|William Boyd – picture from BBC.co.uk|
I heard some brilliant news on the radio this morning. One of my very favourite writers, William Boyd, is going to write a new Bond book. I loved his latest novel, Waiting for Sunrise (my review is here), and although I’m very much looking forward to the new book, it got me thinking about the recent rush of well-known writers who’ve written sequels to famous novels, or who are writing novels using a well-known character.
The grand dame of crime, PD James, wrote a sequel to Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley, last year. Just a month before that, in October 2011, the hugely popular children’s writer, Anthony Horowitz, came out with a new Sherlock Holmes book, The House of Silk. Both books did very well on the best seller lists, as did the previously produced Bond book by Sebastian Faulks, Devil May Care. So you might say William Boyd is onto a good thing…
None of the above writers need publicity, nor (one would hope) are they in the business of writing something just for the money (or I may just be naive).
So why do it? Why take a well-known character and write a story for him/her? Have these prolific writers run out of ideas?
In the case of PD James, who at 91 surely now does exactly what she wants rather than what is asked of her, writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice had been a life-long ambition. This showed in her excellent book, which in the foreword has a posthumous apology to Austen, who herself had said that if she felt Pride and Prejudice needed a sequel she would have written it. So a task and half, then, to write a sequel against the original creator’s wishes.
When interviewed this morning, William Boyd said that he was honoured to be asked by the estate of Ian Fleming to write a new Bond book. He was introduced to the glamorous spy by his father and having read the books, loved them all. Boyd has even included Ian Fleming as a character in one of his own books, Any Human Heart. When asked if it would be ‘like wearing a straightjacket’ to have to write in a specific genre and style, Boyd said, ‘No’. He added that it was rather as if another writer had given him permission to play with his toys.
And there, in once sentence, Boyd explained to me why so many writers have a fascination with famous characters. What I would see as a writing exercise (if you’ve ever taken a course in creative writing at some stage the tutor will get you to copy another writer’s style), Boyd and perhaps the others, view it as an adventure in writing.
Whatever the case, I cannot wait to read the new Bond book, which according to Boyd will be set in 1969, and will be an old-fashioned spy thriller. If that doesn’t whet the appetite of any James Bond fan, I don’t know what will.
About twelve years ago, some bloody woman whose name I have chosen to forget wrote "another" Dorothy L Sayers Peter and Harriet Wimsey novel… it was dire. I couln't finish it even though I had parted with good money for the hardback. Same happened with a prequel of Little Women, called Narch, a few years later. Equally unfinishable.
Strikes me for every Wide Sargasso Sea there is a heap of hapless, hopeless, opportunistic band-wagon-jumping of the very weakest sort. I hope your faith in Boyd's Bond is not misplaced.
Myself, I think the greatest triumph of fiction is invention of memorable characters. To prequel or sequel another writer's characters back story or next stage if "developmemt" is a teensy bit of a cop-out, creatively, however much an intellectual challenge imitating a style might be.
Will it be a delight, aa you hope, or just one for the pension fund, maybe…?
Helena Halme says
I agree with you that there are a lot of horrible prequels and sequels out there, but here's hoping that writers of such calibre as William Boyd would not need to hop onto any bandwagon and are professional enough to be able to write a good book using someone else's character…time will tell! xx