James Bond Posts

“Billie Eilish” by Billie Eilish

My daughter hugging the book “Billie Eilish” tightly.

Billie Eilish started publishing music with her brother, Finneas, as a teenager. The duo is immensely popular. Billie Eilish is a multiple Grammy winner. She is 19. She has published her auto-biography called Billie Eilish. It is a photobook. It also shows stills from her music videos that she mostly directs herself. It is a photo-documentation of a pretty little baby to a superstar in less than two decades. She is young enough to have photo albums to browse through of her childhood and recall memories. Her dog that she rescued when Billie was six years old, is still living with her. Her parents and brother accompany the singer everywhere. Her father is an integral part of the crew. There are many photographs of her with her family and they do not seem to be posing for the sake of a family album memory. They are a team. It is evident.

Listening to her music is quite something. The words can be dark. But the arrangement is curious. It is a cross between performance poetry and recitation. The music tracks seem to have a life of their own too. The effect is enhanced when Billie Eilish is seen performing on stage or in her music videos wearing outrageously loud colours. It requires immense confidence about oneself to wear such bold colours. Musicians have been known to perform wearing dramatic costumes while performing in front of audiences, but there is something electric in the colours that Billie Eilish chooses, especially the fluorescent shades.

Some of her tracks like “Lovely” and “Bad Guy” have had 1.2 B and 1.1 billion views on YouTube, respectively. The combined views of two songs are nearly double the population of India! Her first song “Ocean Eyes’” (365 million views) sounds very much like Sam Smith. It was her first song. Her brother had written it for himself but realised that his younger sister did a better job at singing it. They recorded in their bedroom and uploaded it on SoundCloud. It went viral. In fact, the breakthrough achieved by many of the modern pop artists is phenomenal —whether it is Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes, Arctic Monkeys, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran. All of them have the common factor of using social media platforms to release their music. Once the tracks went viral, the record companies via their scouts signed them up. Billie has amassed over 54 million monthly listeners on the streaming service Spotify and over 50 million followers on Instagram. Her meteoric rise is similar to that of Liam Payne, One Direction, who at the age of fourteen years old also became a superstar and was banned from playing football in his own school field, as he had fans gawking at him from the boundary wall. He revealed this in a podcast with Steven Bartlett.

Eilish signed with Darkroom/Interscope in November 2016 just ahead of her fifteenth birthday. Darkroom/Interscope Records is the label for artists including Eminem, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, Maroon 5, Selena Gomez, and U2. It noticed this new young singer and snapped her up. A comment of Billie Eilish that stands out while negotiating and signing the contract was that no one knew how to talk to or direct a child, which is what she was, a fourteen-year-old. It is precisely why she took over the direction of her music videos. Apparently, she always uses real stunts. No special effects. It is admirable if you see some of the videos with the feathers sticking to her in the black goo. She sat through the make-up sessions.

She has mostly been home-schooled while her parents who were musicians also managed their professional commitments. Billi Eilish pours her heart and soul in her music and the videos accompanying it. Take for instance, the anime-inspired videos such as “You Should see me in a Crown”. It is a “creepy video” as my eleven-year-old daughter describes it, but it does not stop my daughter from listening to Billie Eilish’s music.

The self-confidence and assuredness of this young singer is quite something. It is evident even in the simple title of her book — Billie Eilish. It took Elton John, in his seventies, to entitle his memoir, Me. Billie Eilish has not even completed her second decade and her autobiography is Billie Eilish.  In 2020 Eilish became the youngest artist ever to write and record a James Bond theme song. According to a Reuters article, she is quoted in clips of the audiobook as saying:

It’s funny like, I think a lot of people think that when Ocean Eyes’ came out, suddenly I was a superstar and quit everything and just became like famous… and it did not work like that at all… Yeah, my life stayed the same for a while. I was still dancing hours and hours and hours a day. And I was in choir still and I was doing all the same things I did. I was in circus class.

