The Norwegian James Bond Magazine caught up with Mark O’Connell, the author of a must-have book for James Bond fans.
Mark O’Connell is the author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan, published by Splendid Books and available now at all stockists including Amazon and Kindle. Mark can be found on @Mark0Connell and www.markoconnell.co.uk.
The Norwegian James Bond Magazine highly recommend this book – Catching Bullets is a wonderful and unique love-letter to James Bond. Since this is such a wonderful book, we had a chat with Mark.
Can you tell us about the background why you wrote Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan?
I had long toyed with the idea of reappraising the series in book form. Some posts I had added to Bond fan forums had received heavy traffic and I wondered if there was an audience for a book. But then it needed more than that. It needed a personal hook or it would just be another Bond book, which I never wanted. When I took the plunge and realised my grandfather’s associations with the Bond movies alongside my own 1980s filmic childhood was the way into a book, it all sort of fell into place from that moment on.
How did the concept of the book come about?
I wanted a proper title-sounding title – something that could have been a Bond movie itself. With Catching Bullets I was then able to assign various chapters to the various Bond movies in the order I saw them – which then removed the often dull requirement that has to look at the films in chronlogical order. The publishers Splendid Books were very good at trusting my ambitions and concept of the book – to be a love letter to Bond, having Bond in your family, 1980s cinema and what all us film fans get up to in our pursuits of cinema.
Your first Bond film was Octopussy. Can you tell us about the experience of seeing Octopussy for the first time?
All the Bond movies are cinema films. They need to be seen at the cinema. Whilst I didn’t fully gather all the more adult-skewed references of the film (I was seven years old at the time) I remember the fun, swagger and style of the film – particularly the tuk-tuk chase, the gymnastic attack on Khan’s Palace, Rita Coolidge’s eloquent song and of course Roger and Maud clearly getting on and enjoying the whole thing.
Your grandfather was chauffeur to legendary 007 producer Cubby Broccoli. Can you share some stories?
Well of course Catching Bullets details the various stories of that very special relationship so I better not throw out too many spoilers here! To this day my family feels very blessed to have had the Bond connection. My grandfather greatly valued his many years with Cubby and [very privately] cherished those times working for Cubby, the Broccoli family and of course Eon Productions. He was a very quiet man and observed the privacy of the people he worked with to the day he died. He was also fiercely loyal to Eon – so much so that when he would be looking after CUB 1 (Eon’s prized Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II) he would stay up all night watching the car parked up in his tiny suburban driveway from the lounge window.
The Prelude to Catching Bullets is written by Barbara Broccoli. How did you get her involved?
Obviously I wanted to tell Barbara and Eon all about the book and was kindly provided with a very open and generous support at just the right time for the book and it final ‘co-stars’ (we also have Mark Gatiss and Octopussy herself Maud Adams as contributors, which was also such a brilliant coup and blessing!). Barbara and others suggested some photos and were able to help with some dates and offer further insight into my grandfather’s time with Cubby and Bond. Some really supportive words came my way from Bond HQ and they eventually formed Barbara’s lovely ‘Prelude’ which saw everything come full circle in such a poetic way. I was sat at the final of the London 2012 men’s Roman-Greco Wrestling (don’t ask!) and I may have had a misty eyed moment upon reading “Cubby and Jimmy would be proud”.
Can you tell us about the writing process? Did it take a long time to write the book?
The whole book took about a year and a half to write but at different momentums. Once the publishing date was fixed (to partly coincide with 007’s golden anniversary – though this was not a must) the speed of writing naturally increased. There is nothing like a writing deadline to push things on.
Catching Bullets is a personal and revealing book. Were you ever in doubt about how personal and revealing you should be?
It’s about balance. Readers want to be trusted so I had to be honest. And if you start doubting this and that then you won’t get the writing done. There is a responsibility (maybe from my own mind) about including other people, names and recollections. But it is only ever done with affection where the possible ‘joke’ is on me anyway. Some writers can be very cruel. I wanted Catching Bullets to be a warm book, a fun book – like the Bond movies themselves. You do wonder about using other people’s lives but any concerns were only ever mine. And always unfounded.
Are you a fan of the Ian Fleming books. Both, or mainly the films?
Of course I am. They are two sides of the same coin. Though because my starting point was the films (my grandfather worked for the Broccolis after all) I always admit I am a fan of the films first. But as I get older and revisit Fleming I see more and more the vital DNA of the character and the films is all there in his writing. Skyfall is a very Fleming film – in all sorts of ways .
What’s your favourite Bond film and why?
As I recount in the book, us film fans are (or should be) allowed a best and a favourite. That way we can have controversial, guilty-pleasure favourites (that some cannot get their heads round) whilst knowing all too well what the best films are in the 007 canon so far. It’s all in the book, but my favourite is a controversial one but I rank it for all sorts of personal reasons, as well as ones of timings and being the right age.
It may be a difficult question, but how do you explain the success of the Bond movies?
I always get asked this one. It is a difficult one. No-one can fullly determine what will be successful, least of all in the movie business. However, there is an integrity to the Bond films – an integrity of intent, of style, entertainment and spectacle. They are utter wish-fulfilment (which cinema has sort of forgotten these days amidst the falling masonry and relentless posturing of some lesser, but successful franchises) and they reward your time. A Bond movie also tends to utterly respect its audience – which is why different generations will make a point of going to the cinema to see a new 007 film. Eon and the creatives at Bond HQ have nothing to prove. Bond is the most successful global film franchise of the modern age – one of the key players in the 20th Century’s key art form, i.e cinema. But it is the process of making these films that they are fascinated in and strive to get so right time and time again.
And why do you think Skyfall became the most successful film in the series?
Because it has that integrity factor. It is a great solid film as well as just happening to be a great, solid Bond film. Director Sam Mendes and the writers – Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan – plus the casting likes of Fiennes, Harries, McCrory and of course Mr. Bardem pitched a deeply classical Bond movie within a very contemporary context. And as a writer I have to say it was partly successful because it was so blimmin’ well written. Silva’s first entrance is a masterclass of savvy screenwriting leading performance, design and direction. It became one of the most electric scenes in Bond, but also of modern mainstream cinema. The Bond movies have also built up a massive momentum of audience goodwill. Skyfall became an event movie (not all Bonds do that). Old ladies at the bus stop were talking about having seen it and builders on scaffolding were whistling Adele’s theme. It got under the skin of the zeitgeist, was very British (Adele, Scotland, the cast, London) in a key year for Britain (2012).
What do you think about the homoerotic / Craig and Bardem flirting scene in Skyfall?
Bring it on! Seriously, I have long suggested that Bond would indeed be savvy when it came to his own manly charms. Why wouldn’t he have had to utilise his own sexuality with the same sex to further a mission? We are not going to see Bond emerging from the sheets with a sleeping man alongside him. The character is über-straight. No-one is challenging that. That scene is Skyfall is – again – all about John Logan’s writing (I thanked Robert Wade for it and he held up his hands and said it was all Mr Logan’s skilful doing). It’s a delicious scene – not just because of Bardem’s sub textual foreplay (“we can either stay here and eat each other” – cue knowing smirk) but – most importantly – because James Bond 007 is in utter charge of the drama. This is where Daniel Craig’s Bond really came of age and I cannot wait to see what Logan particularly does next with Bond 24.
Mark, thanks for taking time for this interview!