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August 8, 2011 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Jeffery Deaver on ‘Carte Blanche’

Salient’s Fairooz Samy interviews Jeffery Deaver on his addition to the James Bond series, Carte Blanche

The Bond series has such a rich mass of plot threads, characters, and iconography. How did you prioritise which facets of the novels to emphasise and which to downplay?

I pretty much threw everything out. I wanted to write a typical Jeffery Deaver novel, which is very fast pace, takes place over a short time frame, is, like my traditional novels have been, built with deadlines every few chapters and big surprise endings, plural- ending after ending after ending. I knew that was not the way Ian Fleming wrote. He wrote very character driven stories. His novels were quite linear. They were brilliant- but he was more concerned with brining the characters to life. And I chose to write a typical Deaver book. What I wanted to bring from those earlier books though, was the persona of Bond, even though the story lines were quite different.

In another interview, you spoke about “immersing yourself in Britishness”. How did you go about that?
I’ve written about 28 novels now and several collections of short stories and I always do research. Part of the research is getting in to the minds of the characters. With Bond, I had read the books for a long time, reread them for this project, but none the less, I still felt, ‘I am an American. I’m going to be looked at much more carefully writing about a British character’. So I spent time in England. I go there quite frequently- England and Scotland- but to get the expressions right, I rented a lot of DVDs. For example, Spooks, which is a wonderful program, and the original BBC Office, which is also wonderful, Coronation Street, Eastenders. I have people from Liverpool and Birmingham in the book, various locations, and I wanted to make sure I had the repertoire right. But the interesting thing is that Ian Fleming was more of an international writer. Bond for instance, when he’s in America, gets in to an elevator, he doesn’t get in to the lift. That’s the way Fleming wrote. So I thought, I don’t want to be too self-conscious about the Britishness of the book, and draw attention to the fact that, here I am, an American, I know how to say ‘Jolly good’, because that would be affective. I think I walked a fine line between getting the Britishness right and writing a book that could have been written by anybody.

Which part of crafting the Bond experience have you most enjoyed? This can be anything- the gadgets, the character history, the style.
That’s really interesting, of all the hundreds of journalists no one’s ever asked me that and it’s a brilliant question. I think I would have to say, meeting the fans, because I write for readers, that’s what it’s all about, I don’t write for myself. I’m just absolutely delighted when a person reads my book and says, ‘I had an enjoyable experience’, that’s just a delight for me, and as much as I enjoy the writing process, to hear the Bond fans who had never read a Deaver book before now say, ‘I’m going to read your books, I enjoyed this very much’, it’s wonderful.

When it comes to writing a Bond villain, where do you begin? Do you think they all share a defining characteristic?

That’s a very good point, and it’s true. In creating Severan Hydt I again did two things. One, I had a Deaver villain, which is somebody who’s very sick and twisted, as you’d have gathered from his interests. However, I did want to do exactly as you suggested, get the typical Bond villain, who has other elements in addition to his twistedness, geo-political elements, because the Bond villain has to transcend petty crime. He doesn’t have to be involved in world domination, although Hydt is to some extent with his recycling business. I thought it was a very interesting idea to have somebody who didn’t sit in a control room and twirl his moustache, and dream about dropping nuclear bombs on various cities. I wanted someone who had a different approach to exerting power in the world- but he did have to exert power. He couldn’t just be a sick necrophiliac, he needed to be broader than that, and therefore present a risk to many people.

In Carte Blanche, Bond is a more streamlined, twenty-first century character. Did you feel any obligation to preserve the Bond of the Fleming novels or was there some freedom to reinvent aspects of him?
When I was first asked about the book, I decided right up front, even before we signed the contract, to make sure that the book would have a sense of immediacy. I thought that setting the book in the past, say the 60s or 70s, would distance the readers from the story. What I wanted to do was make sure the book was set in the present day, with Bond at a young age, thirty-something or so, with his apps and his modern car and so on…
The iQphone
…yes the iQphone, thanks for noticing that, but at the same time, bring his persona from the 1950s in to the book. And he’s a dark, edgy sort of character, so it was really a premeditated act on my part to update him so that the story had an immediacy, and yet, to make sure that people who knew Bond from the earlier books would be satisfied.

