William Boyd and PD James on bringing Bond to life and adopting Mr Darcy

Six writers reveal what it’s like to live, love – and lose – their favourite characters

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William Boyd and PD James on bringing Bond to life and adopting Mr Darcy
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Bringing Bond to life - William Boyd

Inheriting the character [for his 2013 James Bond novel, Solo] wasn’t a restrictive process for me. I’ve adapted a lot of famous books for film and television so I’m used to taking an existing character and creating a new narrative for them.

I made a point of not thinking about the movies at all. I stuck to the literary Bond, who is in some ways a far more nuanced and complex character than anything portrayed on screen. Fleming describes Bond in great detail in the novels and on three occasions he says James Bond looks like the American singer Hoagy Carmichael.

My father was a great fan of Carmichael so I happen to know exactly what he looks like. He’s a tall man with very straight dark hair, so you can get a very clear idea of what Bond looked like from looking at Hoagy Carmichael and that’s what I kept in mind while writing my novel. 


How to adopt Darcy - PD James 

The idea for Death Comes to Pemberley [her Pride and Prejudice sequel published in 2011] came from a desire to combine my two great enthusiasms in life – the novels of Jane Austen and writing detective fiction. I made up my mind that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy as characters would not change. They are Jane Austen’s characters, not mine.

Although I’ve read Pride and Prejudice many times, there were parts of the plot that left me a little confused. I felt that if the spirit of Jane Austen was present, I’d have questions to ask her. Why does Darcy, a compassionate man and a good brother, take his vulnerable 15-year-old sister from her boarding school and place her in the sole charge of Mrs Young, for example? And I’d question his first proposal to Elizabeth. Quite brutally, he says, “I know that I’m degrading myself by marrying you. I know that your mother is vulgar and that I shall be disgraced in the eyes of all my friends.” Looking at that I’d say, “Miss Austen, Darcy was a gentleman and no gentleman of this age or any other age would propose to the woman he loves with language like that.”

I decided to attempt an explanation of these things, but I also wanted to write as Jane Austen would. It was a challenge, but sometimes I’d write a sentence and think, “I’ve got it!” 


The art of letting go - Mark Haddon

When it came to the film adaptation [of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time], I took the decision very early on to choose the right people for the job and go home. Lots of authors talk about being a parent and the book being a child. It starts off weak and unprotected but grows rapidly. I think Curious is about 45 now and I’m the ageing parent and occasionally it sends me postcards or I get a phone call to find out what it’s doing, but other than that it’s on its own. 


Getting it right... - Joanne Harris

Initially I got sent a script [for the adaptation of her 1999 novel Chocolat] that was awful beyond belief so I just ignored it. Then I got another that was a bit better, followed by a call from Juliette Binoche saying, “By the way, I have the lead in your film and I’d like to come and read through the script with you”.

I’ve met writers who feel that having their book turned into a script was the worst thing that ever happened to them, but I was lucky. They kept the feel and three-quarters of my story and I could hardly argue with a cast that included Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. 


...getting it wrong - Louis de Bernieres

I had a fixed idea of how everyone in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin looked and behaved. When I saw the film, it was completely different. For example, the character of Pelagia is based on a girl I saw in a café in Kefalonia. Penelope Cruz acted it well and of course she’s gorgeous, but she didn’t look remotely like the woman in the café. Similarly, I thought of Captain Corelli as a not very big but charming Italian and I got Nicolas Cage, a lugubrious tall American. He’s a great actor, but he just wasn’t the type of person I had in mind. 


Played by a puppet - Michael Morpurgo

I thought it was absurd [on hearing a puppet would play Joey the horse in his novel War Horse]. My response was that it was impossible, mixed up with excitement that the National Theatre were thinking of doing the show. I asked how it was going to work because, to me, puppets meant a pantomime horse and this was a serious play about the horrors of the First World War. It’s all down to the puppeteers, who are amazing.

Their transformation is almost miraculous, but the one rule is that you never talk to them when they’re working. They are the horse. They are Joey. 

Letting Go (part of Character Invasion Day) is on Saturday at 3:30pm on BBC Radio 4.