Friday, 11 April 2014
I'm delighted to be able to announce the publication of six brand new short stories.
Skayne is an interlinked sequence of ghost stories which span the Victorian era to the present day, by way of 1920s Athens, the Cold War and a gruelling royal wedding. Although each is intended to be a spooky, unsettling, one-off experience, they build up into something altogether more elaborate and ambitious. I am extremely proud of them all.
Published by Red Raygun Ltd, these stories are, at present, available exclusively as e-books. They are obtainable, at an extremely reasonable price, from this site: http://www.nicholasbriggs.com/product-category/ebooks/
Skayne is also being recorded as a series of audio books, performed by the actor Nicholas Briggs (Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Adulthood etc). The first is available now (http://www.nicholasbriggs.com/product-category/audiobooks/) with the remaining five tales to follow in due course.
If you read or listen to any of the stories, do drop me a line, or comment here, to let me know what you think.
Thursday, 3 April 2014
From the Times Literary Supplement, my thoughts on new versions of James Bond and Jeeves and Wooster - and on the legitimacy or otherwise of writing pastiche...
In 1965, eleven years after the publication of Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis produced two books concerning Ian Fleming’s creation, James Bond. The first – The James Bond Dossier – was an ironic appreciation of Fleming’s series of novels, the second – The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007, written under the pseudonym of “Lt.-Col William (‘Bill’) Tanner” (the name of M’s chief of staff) – a still jokier distillation of the canon. Three years later, writing as “Robert Markham”, Amis ushered into print Colonel Sun, the inaugural James Bond pastiche which is both a creditable counterfeit of Fleming’s style and recognisably the work of Amis himself, that unforgettable brand of brainy pugnacity being hard to disguise. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 in 2007, Kingsley’s son Martin, having revisited the trilogy, remarked that he “was just struck again and again by how kind of boyish it all was.” Indulgent yet professionally sceptical, Martin appeared not to see the appeal of such an exercise: “if writing is freedom then you don’t want to shackle yourself to existing conventions and, indeed, existing characters.”
When Kingsley’s phase of intense appreciation for Britain’s most famous fictional spy was at its height, he was in his mid-forties, still unsettled by the fall-out of the cessation of his first marriage and the beginning of his second. Pecuniary rewards aside, one wonders if he found a certain comfort in his retreat to what Martin identifies correctly as an inherently schoolboyish world – a universe of wish fulfilment in which problems are solved by a combination of brutality and guile, where women are superficially fierce yet secretly biddable, where the lines are drawn absolutely between the agencies of good and evil.
William Boyd, although a few years older than the Amis of Colonel Sun, has reached a comparable juncture in his career. Established and respectable, the debut author of 1981’s still-gleeful A Good Man in Africa (1981) has, in recent years, become the craftsman of well-carpentered mainstream novels (Restless 2006; Ordinary Thunderstorms, 2009), none of which approach his most impressive work, Any Human Heart (2002) – that faux-journal which, in the life of its narrator, Logan Mountstuart, gives us the whole of the twentieth century. In Solo, his latest project, he has, like Amis, revivified Bond, applying himself with gusto to the mimicry of Fleming’s laconic prose. He is especially skilled at the replication of those succinct descriptions of violence (“Breed kicked him heavily in the ribs and Bond felt one stave in”), that languid snobbery (“the wine list, however, was a joke”), cheerfully adolescent sexuality (“Bond saw that she was wearing no brassiere”) and pedantic itemisation of technology (“single shot, bolt action. Point five zero calibre bullet, two-stage trigger set to four pounds”). This impersonation is interlaced with Boyd’s own, coolly insightful style – in a hotel room, the hero feels “all the drab anomie of the transient” while, in Africa, he asks himself “why did the continent so effortlessly remind you of your human frailties?”
Solo starts with Bond being despatched to the small West African country of Zanzarim which is engaged in a civil war with its neighbour, the oil-rich Republic of Dahum. M’s orders are to terminate the conflict by assassinating the rebel leader, Solomon “The Scorpion” Adeka. Those savage reverses, ruthless betrayals and bursts of unsentimental romance which follow are pleasurable in their predictability. What is more intriguing is the way in which Boyd has moved his protagonist forwards in time, landing him in 1967, where – aged forty-five and a veteran of the Second World War – he feels marooned and dustily out of place. On the King’s Road he finds himself surrounded by “the gilded, carefree young, dressed as if for a fabulous harlequinade… the dark-eyed girls in their tiny short dresses; the long-haired young men in their crushed velvet and their shaggy Afghan coats.”
Ultimately, the novel slyly deconstructs the assumptions – paternalist, imperialist, patriarchal – which underpin Bond’s world and concludes with a potent denunciation not only of the realpolitik of the late 1960s but of our own time: “they both knew the global subtext now,” Bond realises, “the underlying story… the sheer candid ruthlessness of absolute power”. It is a lonely and chastened 007 whom we leave on the final page, one who possesses a sense of cultural and historical perspective which could probably only have been granted to him by Boyd.
Solo is but the latest and most successful Fleming pastiche. In 2011 the American thriller specialist Jeffrey Deaver wrote Carte Blanche, placing a neophyte James in the present day, and three years earlier, Sebastian Faulks contributed the slightly pallid Devil May Care to the cycle. Although Faulks has written several new novels since that time something about the discipline of the task has evidently attracted him to another of the twentieth century’s most popular creations – P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster.
