Tuesday, 16 April 2013

William Boyd: Going Solo with James Bond at the London Book Fair

by Catriona Troth 

There seems to be a theme developing here. Last year at the London Book Fair I heard Anthony Horowitz talking about stepping into Arthur Conan Doyle’s shoes to write his ‘continuation novel’ House of Silk. This year, William Boyd is the Fair’s Author of the Day, and the shoes being tried on for size are those of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming.

William Boyd with Erica Wagner at the English Pen Literary Cafe 

Boyd makes an interesting choice to write the next Bond novel. On the one hand, he has taught English literature at Oxford University and written novels (such as Any Human Heart and Nat Tate) that push the boundaries of what the novel can do. On the other, he has penned two spy novels (Restless and Waiting for Sunrise) and has written about both Ian Fleming himself and that other great spymaster, John le Carré.

It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would get the job. He faced an interview with the Ian Fleming foundation. “I think I got the job because I showed them I was interested in Bond, the man. It’s something enormously fun, but you have to take it seriously.”

Before embarking on the new book, Boyd read every Bond novel and short story in chronological order. “Reading them forensically was a fantastic experience. Fleming left an enormous amount of biographical information about Bond the books.”

Did you know, for instance, that Bond is not English, but half Scottish and half Swiss? That he spent two terms at Eton before being chucked out and finishing his education in a Scottish public school? That he was captain of the judo team?

Boyd has chosen to set his novel in 1969, the year he himself came to London from Africa as a 17 year old. “I could remember the music, the fashions. It was the height of swinging London.”

But at this point, Bond is a 45 year of man – a product of the 50s and of World War II, not of the 60s. “He has no technological gimmickry to fall back on. On the other hand, there were no security checks at airports. You could smoke anywhere.”

Boyd is not channelling Ian Fleming’s voice. “From my academic background, I could analyse Fleming’s style. But I didn’t want to do a pastiche. This is a William Boyd novel.”

And now comes the Big Reveal. ( Hey, you probably all know this by now but, when I tweeted it yesterday it was practically an exclusive! ) The title of the new Bond novel is going to be:


And Bond is indeed going solo – heading off on a mission of his own that will take him from Africa to the USA.

As someone in the audience pointed out, can’t you just picture the classic Bond silhouette, aiming a gun out of those two round ‘O’s?

You can read more of the Library Cat’s adventures at the London Book Fair on the Triskele Books blog.


  1. I was there too and I really, really enjoyed Boyd's talk. Thanks for this post and hats off for writing it after a long day at The Fair!
    Helena xx

  2. English Pen have now put the full interview up on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fab4oy_BBg&feature=youtu.be&a