This week, we hear from spy thriller writer Graeme Shimmin, on the influence of Bond on his book, A Kill in the Morning…
‘My dad had a whole collection of the 1960s paperback versions of the James Bond novels. I was something of a precocious reader and when I was about seven (definitely not more than eight as we moving house then and I remember it was in the old house) I started reading them. Obviously a lot of it was either confusing (e.g. terminology and references I didn’t understand) or went over my head (e.g. sex references) at that age, but the excitement of reading Bond had an effect on me. It also meant I read them very ‘straight’. People often say Fleming wrote the Bond novels with ‘tongue in cheek’ but I didn’t see that at all. I took them seriously (I’m still not a fan of ‘lighthearted’ spy novels).
Then there were the films. The first one I saw in the cinema being Moonraker. I’ve seen every one since on release. The next literary Bond thing I remember is reading several of the John Gardner and Raymond Benson continuation novels. I started writing myself in about 1994, but only did bits and pieces (being too busy with my IT career) until around 2002 when I started writing Angel in Amber. That, sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly as a first novel, failed to sell.
I’d become very interested in alternate history and wrote what turned into the alternate timeline of AKITM as a creative exercise with no intention of writing a novel set in that world (a developed version of that timeline is included as an appendix to AKITM).
Then Devil May Care came out and, part way through reading that, I put two and two together in what was a bit of a eureka moment – I still think “James Bond versus the Nazis” is an incredibly strong concept – I could write an alternative history Bond short story, with Bond in my alternative timeline.
One of the first things that came to me was the title, which is a direct reference to From A View To A Kill – The full line, which I’m sure you know is from D’ye Ken John Peel, is “From a view to a kill in the morning”.
I put the first thousand words up on alternate history.com to see what the response was like. I only intended it to be a short story, what is now the first and third chapters of AKITM but in reverse order – with Bond meeting a girl while ‘off duty’ in Berlin and then assassinating a Nazi officer the next day with the girl giving him a shock by turning out to be the officer’s mistress – giving him having a dilemma about whether to eliminate her as a witness or not.
And it just took off. It was the easiest thing I’d ever written. Ideas just came flooding out. I practically couldn’t stop writing it. The ‘girl’ turned into Kitty (a nod to Pussy Galore that people seem to miss). She wasn’t the Nazi officer’s mistress but took on a life of her own, as did Molly Ravenhill, the other ‘Bond girl’.
I got a lot of inspiration from The James Bond Dossier by Kingsley Amis and John Griswold’s Ian Fleming’s Jame Bond – which goes to some pretty heroic lengths to try and match Bond to real life.
AKITM was a huge hit on alternatehistory.com which was amazing, but there were some quite traumatic things going on in real life that meant this first version of AKITM ground to a halt about half way through – around the assault course chapter.
I picked it up again about a year later, which had the advantage that I’d had time to think of what I thought was a great ending (it turns out the ending splits the audience – people love it or hate it). In the meantime, as well as finishing Devil May Care I’d re-read Casino Royale, Moonraker, Live and Let Die and From Russia With Love so was writing with a strong Fleming influence.
Despite all the rewrites and edits, the Bond and Fleming influence is still there throughout AKITM (it’d be interesting to see how many references a real Bond aficionado spotted) but it is I have to say, written in my own style and the story is not entirely Bondish, particularly towards the end. Some reviewers suggested AKITM has as much influence from Doctor Who as it does from classic spy novels – which is interesting because I never saw it as a sci-fi novel, even though in retrospect it obviously is.’
Graeme Shimmin is a spy thriller novelist, and the author of the award-winning novel A Kill in the Morning. His website is http://graemeshimmin.com where he reviews spy thrillers and advises aspiring authors about writing and getting published.
A Kill in the Morning has been compared to Robert Harris’s Fatherland, Alistair Maclean’s Where Eagles Dare and Ian Fleming’s Thunderball. He is currently working on a contemporary espionage thriller, provisionally titled ‘Black Helicopters’.