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Licence to emulate

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

For your eyes only cover

More than 40 years after Ian Fleming's death a new James Bond book is published this week. How does someone seamlessly step into the shoes of famous writer and what do pastiched authors think of their imitators?

Writer Sebastian Faulks could be forgiven for pausing a little longer than normal before committing to the first sentence of his latest novel.

Unlike his previous works, including the celebrated novels Birdsong and Charlotte Gray, Faulks' new tome is less of a purely personal endeavour; more about mimicry. The object of his emulation - James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

As the latest writer to be invited by Fleming's estate to pen a Bond book, Faulks' every word and turn of phrase will been intensely scrutinised by the audience of millions he inherits from taking on the 007 character.

Devil May Care, which is published on Wednesday - the centenary of Fleming's birth - is already said to have delighted Fleming's estate. Set in the 1960s, Faulks has said the work is "about 80% Fleming".

He is not the first author to take on Fleming's character. Kingsley Amis and Fast Show star Charlie Higson - author of the Young James Bond series - are among a handful to have done so.

Sebastian Faulks and Ian Fleming
Faulks says his new book is 80% Fleming

But in grasping the Bond baton, Faulks is also following in the footsteps of another well trodden bookish tradition - the literary franchise. Recent examples include the Godfather Returns and the Godfather's Revenge, in which Mark Winegardner took on the story originally set down by Mario Puzo.

It took more than 50 years for Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone With the Wind to be followed up. Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley appeared in 1991. While Sally Beauman's 2001 novel Rebecca's Tale picked up where Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca left off.

How do writers go about taking on the mantle of loved and respected authors while keeping fans of the original happy - and reading?

In the case of multi-million selling US novelist Tom Clancy - the author rather than the character has become the brand.

Your money's worth

Best known for his CIA spy-turned-US president Jack Ryan series, adapted into films like Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford, the Clancy franchise now extends to spin-off novels marketed under his name, but written by different authors.

I was brought in is to extend the brand to new readers - especially women
Jeff Rovin, who does a mean Tom Clancy

And as with James Bond, what makes the Clancy brand a viable "follow-on" proposition is the creation of an alternative literary "universe" that readers can identify with.

New York writer Jeff Rovin was brought in to pen the Tom Clancy's Op Centre series. He is philosophical about what some might describe as a certain lack of adventure among readers who return again and again to the same styles and scenarios.

"There's a lot of pressure on people's time these days," he says. "With Clancy, readers know that they are going to get a certain level of storytelling, and they will get their money's worth."

He is crystal clear about what Clancy fans demand.

"My books need to be two things - compelling, and plausible. Within them, there also needs to be a sense that the 'system' works - and that whatever government mistakes occur, we can manage to self-correct."

As with Clancy's original novels, Rovin's versions see heroic American intelligence operatives - this time working for the "Op Centre" rather than for the CIA - battle dastardly plots which have been confected by, usually, foreign terrorists.

Soap-opera style

Rovin is candid about the reasons he was hired. Not only does he have to satisfy fans of original Clancy novels, but he has greater ambitions too.

Tom Clancy
'Here's one I DID write' - pastiched author Tom Clancy

"I was brought in is to extend the brand to new readers - especially women." he says. "That's why my Clancy-type books have more of a soap-opera feel to them - the characters spend quite a lot of time in their offices lamenting divorces, office romances and problems with kids. These are things that everyone can relate to."

Given that the Op Centre series is published with his name prominently displayed, Tom Clancy is presumably happy that the rather macho universe he created is now a little softer around the edges - particularly if new readers keep buying the works.

But other authors are adamant that whoever takes on their idea must be faithful to the vision they originally created.

Best-selling children's author Lauren Child created the successful Charlie and Lola series - later adapted for BBC TV. Although nearly 20 Charlie and Lola books have appeared, only the first three were exclusively written and illustrated by Child herself.

The other books are based on TV shows written by various scriptwriters and are marketed as "characters created by Lauren Child".

Input and control

"Although I don't write the books, I make sure that I have a lot of input and control about what goes out under my name," says Child. "The books are written after a lot of discussions between me, the TV producer and the scriptwriters. It's a very collaborative approach."

Charlie and Lola
It would be like hearing a beautiful song you had composed sung by someone with an awful voice
Lauren Child, creator of Charlie and Lola (above)

"I would hate it if someone wrote a Charlie and Lola book that didn't stay true to the universe I originally created - it would be like hearing a beautiful song you had composed sung by someone with an awful voice."

Columnist and literary critic Sam Leith thinks this sense of staying true to the original author's vision does more than anything to keep the fans on-side.

Imitating the writer's writing style is crucial, he believes.

He's due to review the new Bond novel for the Daily Telegraph - where he is literary editor - and he hopes Faulks will follow the style of Ian Fleming, which he describes as "slick, thrillingly cold and aggressive."

