|William Boyd - picture from BBC.co.uk|
The grand dame of crime, PD James, wrote a sequel to Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley, last year. Just a month before that, in October 2011, the hugely popular children's writer, Anthony Horowitz, came out with a new Sherlock Holmes book, The House of Silk. Both books did very well on the best seller lists, as did the previously produced Bond book by Sebastian Faulks, Devil May Care. So you might say William Boyd is onto a good thing...
None of the above writers need publicity, nor (one would hope) are they in the business of writing something just for the money (or I may just be naive).
So why do it? Why take a well-known character and write a story for him/her? Have these prolific writers run out of ideas?
In the case of PD James, who at 91 surely now does exactly what she wants rather than what is asked of her, writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice had been a life-long ambition. This showed in her excellent book, which in the foreword has a posthumous apology to Austen, who herself had said that if she felt Pride and Prejudice needed a sequel she would have written it. So a task and half, then, to write a sequel against the original creator's wishes.
When interviewed this morning, William Boyd said that he was honoured to be asked by the estate of Ian Fleming to write a new Bond book. He was introduced to the glamorous spy by his father and having read the books, loved them all. Boyd has even included Ian Fleming as a character in one of his own books, Any Human Heart. When asked if it would be 'like wearing a straightjacket' to have to write in a specific genre and style, Boyd said, 'No'. He added that it was rather as if another writer had given him permission to play with his toys.
And there, in once sentence, Boyd explained to me why so many writers have a fascination with famous characters. What I would see as a writing exercise (if you've ever taken a course in creative writing at some stage the tutor will get you to copy another writer's style), Boyd and perhaps the others, view it as an adventure in writing.
Whatever the case, I cannot wait to read the new Bond book, which according to Boyd will be set in 1969, and will be an old-fashioned spy thriller. If that doesn't whet the appetite of any James Bond fan, I don't know what will.