Comedian's licence to thrill
PEPPERMINT cordial, shaken not stirred. The adventures of James Bond, aged 13, are to be revealed in two new books by comedian Charlie Higson.
The co-creator of the BBC’s Fast Show, who is also a writer of adult thrillers and screenplays, has been signed up to write two prequels set during the celebrated spy’s time as a pupil at Eton.
And, following the successes of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter tales - which saw applications to boarding school rise - and Anthony Horowitz’s four Alex Rider boy spy books, which have sold in excess of 1.1 million copies, Higson appears set to score a major publishing hit when the first episode comes out in March next year.
The move came after Puffin Books, the children’s arm of Penguin Books, acquired the rights to use the Bond name from Ian Fleming Publications, owners of the literary copyright.
Higson, who became famous with characters such as Swiss Toni and aristocrat Ralph on the Fast Show, said: "I’ve grown up with Bond and, whilst I’ve had to finally accept that I’ll never play him in the films, writing about him is even more exciting.
"Ever since having children of my own I’ve wanted to write a thriller for kids, so when I was approached by the Fleming estate to work on a new James Bond series for younger readers it was too good an opportunity to turn down."
And the Fleming family appear to be pleased with his work on the books to date.
Lucy Fleming, the author’s niece, gave their seal of approval, saying: "Charlie’s done a wonderful job in capturing the essence of my uncle’s James Bond."
The books are set in the 1930s, with the young Bond just about to start at Eton after being educated by his Aunt Chariman following the death of his parents. His first adventure takes him to a remote Scottish castle where a wealthy American has been conducting some "very disturbing experiments", according to Puffin.
A spokeswoman for the publisher said: "The authentic Thirties settings provide a fascinating backdrop to James Bond’s favourite years and Charlie Higson, with meticulous research, has ensured that his teenage spy remains true to Ian Fleming’s creation. There is action, adventure and of course, gadgets and girls.
"When Ian Fleming unleashed James Bond on the world, he created the definitive modern icon.
"With his deadly charm and sophistication, James Bond has won over many fans. In these two new adventures a new audience of young and adult readers alike will be thrilled with his escapades."
Puffin refused to reveal how much had been paid as an advance to Higson but joked it had been "safely filed under ‘top secret’ and stored in an abandoned missile silo off the coast of Norway".
Rebecca McNally, the fiction publisher at Puffin, said she was "hugely excited by this important new acquisition". She added: "James Bond is the world’s biggest spy brand and Charlie’s writing is perfect - gripping, suspenseful and very true to the original Bond. We’ve had enough of wannabes, this is the real thing."
After the films of Fleming’s books proved popular, new stories were written for the screen and published as books.
But the Higson books will be the first prequels about his early life.
Despite the popularity of his work, Fleming received little in the way of literary acclaim.
However last year, Indiana University, in the United States, hosted the first "academic symposium" about the author, saying he had fresh relevance in the midst of the war on terror.
Stephen Watt, of the university’s English department, said: "Fleming has a lot to say about the international climate of terrorism and the world’s response to it. Since 11 September, Fleming and the Bond movies have become more relevant than ever before.
"They can tell us a tremendous amount about who we are, how we represent ourselves and who our enemies are."
The teenage Bond’s exploits will doubtless have a less serious tone.
But it is hoped that the books will help redress an alarming decline in the number of children, particularly boys, who read books.
The Harry Potter stories have gone a long way towards this and books about a young James Bond are also likely to prove popular.
The next of Horowitz’s Alex Rider books, Scorpia, will be released next week.
Alex is a wealthy, trust-fund orphan who becomes and unwilling recruit of MI6. The books are full of gadgets, maniacal enemies, killer viruses, human clones and nuclear missiles. In one story Alex even has a girlfriend, Sabina Pleasure, whose name is a bad, Bond-esque pun.
Horowitz recently spoke about how as a child he yearned to be James Bond. "The one thing there was to look forward to every year was the new James Bond film," he said.
Now he and other fans have a new Bond book to anticipate just as eagerly.
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