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Topic: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Our next interviewee is a man who needs no introduction to fans of the literary James Bond. But that isn’t going to stop me.

Raymond Benson took over as the official Bond continuation author in 1997 and went on to write six James Bond novels from that year's Zero Minus Ten until 2002’s The Man With The Red Tattoo as well as three novelizations of the Brosnan movies and, unusually for a continuation author, three short stories.

Prior to this, he was the author of the indispensable The James Bond Companion which I have no hesitation in recommending to every Bond fan.

https://i.postimg.cc/ZvSFdnxv/dog.jpg

Mr Benson has kindly agreed to answer ten or so questions from AJB members, so here is your chance.  I have one or two myself!



Raymond Benson’s 007 novels and short stories:

Blast from the Past (short story, 1997)
Zero Minus Ten (1997)
Tomorrow Never Dies (novelization, 1997)
The Facts of Death (1998)
Midsummer Night's Doom (short story, 1999)
Live at  Five (short story, 1999)
The World Is Not Enough (novelization, 1999)
High Time to Kill (1999)
DoubleShot (2000)
Never Dream of Dying (2001)
The Man with the Red Tattoo (2002)
Die Another Day (novelization, 2002)

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Amazing  ajb007/martini  My first question concerns the character Draco. Did he think there'd be
as much consternation, over the direction he took the character ?

“I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I never had one.”

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

I have two questions.

The first concerns "Blast From the Past". Why reintroduce Bond's son to kill him off screen along with retconning the fate of Irma Bunt? Such important events and their consequences are, in my opinion, wasted by the abbreviated space granted to a short story.

Second question: In The James Bond Bedside Companion you posit that Fleming may have erred in including Kina Lillet in the Vesper recipe due to the bitter aftertaste. Have you sampled Vespers since then with either vintage Kina Lillet or its nearest modern equivalents, Cocchi Americano or Kina L'Aero Dor. Have you noticed a difference compared to the drink made with Lillet Blanc? I prefer a Vesper with a bitter aftertaste. I find Vespers made with Lillet Blanc flat and one-dimensional.

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

J Gardner said he wasn't allowed to use older Fleming
Characters  in his books, I was wondering if Mr Benson
Had to put his ideas of using Fleming characters through
A committee  or was he given  a free hand?

“I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I never had one.”

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

What was your proudest moment as a James Bond continuation author?

Would you have liked to have written more Bond continuation novels after TMWTRT? What would you like to have included in future Bond novels in terms of locations, plots and villains etc.?

Last edited by Silhouette Man (6th Aug 2019 18:35)

Writer/Director @ The Bondologist Blog (TBB)
On Twitter: @Dragonpol 
'Like' TBB on FB: TBB Update Page
"The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

How did you find writing the novels based on film scripts? Was it confining or liberating?

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Have you ever been asked to co-write or asked to help on any Bond film from a content or story standpoint?

The Mantis was always The Bond Experience, but now he is The Bond Experience on AJB as well...
Visit youtube.com/TheBondExperience

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

How did you come to choose the Hong Kong handover as the backdrop to the novel Zero Minus Ten? Does it have anything to do with the stories that were supposedly being developed for the film Tomorrow Never Dies that involved the Hong Kong handover?

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

What is his favourite Fleming novel?

Did Benson experience being an American an advantage or disadvantage while writing James Bond novels?

"High Time to Kill" is a different Bond novel because pretty much the whole plot takes place in a climbing expedition in the Himalayas, limiting the location types and possible plot lines. Did it feel liberating to write such a unconventional Bond novel and was it difficult to get the plot accepted by the Fleming heirs?

Last edited by Number24 (6th Aug 2019 16:39)

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

How did you find the move from non-fiction (the indispensable Bedside Companion) to the novels?

Where do your ideas come from?

"How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathises."

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Since you stopped writing original James Bond novels only one novel has continued with the contemporary setting, namely Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche (2011). Would you like to see any new James Bond continuation novel return to a contemporary setting or to remain as period pieces of the 1950s and 1960s? 

