“The Ian Fleming Files: Operation Armada” by Damian Stevenson is based on a simple but brilliant idea: To use the creator of the James Bond series and make him the hero in his own James-Bond-style adventure.
Set in 1940 it shows Fleming as a Naval commander who is on a secret mission in France regarding the French Navy.
As Fleming used to be an navy officer in real life this has an excellent real feel to it, an idea so simple and genius, you wonder why nobody has thought of doing it before Many have written James-Bond style books, but few have thought of going to the root of the creation itself.
Very authentically written the story has everything that you would expect from a James Bond story: thrilling action scenes, gadgets, women and cars.
I am a big fan of history and absolutely loved the idea of bringing Bond into the past rather than the future. For me James Bond is a cult figure and I find that the recent film instalments with the ever increasing pyrotechnics and technology advances take the fun out of the original idea.
Stevenson has done a fantastic job at extracting the essence of Bond and choosing an excellent setting for his novel.
I hate to use this phrase in reviews but I really am looking forward to a series of these books.
How did the idea for the novel come to you?
I was stunned by how successful the movie Skyfall (2012) was – over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office – given that the character was a 1950s creation and it occurred to me that there was a huge lack of awareness that Ian Fleming based his character on himself, that he was himself a spy during World War 2. Because Skyfall was such a hit, I thought there might be interest in a story that put Ian Fleming in similar circumstances to 007 but was rooted in biographical and historical truth.
How did you come to writing in the first place?
I studied literature at Oxford, worked with writers in Hollywood when I was an executive at DreamWorks and eventually decided it was time to give writing a go. I wrote screenplays for ten years with mixed success and turned to books about a year ago. My heart is definitely in books.
How did you choose the setting for the story? Did you research much for the book?
I chose to focus on what I thought was the most exciting Bond-like period of Ian Fleming’s life and the setting was thus dictated by the circumstances. Fleming was a reporter before and after the war and by far his most thrilling adventures took place during the war, specifically in 1940 when he was flown to Bordeaux to negotiate the purchase of France’s navy. So France during the Nazi occupation became the default setting, as well as some scenes at Admiralty HQ and elsewhere in London.
Yes, a lot of research. With historical fiction, research and writing go hand in hand. Before, during and even after writing (when someone points out a mistake!). I had been casually researching Ian Fleming for years out of personal interest and then took it to another level when I started the book. One thing I have learned from research is that the Internet is highly over-rated as a source of information. The library, i.e. books, is where the real research comes. Until every book is scanned and readable on line, you have to go to the library.
Who is your favourite character and why?
Ian Fleming, because he dominates so much and it’s told mostly from his point of view. I like the Denise character, the story’s femme fatale, because I like writing about women, especially dangerous Bond-girl types, lots of fun.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
I would like to say Fleming only because I had no choice but to draw on my own experience for his everyday emotions like love, hate, hurt, jealousy, etc. Also, I tried to depict him as the kind of guy that other guys want to emulate, a cool cat. In my fantasy I am like Ian Fleming but I am probably more like Henry Cavendish, his friend, who lives an ordinary existence without villains and femme fatales to worry about.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
Interesting question. I think a lot of writing is part planned and part discovery. I had a general sense of the plot – he goes to France, the Resistance help him, he is betrayed and gets revenge – but beyond that a lot of the story was discovered. For example, one of the plot motifs I like to use is that the best laid plans never go as expected. So initially Fleming’s parachute jump wasn’t a mis-drop but by following the motif of plans-going-awry I was able to come up with a twist on a twist: the first twist was that there is a traitor and the Germans know where the drop-zone is but by having Fleming miss the drop-zone when he parachuted it was more interesting – yes, the Germans were waiting for him, but there was a mechanical and weather problem that made him miss the intended landing spot and avoid the trap. I thought this made for good suspense. As you write you are always facing the dreaded foe of Predictability and one of the best strategies is to not know yourself what is coming next. It’s good to have a general idea – Fleming is parachuting into France – but it’s better if you don’t know every single step that happens so you can take unexpected turns as you write. If I know what is coming next then by definition it is predictable so in a way I have to be a little bit unware.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
I love rewriting. The end stage where you get to polish and improve and really see something substantive emerge. I find the beginning stage horrible and do all I can to avoid it – and then spend a lot of time hating myself. It’s the despair of the blank page versus the satisfaction of having created something out of nothing. They say god created the blank page to show you how hard it is to be god.
