To many literary Bond aficionados, Mr. Duns’ research into the world of James Bond and Ian Fleming provides indispensable intelligence to Bondologists. Here we catch up with him on the eve of his new spy thriller – Spy Out the Land out on January 14, 2016.
Has Ian Fleming influenced your own thriller writing, notably your Paul Dark series aka ‘The Dark Chronicles’?
Yes, Dark is inspired in large part by Fleming, right down to the character’s name, which I wanted to echo James Bond as well as other fictional spies from the Sixties like Matt Helm and Joe Gall. At the start of my series, Dark appears to be a handsome, womanising British spy in the Cold War. I didn’t want to write a Bond clone, though, but have some sort of twist that would make everything more interesting, and give it a different filter and feel. I really like the Jason Bourne series, and Ludlum’s twist was essentially ‘What if a tough, James Bond kind of secret agent was under cover on an operation, got shot and thrown into the sea and then scrambled ashore but found he had amnesia?’ Not far off the ending of You Only Live Twice.
My twist, is one Fleming very briefly explored at the start of The Man With The Golden Gun, and that both Ann Fleming and John le Carré later addressed: Dark is secretly a Soviet agent. So I want you to root for the baddie, basically – think The Americans and Deutschland ’83.
You also live in Sweden these days, a country rich in fine thriller writers; Do you find inspiration from your adopted land and Nordic peers?
I live in Finland now, in fact, albeit a corner of it that speaks Swedish. I have drawn on this for inspiration: Dark is half-British, half-Swedish-speaking-Finn, and Spy Out The Land has several scenes in Sweden and Finland. One chapter takes place very near where I used to live in Stockholm, albeit back in 1975.
I haven’t been as influenced by Nordic writers – I started writing my first novel before the current renaissance in Scandi thrillers kicked off.
Your book ‘Duns on Bond’ is an omnibus that contains articles on SMERSH, The Diamond Smugglers, Casino Royale and the SOE. What was this experience like researching some of these uncut gems and do you think there are more diamonds in the rough?
All of those articles were great fun to do, but some of them had me pulling my hair out. The Diamond Smugglers story took me a very long time with a lot of frustrating dead ends – for instance, it looks virtually certain that Anthony Dawson wrote a screenplay of the book, but his son couldn’t locate it. They all came about because I became curious about one or other footnote in the Fleming and Bond worlds – and I really enjoy research.
I think there definitely are more diamonds in the rough out there. Fleming’s long treatment for Thunderball and his script for Moonraker spring to mind. Where can they be? The former has been sold at auction by Christie’s, but which Bond fan wouldn’t want to read the whole thing? Trigger Mortis contained snippets of a Fleming story that I don’t think was public knowledge had survived, either, so I suspect there might be more treasures in the Fleming estate’s filing cabinets.
What are some of your favourite reference books on Ian Fleming?
Oh, there are lots. John Pearson and Andrew Lycett‘s biographies of Fleming are essential, of course. Henry Chancellor’s James Bond: The Man And His World and Ben Macintyre’s For Your Eyes Only; and more recently, Nicholas Rankin’s Ian Fleming’s Commandos and The Man With The Golden Typewriter.
Renewed interest in Ian Fleming has yielded recent books such as Fergus Fleming’s book of Ian’s letters, the Robert Harling memoir and a new continuation novel in Trigger Mortis. Could we be entering a golden era for literary Bond again?
I think there’s no doubt that we have! It’s very exciting, and long overdue. For so many years, the critics have sneered at Fleming. It’s great his work is finally getting some of the respect and attention it deserves – he created one of the great icons of popular fiction, after all. It’s wonderful to have new aspects of his work and his life explored, and I hope it continues.
Jeremy Duns is the author of the Paul Dark spy novels, published by Simon & Schuster. His first novel, Free Agent, was one of the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Thrillers of the year’ in 2009, and received praise from William Boyd, Eric Van Lustbader and David Morrell, while The Guardian wrote: ‘Deep knowledge of espionage and classic spy novels informs this excellent debut’.
The Times called the second book in the series, Song of Treason (originally published as Free Country), ‘a masterly excursion back to the bad old days of the Cold War’, while The Guardian said it was ‘a treat for fans of traditional Len Deighton-style spy thrillers’. The third Dark novel, The Moscow Option, was published in 2012, and was followed by Dead Drop (titled Codename: Hero in the US), a non-fiction investigation of the MI6-CIA operation to run Colonel Oleg Penkovsky. Jeremy lives in the Åland Islands.
Spy Out the Land (Paul Dark 4) is out on January 14, 2106.
Visit Jeremy’s website