What is your favourite James Bond continuation novel, outside of your own works?

Last edited by Silhouette Man (6th Aug 2019 19:24)

Writer/Director @ The Bondologist Blog (TBB)
On Twitter: @Dragonpol 
'Like' TBB on FB: TBB Update Page
"The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Would he like to try a different genre of storytelling ?

Did he ever suffer from writer's block, trying to come up
with a story/plot idea. ?

Last edited by Thunderpussy (6th Aug 2019 19:17)

“I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I never had one.”

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

This is truly excellent  ajb007/cheers
I particularly enjoyed "the man with the red tattoo". The connection with "you only live twice" is obvious, what inspired you with this particular novel?

It was either that.....or the priesthood

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

I know we are only allowed a few questions, but just incase.

Have you read any of the later Bond continuation novels, and if so any you particularly enjoyed?

It was either that.....or the priesthood

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Barbel wrote:

How did you find writing the novels based on film scripts? Was it confining or liberating?

And following on from that...did you feel constrained whilst writing your own Bond novels?
Your hear stories of not being able to pick your own book titles for example.
And was it your own choice to write the novels in a more ‘filmic way’ - I suppose using the more recognisable ‘film Bond’ than the ‘novel Bond’……?

YNWA: Justice For The 96

The Joy Of 6

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Barbel, when is the interview?

"...the purposeful slant of his striding figure looked dangerous, as if he was making quickly for something bad that was happening further down the street." -SMERSH on 007 dossier photo, Ch. 6 FRWL.....

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

I'm waiting till tonight around 22.00 GMT before compiling the list and emailing Mr Benson, ie giving 48 hours since the interview was announced for members to post their questions.
Obviously I can't tell when he'll reply and which questions he chooses to answer.

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

How were you allowed to use James Bond's illegitimate son with Kissy Suzuki in 'Blast From the Past' when John Gardner had stated in your 1993 interview with him in 007 Magazine that he was contractually forbidden from using Bond's son in any of his stories? What had changed at Glidrose or Eon to allow you to use Bond's son?

Writer/Director @ The Bondologist Blog (TBB)
On Twitter: @Dragonpol 
'Like' TBB on FB: TBB Update Page
"The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Mr Benson has now replied and I'd like to thank him very much for taking the time to respond to our questions.

1. Our first question concerns the character Draco. Did you think there'd be as much consternation over the direction you took the character?
I heard a few grumblings, but most of the feedback I got was positive. Ian Fleming Publications loved what I did with Draco in NEVER DREAM OF DYING. It makes perfect sense. Here was a man who trusted his daughter with this guy Bond, and Bond got her killed. You think he was going to just let it go? Remember—Draco was the head of the Union Corse! That is the equivalent of an Italian mafia. Apparently some readers tended to brush that aside, as they pictured in their heads Gabriele Ferzetti in the film, who gave us a gentlemanly, friendly Mr. Nice Guy characterization. The literary Draco is not that guy! He was a very dangerous man, a killer, and Fleming created him that way. The alliance between him and Bond in the book OHMSS is uneasy, and they would not be allies if it weren’t for Tracy. The “consternation” you speak of is misplaced and ridiculous if one takes the time to really think about it.

2. Do you ever suffer from writer's block, trying to come up with a story/plot or idea?
All writers do, but it’s never terrible for me. I’m assuming you’re talking about the Bond years… back then, no, I never had a problem coming up with the next story. Now, twenty years later, as I’m much older, I wouldn’t call it writer’s block… I call it a “longer gestation period”! 

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3. In “The James Bond Bedside Companion” you posit that Fleming may have erred in including Kina Lillet in the Vesper recipe due to the bitter aftertaste. Have you sampled Vespers since then with either vintage Kina Lillet or its nearest modern equivalents, Cocchi Americano or Kina L'Aero Dor? Have you noticed a difference compared to the drink made with Lillet Blanc?
Kina Lillet is not made anymore, as I understand it, and we’re unable to get true Vespers now. I’ve had various concoctions that portend to be Vespers with substitute ingredients. I don’t know what they are. I don’t like them. I’ll take a straight vodka martini the way Bond usually ordered it throughout the books—cold, dry, shaken.