Listen to the track she released during the pandemic in Nov 2020. It is called, “No Time to Die”. It is the theme song to the forthcoming James Bond film with Daniel Craig. She credits Amy Winehouse for being a major influence on her music and yet this is a song that is soooo Billie Eilish. It cannot belong to anyone else! Read the photobook. It is a lovely documentation of a child/superstar born in the digital-informative-picture-rich age. Every step of her life seems to have been documented. It will be definitely popular with her fans and for those beyond who are curious about this popstar. The beautiful layout, with no expenses spared on the quality of production especially of the images, is a testament to the popularity of BillieEilish. The publishers will more than recover their cost in the making of this book and it will be well deserved. There are plenty of videos and images available online but there is magic in holding a print book consisting of stills. Billie Eilish exploits this old-world charm of browsing through images in hard copy, almost as if it is an invitation to view her family album and thus, gives her fans what they constantly desire – an intimate look into the singer’s life beyond the stage and recording studio. Very well done!

On 29 July 2021, Billie Eilish released her second album — Happier than Ever. It has met with praise from critics. Listen to it. Every track has its distinctive style. The words are astonishing as the young pop star has addressed her superstar status, the trolling she has faced, the titles of the track are very revealing too in terms of what she is feeling/experiencing. The musical arrangements are distinctive in every track. They do not merge into each other as a blur. The opening bars of “Halley’s Coment” begin with the piano chords sounding almost like the begining of a hymn. Curious that she should name a song after a comet that is known to appear periodically in the earth’s orbit and can be seen with the naked eye. Halley’s Comet’s claim to fame is the tail that it leaves in its wake, similar to other comets, except that this one is visible like a puff of cotton ball. Much of this analogy is applicable to Billie Eilish too with her phenomenal presence in the music world, sharp and illuminating, leaving an ephemeral trail of stardust in her wake.

The album’s tracks are characterised by her trademark whispering-style of singing. When she first burst upon the music scene, her songs tended to be indistinguishable from the popular artists of the day such as Sam Smith. Whereas in this album, most of the songs feel as if they hear hearkening back to a musical era with very distinct brands of music. The title track, “Happier than Before” feels like a song from the black-and-white film era. The choral arrangement in the opening of “Goldwing” sounds like traditional Church music. “Getting Older” has a rhythmic, gentle but firm beat that is much like the music one associates with Billie Eilish, yet has made me Thurberish with its strumming. There are examples of a range of musical styles in this album that do not make it dull. The titles leave one wanting to ask a million questions whereas the arrangement of the songs remain understated. In fact, this is exactly the feature that critics are pinpointing as being the reason for her fan base being underwhelmed. Yet, there is an addictive quality to the music. The lyrics continue to be dark, sombre and come with parental warning for their explicitness.

Hear the album. It is very good. Read the book too. It will help add a dimension to the singer.

Then watch the new BBC documentary called “Up Close” where she opened up about her frustration with trolls and internet criticism with the BBC’s Clara Amfo. “What is the point of trying to do good if people are just going to keep saying that you’re doing wrong,” Eilish tells Amfo. The film uses some of the images that appear in the photobook as well.

22 July 2021
Updated: 2 August 2021

Naveed Jamali & Ellis Henican “How to Catch a Russian Spy”

how-to-catch-a-russian-spy-9781476788821_lgNaveed Jamali’s book How to Catch a Russian Spy documents his life as a double agent. He worked with the FBI but led the Russians to believe that he was working for them. For him, especially after 9/11, as a first-generation American, born of immigrant parents Naveed was keen to serve his country. Ideally he wanted to use his knowledge about computers in Naval intelligence but he failed to pass the test. So when an opportunity presented itself or rather he made it happen, it was the nearest to a dream come true — of being a spy. Having grown up reading spy novels, watching TV shows about undercover work and the James Bond series he was very enthusiastic about spying. Plus, he had the good fortune of his parents company — Books & Research — being strategically significant. It had for more than two decades been visited frequently by American and Russian agents in search of difficult-to-find books and articles.