In Faulks’ Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Bertie Wooster finds himself in an imbroglio which, in its farcical complexity, certainly feels authentically Wodehousian. Forced to pretend to be a valet while Jeeves poses as a gentleman at the Dorset stately home of Melbury Hall, he is engaged in a convoluted attempt to reunite separated lovers and hide himself away from Agatha Worplesdon, the most ferocious of his aunts. As with the numerous originals, the scenario seems more plausible at the time of reading than when laid out in synopsis. In his introduction, Faulks suggests that “Wodehouse’s prose is a glorious thing” and while the pasticheur modestly insists that he “didn’t want to write too close an imitation of that distinctive music for fear of sounding flat or sharp”, he manages all the same a largely harmonious recital. Enamoured of a young lady named Georgiana Meadowes, Bertie “rather wondered whether she should be allowed out at all, such a hazard did she pose to male shipping”. Later, he admits that “Mrs Padgett gave me an odd look, like a miner’s wife who’d found a ferret in the coal” and, later still, that a lady’s expression at dinner resembles that of “a messenger charged with calling on King Harold’s bedchamber to tell him that the Normans had splashed ashore in force near a spot called Hastings.”
Like Boyd, Faulks permits shadows of the real world to fall upon Wodehouse’s arcadia – Georgiana was orphaned by the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, a relative of Jeeves’ died at the Somme and Wooster is asked “Surely even you, Bertie, are aware that there’s been a General Strike?” Boldly, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells goes on to provide what is essentially an ending for the Wooster narrative; as in Solo, there is a profound, contemporary interest in the disruption of the status quo.
The playwrights Bobby and David Goodale and the director Sean Foley are also currently engaged in the celebration of Wodehouse. Rather than producing a new story, their Perfect Nonsense adapts his own work in an idiosyncratic and self-conscious fashion. The evening begins with Wooster (a puppyish, shock-haired Stephen Mangan) acknowledging the audience and announcing that he intends to relate a dramatisation of his recent exploits. Jeeves (the icily charismatic Matthew MacFadyen) will assist him in this endeavour as will his aunt’s butler Seppings (a tireless Mark Hadfield) This trio present the whole story, playing all of the characters and frantically recreating events on stage. Much of Wodehouse survives and it is a pleasure to be reunited with many of his funniest creations (the blackshirt Roderick Spode; the newt-fancying Gussie Fink-Nottle; the perpetually disapproving Sir Roderick Basset). The Goodale Brothers’ metatheatrical approach adds another, arguably superfluous, layer of amusement – a sort of impishly Brechtian commentary on events. This conceit, which pays funny and surprising dividends in the first half, falters in the second when a lack of confidence in the source material becomes apparent. Happily, matters are set largely aright by a final sequence of thorough joy.
As each of these homages bears a different, yet productive, relationship to the texts that inspired them – the sometimes uneasy embellishments of Perfect Nonsense; the firm conclusion of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells; Solo’s artful destabilisations – one cannot help but wonder whether the imitation of another writer is not quite the shackling that Martin Amis described but, paradoxically, a kind of freedom. Might it not provide a respite from one’s own practice, an opportunity to examine the architecture of another fictional world and to emerge from that experience renewed? Certainly one is tempted to imagine that Kingsley found it so. After the publication of Colonel Sun he did not return again to James Bond but went back to the well of his own fictions. Ahead of him were The Green Man, Ending Up, The Alteration and, in 1986, The Old Devils, the novel which won him the Booker Prize.
Thought this might be of some interest. My review of Margaret Atwood's new novel, MaddAddam, from the illustrious pages of The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2814%2960010-6/fulltext
Friday, 28 March 2014
I'm delighted to be able to announce an especially thrilling project - a brand new, three-hour audio dramatisation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein! The novel has been a favourite for years so it was with a great deal of trepidation and excitement that I approached the adaptation. Hopefully, I've trod the right line in terms of fidelity to the source and the demands of making the story work in audio form in the twenty-first century. Directed by the marvellous and far-sighted Scott Handcock, it was recorded earlier this year with an all-star cast - Arthur Darvill! Nicholas Briggs! Geoffrey Beevers! Georgia Moffett! - and it will be released on CD and download in September. The whole thing has been an absolute privilege and I'm really proud of my part in it.
More here, as well as a chance to pre-order:
Friday, 24 January 2014
I'm delighted to say that the reviews so far for The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes have, largely, been very enthusiastic. If you're interested, and if you don't think I'm being too immodest, why not take a look?
Wednesday, 8 January 2014
I'm delighted to announce that The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes are out now!
My scripts for this complex four-hour audio drama have been beautifully realised by director Ken Bentley, sound designer Martin Montague, composer Howard Carter and a superb cast which, headed by Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl, includes Blake Ritson, Tracey Childs, Ken Bones and Michael Cochrane.
I'm extremely proud of the results.
More details here: http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-ordeals-of-sherlock-holmes-box-set-918
Friday, 20 December 2013
http://www.bigfinish.com/podcasts/v/the-ordeals-of-sherlock-holmes-podcast-december-04 and on iTunes? It contains interviews with director Ken Bentley, stars Briggs, Earl, Blake Ritson, Michael Cochrane, John Banks and Ken Bones. I'm in there as well, but please don't let that put you off.