4. John Gardner said that he wasn't allowed to use older Fleming characters in his books. Did you have to put your ideas of using Fleming characters through a committee or were you given a free hand?
I was given a free hand. Like John, I was required to submit an outline of the book I planned to write for approval by IFP (they were called Glidrose when I first started and the name changed to IFP during my tenure). I don’t believe John wasn’t allowed to use older characters. He just didn’t choose to do so.

5. What was your proudest moment as a James Bond continuation author?
Possibly when Ian Fleming’s literary agent, Peter Janson-Smith, who not only handled Fleming, but also at times Eric Ambler, Georgette Heyer, Anthony Burgess, the Winnie the Pooh franchise, Bryan Forbes, and many others, called me to say after reading my first draft of what eventually was titled ZERO MINUS TEN, “Raymond, congratulations, you’ve written a real Bond novel.” A close second moment had not to do with the writing, but with my association WITH Bond. In 2002, I performed a 12-minute suite of John Barry Bond music on the piano FOR John Barry and 500 other people (including the film producers, some cast and crew) at a tribute to Barry in England. When I finished, John stepped onto the stage and gave me a big hug. Indeed a moment I treasure.

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6. Would you have liked to have written more Bond continuation novels after “The Man With The Red Tattoo”? If so, what would you like to have included in future Bond novels in terms of locations, plot and villains etc.?
My contract was over (“I had my six”!). I hadn’t begun to think of a next one. IFP wanted to take a hiatus and do other things, like celebrate Fleming’s 50th anniversary of CASINO ROYALE (2003) by re-issuing his books with new publishers/covers, and then experimenting with Young Bond and so forth for a few years before doing adult Bond novels again, six years after my last one.

7. How did you find writing the novels based on film scripts? Was it confining or liberating?
I dealt with different liaisons at EON for each successive novelization. The first one (TOMORROW NEVER DIES) I remember as being the most fun. They had to be done quickly (about six weeks!). They’re kind of a blur now. I had a whole year to do an original novel. The novelizations were somewhat easier in that the plot, characters, locations, and most of the dialogue were handed to me. I just had to turn it all into prose.

8. And following on from that, did you feel constrained whilst writing your own Bond novels?
Never. IFP was great to work with, and I had wonderful editors at Hodder & Stoughton (U.K. publisher) and Putnam (U.S. publisher). I was edited three ways, which is unusual in the publishing business. Sometimes it got complicated if one of these entities wanted this or that and the others didn’t, but we all worked out everything in the end. I never had an outline rejected. There were instances in which IFP would make a suggestion or whatever, but once the outline was approved, they let me loose and I ran with it.

8a. You hear stories of not being able to pick your own book titles for example. And was it your own choice to write the novels in a more ‘filmic way’ - I suppose using the more recognisable ‘film Bond’ than the ‘novel Bond’……?
The titles were picked by committee, and the committee consisted of me, IFP, the U.K. publisher’s editor and marketing department, and the U.S. publisher’s editor and marketing department!  Picking the title was often the most complicated part of the entire process. One of my suggested titles made it to print (NEVER DREAM OF DYING), but all my other suggested titles became chapter titles.  I don’t think my BOND was more “filmic,” but the books themselves were. My directive from the beginning was to write more cinematically. Since the movies had at that time just been rebooted with Pierce Brosnan in GOLDENEYE, IFP wanted M to be female, and they wanted more action (like the films). I desired to keep Fleming’s Bond with all his vices intact, and they said to go for it if I can make it work with the modern milieu. Bond is supposed to be a bit anachronistic—the whole “misogynist dinosaur” thing. The character of Bond in my books is “novel Bond”—he just exists in books that were more like the movies at that time than, say, the books written in the 1950s and early 60s.