How to Catch a Russian Spy details the three years Naveed Jamali spent working as a double agent. It is part-autobiography and part-documentation recording those significant years. The operation concluded happily for him. Once the Russian spy Naveed was associated with had been captured, Naveed was made a member of the Reserve force of Naval Intelligence. This book has been so popular that it has already been translated into a few languages and Fox has optioned the film rights as well.

Despite the Cold War having finished many years ago the fascination with spies continues to capture everyone’s imagination. Given how every two years a new Bond film appears to a resounding success and in 2015 the publication of How to Catch a Russian Spy has coincided with the release of the master of spy thrillers, John Le’ Carre’s biography and with the discovery that there was probably a sixth member in the famous Cambridge Five spy circle, Naveed Jamali’s true story is a very fashionable. Unfortunately for all the “truth” it engages with in telling a story how a Russian spy was caught on American soil in the twenty-first century, the book lacks the punchy zippiness associated with spy novels. Instead How to Catch a Russian Spy conveys the boyish starry-eyed wonder of Naveed Jamali at finding himself at the centre of a real-life spy story very well. Naveed is never quite able to get rid of that feeling and who can blame him!

Having said that it is a pleasant read. The film should be interesting to watch.

Naveed Jamali & Ellis Henican “How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent” Simon & Schuster, London, 2015. Pb. pp. 300. Rs. 699 

Comeback heroes, 28 September 2014

Comeback heroes, 28 September 2014

( In today’s edition of the Hindu Magazine, I have an article on the resurrection of literary characters by contemporary novelists. The link was published digitally on 27 September 2014. Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/comeback-heroes/article6452453.ece . It was carried in print as the lead article of the magazine on Sunday, 28 September 2014. I am also c&p the article below.)

Sophie HannahWith the release of Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders earlier this month, Hercule Poirot comes back to life. This new mystery introduces a new character, Inspector Catchpool, who uses the first-person narrative style, similar to that of Dr. Watson. The novel was announced in October 2013 at the Frankfurt Book Fair in the presence of Agatha Christie’s grandson. This is only one in a line of novels written by contemporary novelists resurrecting literary characters. Usually these are characters that have remained popular over time.

Such revivals have been a tradition from the early 20th century. There were several Holmes stories in the Sudden Book Covers
1910s and 1920s. But these were not very well known. Bulldog Drummond by Sapper was, perhaps, the first instance of a popular character being continued. The series was continued by Gerard Fairlie. Other bestseller series included Sudden (a series of westerns), which was continued after the author Oliver Strange’s death.

There are also lateral continuations — not with the characters as protagonists but spin-offs like P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, Bulldog_Drummond_1st_edition_cover,_1920Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series, Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years series, Anthony Read’s Baker Street Boys series and Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series.Vintage’ Hogarth Shakespeare imprint will soon present retellings of the Bard’s works for contemporary readers by some of today’s best-known international writers. October 2015 willVintage Hogarth Shakespeare see the launch of Jeanette Winterson’s retelling of The Winter’s Tale and Howard Jacobson’s retelling of The Merchant of Venice will be out in February 2016, ahead of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 2016. The illustrious list includes Margaret Atwood (The Tempest), Tracy Chevalier (Othello), Gillian Flynn (Hamlet), Jo Nesbo (Macbeth) and Anne Tyler (The Taming of the Shrew). The series will be published in 12 languages across 18 territories.

There are many reasons why these new stories strike a chord with modern readers. First is, of course, nostalgia and familiarity. Given the huge fan base of these characters, the new books have a relatively ready market but sometimes they are reinvented to find a

(L-R) Danish Husain and Mahmood Farooqui

(L-R) Danish Husain and Mahmood Farooqui

new readership. Mahmood Farooqui of Dastangoi says, “I think it is a good tactic to take up texts that are already familiar to some in the audience. Listening to a story and reading one are very different experiences.”

