going to be reading
the book trying to find mistakes in it. So I felt that once
I'd got to the area where all the main action was to take
place, I thought I'm going to have to free myself here and
make up where this is, otherwise I'm going to be constantly
restricted by reality.
There are an awful lot of castles up there, lots of remote little
castle on islands... There is one castle near Kyle of Lochalsh
on which I loosely based the castle in SilverFin on. There are
a lot of them up that way and they are quite distinctive, but
I didn't want to be bogged down in researching everything about
I've sort of taken the route that Ian Fleming did, which was
to make sure the first two thirds of the book were rooted in solid
reality and were heavily researched, which gave him the confidence
to do whatever he liked in the last third. If you can get the
small details right, you can pull off the big stuff without anyone
How long did it take to write SilverFin, from the moment
you first started sketching out ideas to the final editing process?
Well the main process of writing the book took around a year.
There is stuff that trickles on after that. Once it got into the
stage of fact checking and re-checking it did go backwards and
forwards quite a lot, but the bulk of it was pretty much done
in a year. I've just finished the second one, so it's been around
two years since I did SilverFin.
SilverFin is released on 3rd March 2005 in the UK by
Puffin, and will be released in the USA on April 27th 2005 by
Now - Amazon UK
Now - Amazon USA
Stay tuned to MI6 for the next installment.
Many thanks to Charlie Higson.