Article by Julian Parrott
I don’t consider myself an author, but I may now describe myself as a writer. After thirty-plus years of producing the kind of administrative writing familiar across offices everywhere, I recently took the leap into creative fiction (although some colleagues could say that some of my admin memos and reports could quality as such). My debut novel, ‘Fit for Purpose’ was published this April.
Although the novel has an engaging, vulnerable, and handsome hero, a villainous Russian colonel, a love interest, and a resonate plot founded in real events, it is not a classic Fleming-esque thriller. But, as a fan of Fleming’s writing, my novel was certainly inspired by Fleming. And true to my love of Bond, I have added some Bond and Fleming Easter eggs throughout the novel such as an assassin’s choice of weapon, a gift of a first edition, and the love interest’s choice of scent. But outside of the obvious nods and winks, Fleming informed my writing in several other obvious and less so obvious ways.
There is an adage about writing that suggests you write what you know—sounds good, but if we all wrote what we know, most sci-fi, fantasy, and thrillers would be a bit dull. Fleming, however, wrote about what he knew, and you only have to scratch the thin veneer of even his most fantastical plots to be confronted with a real-world story or event. His experience in Naval Intelligence provided him with a wealth of material for his plots and numerous sources for some pretty interesting character studies too. I can’t make the same case. I have not served in any intelligence agency and neither have any of my friends or relations (or so they tell me!) I have served as a university administrator and although I have some good stories from deep within the ivory tower most of them probably wouldn’t fit into the spy thriller genre that has been my inspiration and motivation.
I have written a little about what I know, my time narrow boating on the Llangollen canal for example, and, haven’t we all been thrown unexpectedly and headlong into love and, maybe, out of it again? And, I’m sure we’ve all searched for meaning and connection, we’ve all been motivated by emotions, and we all hope that we make a precious and palpable connection to another human being. You can find all these emotions, desires, and aspirations in my characters as you can, perhaps, in your friends and family and maybe even yourself too.
My protagonist, Tom, may physically resemble Bond in height and weight and a shared military background, army rather than navy, but he is an amateur in the spy game. More Ambler than Fleming in that respect. He’s a quiet, gentle man, but when confronted with threats to him and his loved ones he acts decisively and very much as a blunt instrument. Fleming frequently noted that he didn’t really like James Bond and was surprised when his readers did. I can’t say the same, for I really like my leading characters Tom and Nia. They evolved as I was writing. Tom’s humour and vulnerability came to the fore and Nia, as a strong, independent and bloody-minded woman, wrote herself a much larger role than I had originally envisaged. Clearly, I failed to heed Fleming’s advice on not complicating relationships.
I certainly attempted to follow Fleming’s pattern of creating straightforward plots. I have attempted to blend fact with fiction. In ‘Fit for Purpose’ a Russian hit squad is viciously hunting down and silencing émigré critics of the Kremlin. One doesn’t have to delve too deeply into recent headlines to be confronted with the reality behind such plot points. There is a clinical simplicity behind such a plot. You won’t lose track of the storyline or have to go back a number of pages to ask who is that character again or was there a clue I missed here? Yet, the struggle between good and evil, a tale as old as storytelling itself, is still captivating and engaging.
I have also attempted to follow a couple of Fleming’s literary pathways, I have tried to write, as Fleming put it, the “poetry of things and places” and although not as exotic as Jamaica or Japan, the Llangollen canal is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. I attempted to capture a little of that with deep descriptions that I hope conjure up visual and natural images. And, if you have never been to Wales, then it is exotic! I have attempted to add real and familiar details, to further the reader’s visual image. I made a conscious choice to use brand names to further sense of reality and connection; the ‘Fleming effect’, as Kingsley Amis, who knew a lot about Fleming’s writing, called the technique.
I have always thoroughly enjoyed Fleming’s villains and their mysterious heritages, narcissism, megalomania, and pyscho-sexual pathologies. My villain is, perhaps, the most familiar nod to Fleming: a damaged and ambitious FSB colonel hell bent on completing his mission. When the colonel runs into Tom, the Russian’s mission becomes complicated by the red-mist of revenge. Fates collide, of course, at a visually striking location, Britain’s highest aqueduct, Pontcysyllte, on the Llangollen canal.
Oh, and there is a bit of sex and violence as well.
I hope that I have well used such ingredients to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages of ‘Fit for Purpose.’ And, if so, there is a debt of gratitude to Fleming for both inspiring me to write and showing me how—even if I didn’t always heed his advice.