Tag Archives: James Bond

When a Writer becomes a Brand

As a writer soon learns, it’s not the quality of one’s writing that counts, more how you’re going to sell it.

These days, that means selling yourself too, as your image is as vital as the plot of your book. Any aura you can generate, along with the concept created by your stories can live on, long after you’re dead. Cynics have long said that ‘dying is a great career move’. It’s especially true of musicians: just look at Michael Jackson’s sales, and Jimi Hendrix has had more albums released bearing his name since he died than he made in his lifetime.

I first became aware of this marketing phenomenon in publishing back in 1995, when I saw a sequel to Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the Bladerunner film was based. Dick, himself, refused to write a novelization of the movie, though a writer-for-hire later did so. Since he died, there have been three sequels. I tried one, and it was as horrid as I anticipated.

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There have been many continuations of long-established fictional protagonists’ adventures, written by contemporary writers. James Bond has been given new life by Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz.

Scores of writers have written Sherlock Holmes stories. Contemporary authors have had their protagonists kidnapped after they die, as with Robert B Parker‘s private detective Spenser and several other of his creations, who’ve thrived in at least fifteen novels. Sold by the owners of his estate, his relatives are coining it in! Such authors were undoubtedly glad that their family would have financial security, but I bet they’d deplore how their fictional characters have been altered.

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As a purist, I object to this, as it comes across as misrepresentation to me, a pastiche put together to capitalise on the gullibility of readers. That some people are so hooked on a character, that they don’t care who writes about them, is another matter. It leads to things like fan fiction—from which writers of the quality of E.L. James pulled themselves out of the swamp—proving my point that nothing good can come of it.

And yet, well-respected authors write their versions of literary heroes. The financial inducement must be attractive, and their hubris helps propel them through people asking, “Why the hell are you writing that, can’t you think up your own characters anymore?”

What do you think of this form of literary grave robbing?

How would you feel if your lovingly created characters lived on after you died?

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Authors who succeeded after Death

Just as cynics say “Great career move” when a fading musician dies unexpectedly, leading to a massive boost in the sales of their albums, so it takes having The Grim Reaper as your literary agent for some writers to get anywhere.

I’ve mentioned the sad tale of John Kennedy Toole in previous threads, and it would have been fascinating to know what else he would have created. At least he hasn’t been turned into a franchise operation with hired gun authors brought in to continue the series, as happened recently with Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and the long-established James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories.


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For a writer to achieve great success, their main character(s) and storyline need to be readily parodyable. Initially, this notion may sound offensive, but just think of the comedic interpretations that have been made of these well-known stories and characters:

* JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

* James Bond

* Frankenstein’s Monster

* Count Dracula

* The 50 Shades series

* Sherlock Holmes

* The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings

* Miss Marple & Inspector Clouseau

* Tarzan of the Apes

* Long John Silver from Treasure Island

* Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five

* Superheroes: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and, increasingly, Wolverine.

All of these characters are popular because they make people feel good, and perhaps because they’re also slightly intimidating, they’re parodied—adding to their popularity. All of them are instantly recognisable as cartoons, many as head emojis or Lego figures and all are used as shorthand ways to describe people’s behaviour or appearance. Iconic is an overused word, but these icons are lampooned in an affectionate way.

These characters are larger than the story, entering popular culture. Many people recognise the character, even if they haven’t read the original book. For instance, most interpretations of a pirate hinge on the wooden leg and parrot of Long John Silver, along with the daft ‘pirate voice’ saying things such as “Ah, Jim lad, it’s the Black Spot, which came from actor Robert Newton’s West Country accent.

How could this affect our own writing? My protagonist, Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is increasingly eccentric as he redefines himself after being widowed, also seeking relaxing distractions from his job, some of which help him tackle cases in oblique ways. Thus, he paints watercolours, meditates, listens to a wide variety of music, has taken up the guitar, is a keen naturalist and wildlife gardener. He rides a menacing black chopper motorcycle. He’s a copper on a chopper!

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I wanted to create a different type of detective, and Neil Kettle is a left-wing/Green party, Bohemian/Hippy artist who’s tapped into the pagan and farming community. Clothing-wise, he favours leather and wax-proof cotton jackets and floor-length highwayman’s coats. Whether any of these quirks make him worthy of being parodied, I don’t know….

Some writers’ physical looks become a parodyable logo. Jon Ronson writes quirky books investigating things such as psychopaths, public shaming, military use of hypnotism, extremists and craziness. His publisher has used his quizzical appearance on the covers of his books:

Do you have any fictional protagonists who could become instantly recognisable parodies, through their physical appearance, clothing or behaviour?

How do you feel about becoming a marketing tool yourself, with your head turned into a lurid cartoon?