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9. How did you come to choose the Hong Kong handover as the backdrop to the novel “Zero Minus Ten”? Does it have anything to do with the stories that were supposedly being developed for the film “Tomorrow Never Dies” that involved the Hong Kong handover?
I had no knowledge of what was being done with TOMORROW NEVER DIES. I was first offered the job as Bond author in late 1995, just as GOLDENEYE was opening. I knew that the first book would be published in 1997, the year of the handover, so I suggested the Hong Kong situation as a setting. The outline was finished before Christmas 1995. I’m sure IFP had no clue what EON were doing either, for they approved the story and outline. I’m not privy to what EON did or what was going on with them. They simply went in a different direction.

10. What is your favourite Fleming novel?
FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE

11. Did you experience being an American an advantage or disadvantage while writing James Bond novels?
Neither, really. IFP and the British publisher were very good at editing me, spotting the Americanisms that inevitably creeped in, but by the time of HIGH TIME TO KILL (third book), I was “writing British” without problems. I also spent a lot of time in England during those years.

12. "High Time to Kill" is a different Bond novel because pretty much the whole plot takes place in a climbing expedition in the Himalayas, limiting the location types and possible plot lines. Did it feel liberating to write such a unconventional Bond novel and was it difficult to get the plot accepted by the Fleming heirs?
It was accepted whole-heartedly. While I consider all my novels like “children,” HIGH TIME TO KILL may be my favorite Bond novel I wrote. It’s a spy story with a MacGuffin and it works. It would make a pretty good movie, too, seeing how the Himalayas and mountain climbing have never figured into a film yet!

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13. How did you find the move from non-fiction (the indispensable “Bedside Companion”) to the novels?
You’re talking about more than a decade in-between. After the BEDSIDE COMPANION was published, I fell into the computer gaming industry as a writer and designer of role-playing adventure games. My role was, to use a movie analogy, the screenwriter and sometimes director. I had to write complicated, interactive storylines, with multiple characters, dialogue, and puzzles/obstacles. That’s fiction-writing. I honed the craft during those years. When I was offered the Bond gig, I felt I had the requisite experience, as did IFP.

14. Since you stopped writing original James Bond novels only one novel has continued with a contemporary setting, namely Jeffrey Deaver's “Carte Blanche” (2011). Would you like to see any new James Bond continuation novel return to a contemporary setting or remain as period pieces of the 1950s and 1960s?
I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about the continuation novels. I read them all and enjoy them.

15. What is your favourite James Bond continuation novel, outside of your own works?
COLONEL SUN

16. Re "Blast From the Past". Why reintroduce Bond's son to kill him offscreen along with retconning the fate of Irma Bunt? Such important events and  their consequences could be thought wasted by the abbreviated space granted to a short story.
The whole “Bond’s son” thing couldn’t have been explored in a full length novel. I can’t go into the reasons why we did it the way we did. Note that the story as published in Playboy Magazine was cut by 1/3 for space reasons. The full length story can be found in the anthology THE UNION TRILOGY.

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17. I particularly enjoyed "The Man With The Red Tattoo”. The connection with "You Only Live Twice" is obvious, what inspired you with this particular novel?
I think maybe I wanted to travel to Japan! In picking locations for the books, they had to be places I would be willing to travel to for research. I also love the novel YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and thought it held some unique psychological aspects for Bond’s character to revisit.

18. Have you ever been asked to co-write or help on any Bond film from a content or story standpoint?
Only the novelizations.

19. (My own question) There were rumours that you would have written a few more short stories and eventually published a collection, becoming the first Bond author since Fleming himself to have done so, ye this didn't happen. Can you tell us why?
I guess they were just rumors!

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Re: AJB Interview with Raymond Benson

Wonderful  ajb007/cheers I was hoping there might be some mention of furthering the red tong tattoo seen on count lippe in TB purely as I made that leap before reading tmwtrt. But I'm more than satisfied with the answer I got and the whole interview, more please Barbel  ajb007/martini

It was either that.....or the priesthood