An Irish novel written with James Bond in mind
Jason Johnston confesses to ‘nicking an idea’ from his literary hero Ian Fleming for his new novel Aloysius Tempo
Jason Johnston: ‘Typically in a novel a key character will go on a journey of self-discovery, will have an arc which ends when they have learned something significant or become something different, become better in some way. Bond does no such thing.’
It feels good to nick ideas from people you admire.
Or, as writers like to put it, to “pay homage” to those who inspire you.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel, but now I’m happy I did it.
All I need to do now is confess.
What I’ve done is swipe a characteristic employed to great effect by one of my literary heroes, Ian Fleming.
Funny enough, other than both being government assassins, the two couldn’t be more different.
Aloysius is an unkempt Co Fermanagh man who thinks too much. He has no gun, no car, no dress sense.
He doesn’t own a decent pair of shoes or trousers.
His love interest is a pensioner.
In the novel, Aloysius Tempo, he cries, feels weak and ill when he gets chased by persons unknown through the streets of Amsterdam.
He has issues with patriotism.
He was viciously abused at a state institution while growing up.
His modus operandi is not to shoot but instead to trip, shove, drown or cut, to cause fatal accidents which eliminate the likelihood of murder investigations.
In culture and circumstances, he is almost the opposite of the suave, caviar munching and slightly cruel-natured Eton-educated James Bond of the novels.
Despite the day job, Aloysius is a decent guy.
He would never have, for example, ended up feeding anyone to an eight-stone pit bull if he had not lethally struck out at an abusive priest as a youth.
But, that all said, Aloysius owes much to Bond.
I always wanted to write something that paid tribute, at least in some obscure way, to Fleming’s fascinating character.
I took to James Bond books as a child and still follow his ongoing literary and screen journey.
I know now that what hooked me right from the start is something very simple.
It’s that Bond knows himself completely.
That’s a rare thing in literature, and it’s a seriously neat trick.
Typically in a novel a key character will go on a journey of self-discovery, will have an arc which ends when they have learned something significant or become something different, become better in some way.
Bond does no such thing.
He arrives with a back story, but fully formed, packed with courage and confidence, and begins to move through a changing world but not be changed by it.
It’s the reader, not Bond, who learns more about Bond along the way.
Consider the character’s vices, such as the famously “shaken not stirred” Martini.
Fleming had Bond seek out a precision drink because it symbolically tells us that he knows exactly what he wants.
It’s the same with his smoking, eating, dressing - all are detailed and done in very particular ways.
These, together with Bond’s at times psychopathic levels of confidence, punctuate the stories and, combined, make it plain that little will get in the way of him doing things as he sees fit.
It tells us Bond is all done with making his mind up, that he will not be doing much doubting, much hesitating, that he will accept the consequences of his actions.
His journey, in the internal sense, is over before he appears on the page.
We first meet him in a casino at a time when he has himself already become a number, an unchanging fact, something solid enough to bet on.
Aloysius Tempo begins with the character, a freelance hitman, being tracked down and offered some dirty work by a shadowy agency linked to the powers-that-be in Dublin.
They want him to create fatal accidents for a small number of people - a re-emerging paedophile priest, an emerging terrorist, a hated loan shark - as part of a radical PR plan ahead of the centenary of the state.
Aloysius - after 20 years living abroad, resenting Ireland from afar - is confused and concerned by the offer and resists.
But it is when he is eventually recruited that everything clicks into place.
And by the time he resettles back home and drowns that loan shark, it has become clear that Aloysius has found something and somewhere that really work for him.
In time he tells the reader he has come to know himself “completely”.
It’s taken me four novels to do it, but I’ve found a way of paying a perhaps obscure but sincere tribute to Fleming.
Yet any Fleming fan who read Aloysius Tempo might suspect something is afoot.
It’s been fun dropping the clues in, the tiny pointers, the little tributes to 007 and his creator.
For example, Aloysius, like Bond, enjoys scrambled eggs for breakfast.
Or after securing the mental comfort he had been seeking, he finds a well-tailored suit hanging in his wardrobe courtesy of his employer.
There’s a reference to Aloysius looking, faintly, like “a pirate”’, which draws on an early description of 007.
And Aloysius is told by his employer that he is a “blunt instrument”, referencing a simple, brilliant description of Bond as “a blunt instrument of government”.
Aloysius Tempo is by no means a Bond-style novel, but it is certainly a novel which I came to write with Bond in mind.
It feels good to have saluted a writer who gave life to one of the most extraordinary and enduring fictional characters in history.
Even if he did, very clearly, turn me into a nerd.
Aloysius Tempo by Jason Johnston is published by Liberties Press, priced €13.99