India sells more traditional bestsellers, says Thomas Abraham, Managing Director, Solo_-_James_Bond_first_edition_coverHachette India. Like “Enid Blyton or Christie or Conan Doyle. So, yes, these will have a good market here. But the new revivals will sell much more in the west in year one at least because they are major literary events.” Caroline Newbury, VP, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Penguin Random House, points out that books like Solo and Jeeves and the Wedding Bells “have been successful across the globe, hitting bestseller lists in the U.K. and in places like Australia.”

Kushalrani Gulab, a voracious reader, cannot resist these new novels. She is “driven by curiosity and the very, very small hope that, by some miracle, my beloved character and her/his world might actually come back from the dead. So far, there has been no miracle.” A sentiment that blogger Sheila Kumar echoes. “Truth to tell, I approach these tribute/resurrections with both reserve and caution. Sebastian Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding BellsComparisons, while they are admittedly odious, are also inevitable in cases like these!” But, as Abraham points out, “You dislike them generally after having read them, so you contribute to the market anyway.”

An article in the Publisher’s Weekly describes Sophie Hannah as having “channelled” one of literature’s greats. But Gulab’s passionate response to this is: “I find it very hard to imagine that another author can do just as good a job as the original author… (who) knows her/his own character best because she/he has honed it over the years… Another author, however, only knows the character by a list of characteristics; from the outside, as a reader does. Not from the inside as the original author does. Also, characters tend to exist in a certain milieu. So unless the new author makes the characters contemporary, she/he has got to recreate the world around the character as well. That’s very hard to do when you haven’t actually lived in that time period.” In fact, Sophie Hannah says she found the names — Catchpool, Brignell, Negus, Sippell and Ducane — for most of her cast from tombstones as they had a “classic, old-fashioned feel about them”.

Yet these “continuations” raise the tricky question of copyright. Last year, the Conan Doyle Estate was “horrified that the ‘public domain’ might create multiple personalities of Sherlock Holmes” (September 2013). But in December 2013, a judge in the U.S. ruled that “Sherlock Holmes is definitely in the public domain”. The first story is bound by the original term of copyright. A new version does not extend the character’s copyright term for the estate. But copyright and permission to carry on the characters are two different things. So, if an estate has the legal right to stop any use of the character after the story’s copyright expires, may be they can. But they can’t stop the printing of existing works, if they have gone out of copyright.

Abraham refers to the attitude of Peter O’Donnell, creator of the Modesty Blaise series. “O’ Donnell told me that he wouldn’t like the idea of Modesty being carried on by someone else especially after the disastrous film version. That was one reason why he killed them off in Cobra Trap.” Attitudes vary hugely from estate to estate. As Newbury points out, Solo’s copyright lies with Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., whereas Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is attributed to Sebastian Faulks.

According to Rich Stim, Attorney, on the legal website, NOLO, “fictional characters can be protected separately from their underlying works as derivative copyrights, provided that they are sufficiently unique and distinctive like, James Bond, Fred Flintstone, Hannibal Lecter, and Snoopy. In Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., Judge Learned Hand established the standard for character protection: “… the less developed the characters, the less they can be copyrighted; that is the penalty an author must bear for marking them too indistinctly.” Exploitation of fictional characters is a crucial source of revenue for entertainment and merchandising companies. Characters such as Superman and Mickey Mouse are the foundations of massive entertainment franchises and are commonly protected under both copyright and trademark law. Unfortunately the protection afforded to fictional characters sometimes clashes with the fair use right to comment upon or criticise those characters. ” ( http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/protecting-fictional-characters-under-copyright-law.html ) Moriarty

People will read the new versions, but if you ask them which character they want to see resurrected, the answer comes promptly: “none”. The truly worthy successor of a great mystery writer in the modern world, writing in English, in my humble opinion, is Anthony Horowitz. I am looking forward to his Moriarty to be released at the end of October.