Carte Blanche has been extremely well received by critics, much like your other novels. Have you had any feedback from your fans- and Bond fans- so far?
It’s been very, very positive. I knew my fans would be happy with it because it is a typical Deaver book. I was much more concerned about the Bond fans because they have a long tradition of this character, whom they’ve spent time with, know and love, and who I was updating and pushing the envelope on a little bit. But 99 percent of the comments have been very positive. A few people have been concerned about things like this, which I can’t take all that seriously: at one point in the book, Bond is given a Subaru to drive, a Japanese car. It’s an Impreza, I’ve driven it and it’s actually a really nice little sports car. But some Bond fans said that he would never drive a Subaru. Well, he doesn’t own it, it was a rental car and he has to rent cars, he can’t always drive a Bentley or an Aston Martin. But my theory behind that was you can’t please everybody all the time. But 99 percent of the fans have been totally behind the book.

You’ve mentioned that you grew up reading Bond novels and that you have a lot of respect for Ian Fleming. Why do you think he’s such a popular character, and how easy was it to extricate yourself from the position of ‘Bond fan’ to ‘Bond creator’, to have to get to know Bond from an entirely different standpoint.
In answer to your first question, I think it’s quite simple. Bond is a very simple hero. He is not morally ambiguous. His personal life may need a bit of work, but don’t all our personal lives need work from time to time? He may have some moral flaws, but when it comes to his mission, he’s completely focused on the fact that he is good, and he is stopping the bad guys. That’s what Bond is all about, he’s the knight going after the dragon. I think that’s why he’s persisted. In answer to your second question, no, I actually didn’t have much problem. My job is to be, say, the airline pilot who detaches himself from everything when he flies. I have to get my readers- the passengers- safe from one location to another. That’s pretty much what I did with this book. I don’t have a lot of trouble taking a distant view and then returning to read the original books and enjoying them as a reader.

Your characters are always complex, layered, and interesting, especially psychologically. How difficult is it to create believability in the thriller genre?
It is quite an extra bit of challenge, because my villains are not like the bad guys in the real world. In America at least, most crime is committed by, essentially, young men, who are on some drugs, involved in the drug business, or are half drunk most of the time, who’ll get in to fights and accidentally kill a civilian. Or they’re in domestic problems, a man will attack and kill his wife, or vice versa, but- and I hate to put it this way because it’s terrible, but it’s not very interesting in terms of reading a crime novel. So I come up with villains that are just over the top, and that means I have to work pretty hard to get some grounding in reality. That’s why I give them the psychological depth. Take my book, The Vanished Man– are we ever going to see a David Blaine type of psychotic illusionist? No, probably not. But in order to make that character credible, I had to make him very specific and we had to look at his mind quite a bit so that the readers felt they understood him.

When you create a series, do you have the story arc mapped out from start to finish before you’ve even written the first book, or do you prefer to let the stories develop holistically with each novel?
No, each novel is discreet to me in the sense that everything has to be tied up, 100 percent. But that doesn’t mean there cannot be themes or arcs that may continue in to future books. For instance, in one of my thrillers I made sure the hero stopped the terrible crime that was going to happen. Lives were saved, I had several subplots in that book that were all tied up, everything worked out fine, but I intentionally left open the fact that one of the main villains escaped, got away. It was all intentional on my part, I knew it from the very beginning, because of course I knew he would come back in a future book. That’s not true of all my novels. In Carte Blanche there are a few open themes that could come back. They don’t have to come back, they’re not integral to the story, but with the series I like to lay open the future potential to develop themes I’ve brought up.

Who are some of your literary heroes and why?
Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize winner and naturalist writer. Theodore Dreiser, prior to Bellow, a naturalist and realistic kind of writer, Gabriel Marquez- I think Love in the Time of Cholera is a brilliant, brilliant novel. Jane Smiley, and in the fantasy field, Tolkien. I’m not, I hate to say, a Harry Potter fan- I don’t dislike it, I’m just never got in to the books, but I’m a Tolkien and C.S Lewis fan. Ray Bradbury and William Gibson in science fiction. In the crime genre, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler. More recently, I like the books of Michael Connelly, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin. As you’ll notice, it’s a rather eclectic list, but I think writers need to be exposed to as many different genres as possible. Oh, I should mention of course Shakespeare, who’s my god, it doesn’t get any better than Shakespeare. In terms of poetry, I like Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and W.H Auden. I could look at my bookshelves and find others who are more obscure, but those are the people who generally inform me as a writer.


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  1. Candie says:

    Information is power and now I’m a !@#$ing dctioatr.

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