What do you do when you don’t write?
I spend time with my young daughter every opportunity I get (I’m divorced) and I also play tennis and loaf around in the sun like a typical Los Angeleno. I read a lot and try to stay out of trouble.
Favourite James Bond: SEAN CONNERY
Song LIVE AND LET DIE
Actor SEAN CONNERY
Actress JANE SEYMOUR (FAVORITE BOND GIRL, Miss Solitaire)
Gadget MAGNETIC WATCH IN ‘LIVE AND LET DIE’
Which are your favourite books and authors?
I love the classics, especially 19th Century British authors like Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde, big Shakespeare nut, Ian Fleming is a huge favorite, naturally, and for modern prose I love the ‘outlaw’ tradition in American writing, authors like William S Burroughs, Hugh Selby JR and Charles Bukowski. At the end of the day I love a great stylist, an author for whom it seems every word is a big decision.
Which indie writers can you recommend?
Peter John, James DiBenedetto, Chloe Thurlow, Sheryl Seal, Sameer Ketkar, Brandt Legg, Todd Thiede, Julia Gousseava, Oleg Medvedkov, Dennis Waller, Karen Black, James Ross, Carolyn Bennet, Dani J Caile, Simon Okill, Charity Parkerson. Too many to name! I know I left someone out…
What three books would you take to an isolated island?
The Bible, Collected Shakespeare and Naked Lunch
Tell us about your other books?
I have written a suspense novella (Solstice), based on an unproduced screenplay I wrote a few years ago, which people seem to like. My one non-fiction book is a look at the 1983 movie Scarface – Scarface: The Ultimate Guide which no one buys but has the best reviews of all of my books.
What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?
What I really want to do is direct. Just kidding.
“Operation Parsifal” is out and the next one is “Operation Uncle Sam” set in the summer of 1941 that sees Fleming working with the Americans to get them into the war effort. After that I may write ‘The Ian Fleming Files: Origins’ and take the saga back to before the war started.
FIND DAMIAN ON GOODREADS AND AMAZON:
MY REVIEW OF OPERATION PARSIFAL:
“Operation Parsifal”, Book 2 in the Ian Fleming Files series is a remarkable achievement both in terms of historical accuracy and as a “Bond” / spy thriller.
Ian Fleming acts as a spy in her majesty’s service and is sent to Egypt to recruit a German deserter and the mistress of a German industrialist to the British Intelligence. Parsifal is a secret organisation to bring down Hitler and replace him with a new Chancellor and naturally the Allies take an interest in this internal power battle and its consequences for Europe.
As writer of historical fiction about the era I was stunned at the detailed research and the accuracy of the people, places and the times: The physical descriptions of the Nazi big wigs and industrialists, the scenes set in a bombed and semi-destroyed London and the feeling amongst the German nation so briefly before the end of the Reich to name but a few, all are portrayed with competence and perfection.
The story itself also held great interest for me. I have seen all Bond films and very much enjoyed that Parsifal is written in a similar style but with a real historical connection rather than the invented villains with no connection to reality. For me that concept really worked and I found myself quite glued to the pages, wondering where the story line would take us next: Berlin, the Eagle’s Nest or Fort Alderney in the channel islands.
Not only does Stevenson know his Bond and Fleming, he writes eloquently and with appropriate pace. There were no redundant stretches in the story line, dialogue and characters were well composed and made this a very enjoyable read. Now I’d like to know more about Fleming and his life so I could figure out how much of this is true and what was added as fiction.
An intriguing and worthy read.
. WWII, Armada, Damian Stevenson, France, Hitler, Ian Fleming, James Bond, Nazi Germany, Nazis, Parsifal, writer