Other literary revivals

James Bond: Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis (as Robert Markham); Solo by William Boyd.

Sherlock Holmes: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu, which also revived Hurree Babu from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

Bertie Wooster and Jeeves: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks.

Jason Bourne: The Bourne Imperative by Eric van Lustbader.

Famous Five: Sarah Bosse wrote 21 new novels with Enid Blyton’s characters in German.

In India, Dastango Mahmood Farooqui has resurrected Alice in Wonderland as Dastan Alice Ki, and has plans to adapt Gopi Gyne Bagha Byne and The Little Prince.


The article has been corrected to reflect the following changes: Kingsley Amis wrote the Bond novels under the pen name of Robert Markham and not George Markham as was printed earlier. Secondly, the Moriarty novel by Anthony Horowitz will be available at the end of October and not at the end of this week as mentioned earlier.

28 September 2014 

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding BellsSebastian Faulks has written a homage to P. G. Wodehouse, a novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. It is meant to be a new addition to the Wodehouse collection of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves novels. It was announced with a great deal of fanfare earlier in the year and released in November 2013. Unfortunately it does not meet one’s expectations at all. It is stiff and difficult to read. It misses the humour of Wodehouse.

Resurrecting beloved characters that have endured and continued to charm generations of readers is a trend that is going viral among publishers. In the hope of keeping markets alive, publishers are introducing new and young readers to characters that they may not be familiar with. Popular contemporary novelists are entrusted with the task of scripting new stories. For instance, Anthony Horowitz wrote a new Sherlock Holmes mystery, The House of Silk ( 2012); William Boyd wrote a new James Bond novel, Solo (2013); and next year Sophie Hannah will be writing a new Hercule Poirot mystery. ( If the buzz at Frankfurt Book Fair 2013 is to be believed this is a novel to watch out for.) Keeping with this trend, Sebastian Faulks was asked by Random House to create a new novel with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. These editorial decisions of matchmaking between popular contemporary novelists with old favourites are actually very sharp. If these new novels are written well ( as House of Silk is) everyone stands to gain—the readers have a new novel, the author and the publishers have a new market to tap. More importantly, most of these characters are either out of the copyright domain or are about to become available. By introducing new versions of the characters, estates of the authors can consider arguing legally “having that single book under copyright means that the entire character is covered by copyright”. ( Read. Conan Doyle Estate Is Horrified That The Public Domain Might Create ‘Multiple Personalities’ Of Sherlock Holmes http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130915/00291924523/conan-doyle-estate-doesnt-understand-public-domain-freaks-out-harms-it-might-cause-to-sherlock-holmes.shtml ) Thus keeping a tight control on the royalties earned by the new lease of life these characters are given. Significantly at a time when multiple formats are splintering and expanding the market, creating alternative revenue streams, it is important for publishers to explore ways of making inroads, testing markets and this can be done at least cost with old characters that are favourites, out-of-copyright or require minimal license fees to be paid, and new business models are explored. House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz

In Faulks on Fiction, Sebastian Faulks has an essay on Jeeves, ‘The Mood will Pass, Sir”. His opening line is “one of the odd things about Jeeves is how seldom he appears in the stories that immortalised him. While P. G. Wodehouse never used anything as vulgar as formula, there is an elegant pattern to Jeeves exits and his entrances.” ( p.239) Well if Faulks was interested in exploring the Jeeves angle in The Wedding Bells, he failed. He misses the point of Wodehouse’s fiction. Probably because Faulks is unable to get rid of his awe for Wodehouse. He remains nervous, hesitant following ( writing?) in the footsteps of Wodehouse and seems to be only keen to explore a perspective he feels is missing from the established Wodehouse canon.

Sebastian Faulks Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Hutchinson, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 258 Price not mentioned.

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