Life Long Dream Comes True for New Bond Author
By Dawn Ius
There are James Bond fans—and then there is Kim Sherwood.
Sherwood grew up loving the work of Ian Fleming. So much so, she wrote a school report on him when she was 13 years old. Her connection to the franchise was deepened when her grandfather—actor George Baker—made appearances in three of the Bond movies. In fact, he was almost cast as Bond himself, if not for a scheduling conflict.
Now, Sherwood’s connection to the franchise has come full circle with the release, DOUBLE OR NOTHING, the first in her trilogy and the first Bond novel written by a female author. But this book is unlike any Bond book you’ve ever read before. For starters, James Bond is missing….and rather than standing in the background, a diverse group of new agents is ready to shine.
In this exclusive interview with The Big Thrill, Sherwood tells gives us the scoop on how when opportunity knocked, she was more than ready to kick the door open and make all her dreams come true.
I enjoyed DOUBLE OR NOTHING, the first in a trilogy that introduces a “new generation of Double O agents.” I’d love to know more about how this opportunity arose for you.
Thanks! I got the tap on the shoulder when the Ian Fleming Estate started to look for a new author, as Anthony Horowitz’s tenure was coming to an end. The Fleming family had enjoyed my first novel, Testament, and my agent let them know this would be a lifelong dream come true for me. I was invited to send the Flemings a letter with some ideas as to how I would continue the franchise. It’s important to the family that you’re a fan, as this is their legacy, so I added a copy of a school report I wrote when I was around 13 years old—it was a piece of homework set by our English teacher, to write about an author we admired, and I made a whole booklet on Ian Fleming. The lesson is to do your homework! The Flemings liked my ideas, and my passion, and it all took off from there.
I read that you’ve been a lifelong Bond fan—same!—but even with all of that history and knowledge about the characters and their world of espionage, I imagine you (unfortunately) faced some challenges being a woman writing in the series. How did you navigate those challenges and what has the response been so far?
I feel very proud to join the long line of women in the world of Bond, from Johanna Harwood, the co-screenwriter on Dr. No and From Russia With Love and the first woman to write Bond, to Dana Broccoli, Jacqueline Saltzman and producer Barbara Broccoli, and all of the incredible costume designers, crew, writers and actors over the decades. I want to celebrate those contributions, which is why I named 003 after the real-life Johanna Harwood. There are also so many fantastic, rounded female characters in Fleming’s novels: Gala Brand, Tiffany Case, Vivienne Michel. As a lifelong fan of Bond and the action genre, I’m excited to have the opportunity to move the female characters out of the more supporting roles we often find them in, and into the spotlight as heroes themselves. I’ve been delighted by readers’ responses to the character of 003, and especially happy to see people cheer on Moneypenny’s promotion in my series to Head of the Double O Section.
I also read that you are the granddaughter of actor George Baker, who made a number of appearances in the Bond movies. That’s really cool. I know your grandfather has passed, but what do you think he would think about you taking on this “new” Bond trilogy? Was he on your mind as you developed some of the secondary characters?
Yes, he was—and in fact, he was almost cast as Bond! When Fleming met him, he told producer Cubby Broccoli, ‘That’s my Bond!’ But George was tied up in a multi-picture deal and couldn’t take the part. He was delighted to appear in three Bond films over the years, and I think he’d chuckle at the way it’s come back around to our family. George always encouraged my writing, and I know he’d be proud.
With the three main new Double O agents we’re introduced to in this book—Johanna Harwood, Sid Bashir, and Joseph Dryden—you’ve truly achieved great representation in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexuality. They all have such great backstories too. Can you share a little about how these characters formed for you? Which was the easiest to write? The most difficult?
Each character came from considering an aspect of the Bond legacy and lore. For Sid Bashir (009), I was curious about the role of religion and philosophy in espionage. In Bond, we often see the hero take a life to save all of humanity. I wondered how a spy raised to believe that to save one soul will save all of humanity—as written in the Quran—would negotiate the ethics of being a Double O. Bashir is a tactician with a philosopher’s heart. For Johanna Harwood (003), I wanted to explore the idea of a licence to kill, which sounds cool, but would actually be an enormous responsibility. It struck me that the opposite of a licence to kill is the Hippocratic oath, the doctor’s vow to heal anyone. Harwood starts life as a trauma surgeon, and then something happens that brings her to Moneypenny’s attention. I was keen to delve into what kind of personality could encompass both positions. For Joseph Dryden (004), I looked at common routes taken into the spy profession. One is from the Special Forces to espionage, after a soldier suffers an injury that means they can’t serve on the front line anymore. Dryden’s life changes after he is caught in an IED blast in Afghanistan. I love writing all of them—each one comes with a rich story for me to explore.
Introducing new characters is a formidable task, but you take it even further with an ambitious plot as well—Bond is missing, there’s a mole at M16, the agents must tackle a sinister organization and a tech billionaire, and on a personal level, you’ve included a love triangle between agents. How did you keep all these plates spinning?
I’m at my happiest when spinning multiple plates! Typically, Bond narratives follow one hero on one quest. I enjoyed playing with formula a little, creating an ensemble cast with distinct but intertwining plots. It involved drawing a lot of diagrams and arranging and rearranging memo cards on my carpet!
In DOUBLE OR NOTHING, we also meet tech billionaire Sir Bertram Paradise who claims he can reverse climate change. He feels…familiar. <grins> What can you share about the inspiration for his character and how he evolved for you?
Writing a Bond villain is one of the most fun challenges, because there are so many iconic villains in the Fleming pantheon. I took my cue from Fleming, who wrote about the great concerns of his day, from fear of Communism to the bomb. The climate crisis is our greatest existential and practical threat on a global level, but I needed to give that a face, so I devised a villain who seems to be using technology to profit from the suffering of others.
With the advent of technology, espionage books have really had to adapt and change—and the Bond franchise is no exception. What kind of research was required for DOUBLE OR NOTHING? Was there anything surprising you learned? In particular, was Betram’s cloud seeding ship a product of your imagination or based on real science?
Based on real science—I read a lot of very dense academic papers! Geoengineering is being touted as one possible solution to the climate crisis, but it’s untested and comes with many risks, which could cause fallout and blowback.
While you certainly take DOUBLE OR NOTHING in its own direction and are carving out your place within the franchise, you’ve dropped in a number of Easter eggs that will be fun for Bond fans to find. Given your love of all things Bond, what factors influenced which familiar elements and characters you wanted to include?
I tried to write in dialogue with Fleming’s novels, though I updated them in my mind to immediately precede DOUBLE OR NOTHING, which is set in the modern —my own head canon! So I wanted to sprinkle in Fleming touches and characters, which hopefully fans will enjoy. There’s also some deep cuts to moments in the films that I love, which I’m always happy when people pick up!
DOUBLE OR NOTHING is the first in a trilogy—and what an incredible first novel to introduce this new Bond era. Can you provide us with any teasers about the second instalment? And of course, you write books outside of the Bond franchise. Is there anything you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
Thanks so much! If I tell you too much, I’ll have to kill you! I can say the second book goes deeper and darker… In my other work, I’ve just published A Wild & True Relation here in the UK, a literary historical feminist smuggling adventure, which I’ve been working on for 14 years. I feel very lucky to have so many dreams coming true.