Other themes that ought to remain the same, he says, are Bond's rather unreformed approach to women ("Bond is definitely not a new man" ) and Fleming's obsession with named, branded products.

"Fleming uses brands as a shorthand for glamour," he says.

Literary reporter Benedicte Page says pastiche authors need to be able to write "in a style sufficiently similar to make a convincing sequel or companion novel, but with enough of their own voice too."

For Leith, one thing such authors need to do is "avoid is any sense of parody, or self-consciousness in their writing".

"If loyal fans get a sense that the author doesn't take their chosen universe seriously, they will stop reading immediately. It's the equivalent of the writer turning to wink at the camera - a big turn off."


Below is a selection of your comments.

Primordial instincts (no PC nonsense) and humour portrayed in a bygone era (not imitable) of class and good taste, along with a good dose of decency are the elements which make Fleming's works attractive to me, and not only to me I'm sure. And without Sean Connery's persona, Bond would never have taken off. Trying to imitate all this simply doesn't make sense. Craig was good, but perhaps it's time to move on and stop trying to imitate. Perhaps by once again accepting the value of the above-mentioned elements.
Joe, Croydon, UK

As a fan of Dirk Gently (a character created by the late Douglas Adams), I would love to see someone create further works involving the character. The genius of any original author of great works is not just in the stories they have written but also the characters they have created. The death of an author should not necessitate the death of their characters. If another author has the ability to take classic characters on to new adventures whilst staying true to their creator's original character structures, then everyone from the fans to the author's legacy benefits.
DS, Croydon, England

The Faulks novel is not the first Bond novel since Fleming and it is worthwhile noting the works of both the late John Gardner and more recently Raymond Benson. Gardner in particular was appointed by the Fleming Estate to bring Bond in to the then 1980s and made a very good effort. Ideas included 007 driving a SAAB, Q becoming a woman (which would have been better than John Cleese) and Bond finally getting married. The genre could have done a lot worse that make films based on those modern novelisations.
Iain Sharp, York

I recently read The Bourne Legacy (written by Eric Van Lustbader), and found it very close to the original writing style of Robert Ludlum. In such circumstances, I'm delighted that a series can be continued after the untimely death of an author. I've already ordered the new Bond book, and I look forward greatly to reading it.
Bryn Roberts, Richmond, Yorkshire, UK

I think more recognition should be given to Ian Fleming's official follow-on author John Gardner who died last August. John was my second cousin In 1981, John Gardner was asked to revive Ian Fleming's James Bond series of novels. Between 1981 and 1996, Gardner wrote fourteen James Bond novels, and the novelisations of two Bond films. While the books were commercial successes, Gardner was ambivalent about writing novels with a character he hadn't created. In 1996, Gardner officially retired from writing Bond novels. Gary Gardner
Gary Gardner, Ely

I think it's great... long live James Bond
Geordie, London

Fleming OK - he's dead, Clancy at a push as a franchise but Charlie and Lola? Doesn't Ms Child have enough time on her hands or sufficient reserves of creativity to knock out a 20-page kids' storybook (albeit with clever illustrations) or write a script for a show? All sounds like a money-making exercise to me
Paul, London

Never mind the Tom Clancy soap opera, what I want is a step-by-step exercise guide to making my legs look like the For Your Eyes Only cover gal's.
Candace, New Jersey, US

As far as James Bond of the SIS, it is all fiction
David William Holliday, London

I remember reading a novel on the never made Sequel to Star Wars - Splinter of the Mind's Eye when I was about 12. I thought it was great, but it came out before the other sequels from George Lucas himself. Apparently Lucas got a few ideas from this book for his own stories.
Doug, France

I really don't think that this works. I'm not putting down the authors that take up the mantle of their famous counterparts. It's just that many readers choose an author for their particular style of writing and this just cannot be emulated, it is too personal. A case in point is the wonderful Dune series. Frank Herbert was a master of his craft with a very unique style that not even his own son could recreate despite using Frank's own notes. Writing is about creativity, not mimicry. Create your own characters and have them do something original.
Anya, London, UK

I think it's acceptable to carry on the franchise, but for this novel Faulks has actually adopted the pseudonym 'Ian Fleming' and I think that is a bit much.
Matthew, London, UK

I really don't understand why Sebastian Faulks has bothered. The Bond books are pretty poor, saved by the imagery from the films. In reality Bond books are not much more than screen plays, which is where Bond is effective.
Barry B, London

There's a fine line between a great author extending a franchise and cheesy fan fiction. Mark Winegardner's new Godfather books are excellent and read very like Mario Puzo's work - but they can leave you with an odd sense that only the original author "really knows" what happens to the characters he or she created.
Ed, London

There are some dire continuations out there. Pemberley by Emma Tennant, a continuation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice was the worst I've read where the author had changed key facts in the original to suit herself. I've read better fanfic online.
Dom M, London, UK


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