Sunday, 3 January 2016

Why and how did Kingsley Amis write Colonel Sun?

The writer and critic Kingsley Amis wrote a fair bit about James Bond. Using the name William Tanner, M's chief-of-staff, he wrote The Book of Bond, or Every Man his Own 007 (1965), a guide for wannabe James Bonds about what to eat and drink, what to read, what to wear, what to say, and so on. The James Bond Dossier, one of the earliest critical examinations of the James Bond novels, was published in the same year, this time under Amis' own name, while 1968 saw the publication of the first continuation Bond novel, Colonel Sun, written by Amis under the pseudonym Robert Markham.

But that's not all. To coincide with the publication of Colonel Sun, Kingsley Amis wrote an article, 'The new James Bond', about why he took up the challenge of writing a Bond novel and how he developed some of the ideas that would feature in the book. The article was republished, along with other literary musings originally published in the New Statesman, the Spectator, the Sunday Telegraph and other periodicals, in What Became of Jane Austen? and Other Questions (1970, Jonathan Cape).

The essay offers a fascinating insight into the process of creating a James Bond novel, though no less interesting is Kingsley Amis' explanation for picking up Bond's adventures where Ian Fleming left off. Yes, money was a consideration, but so too, more curiously, was the thought how cross with Amis the intellectual Left would get. Amis was amused at how the same left-wing critics would accuse him both of writing the book for financial reward and also of embracing the ideology of Fleming and Bond.

On that point, Kingsley Amis does concede that, like Bond, he is “pro-Western, pro-British, even, by and large, pro-American”, putting him at odds with the intellectual Left, whose favoured literary spies, he considered, were those created by Len Deighton and John le CarrĂ©. Above all, though, Amis thought it “an honour to have been selected to follow in the footsteps of Ian Fleming”.

As Mark Amory suggests, much of Amis' reasoning may have designed to address the criticisms not of the intellectual Left, but of the right-wing Ann Fleming, who was scathing of Amis' selection and efforts. “It's a left-wing plot”, she wrote in a letter to Evelyn Waugh, and in an unpublished review of Colonel Sun, considered that Amis would “slip 'Lucky Jim' into Bond's clothing.” Amis alluded to Ann's criticism when he wrote in his piece that “fears were expressed in some quarters that I might produce a sort of Lucky Jim Bond”.

As for the ideas that contributed to Colonel Sun itself, Kingsley Amis chose Greece as a location for Bond's adventure because Bond had never been there and the eastern Mediterranean was a region of British and Russian interests. But considering the traditional Britain-versus-Russia set-up too old-hat (to some extent echoing the policy of the makers of the Bond films who had shied away from having Russia as the main adversary), Amis instead created a Chinese threat and had Bond team up with a Russian agent (some ten years before the film Bond would join forces with a Russian agent).

The starting point of Colonel Sun, set as it was in the Home Counties, was determined by the close proximity of Sunningdale (a golf-course frequented by Bond), M's house in Windsor, and Heathrow (then London) Airport. Lacking the experience to plausibly take Bond skiing or gambling, Amis returned Bond to the golf course. While Amis had never played golf, he was able to take advice from a friend who had.

Amis did, however, draw heavily on his wartime experiences to arm Bond and to put Bond in realistic situations for which the use of Second World War firearms and hand-grenades were appropriate. His intention was to make Bond a “gun and fists man”, in contrast, as he saw it, with the gadget-laden hero of the films. Amis also took a tour, notebook in hand, of the Greek mainland and the islands of Naxos and Ios.

Just as Kingsley Amis followed in Ian Fleming's footsteps with the writing of Colonel Sun, he also followed in Fleming's footsteps with his article, as in 1962 Fleming prepared an article called 'How to write a thriller'. In fact, it has become something of a tradition for Bond novel authors to write about their experiences creating new adventures for Bond. The paperback edition of Devil May Care (2009) included a short essay about how Sebastian Faulks wrote the novel, and Jeffery Deaver published a piece on writing Carte Blanche in 2011. All are well worth a read.

Amory, M (ed.), 1985 The Letters of Ann Fleming, Collins Harvill

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