To set the scene, we were sat in POD's study on Dec 3rd 1996. His study is lined with bookcases full of books(!) on a whole range of subjects. On the wall is the original picture of the Cobra Trap cover. SM. Where did the idea for MB come from? POD. In 1962, I had been writing for 20 plus years in all sorts of publications. Womens magazines,childrens papers and also doing the strip cartoons like Garth in the daily Mirror, so I knew all about the big heros, and I thought it was about time someone came up with a female who could do all the things the males had been doing. But, for me she had to be plausible, so I had to give her the kind of background that would make her plausible. I don't think you could take a girl from behind a ...I don't know...a shop counter for example and turn her into a MB, it had to be born in the blood and the bone. So I went back to 1942, when I was a young sargent in the army, in charge of a mobile radio detachment in the north of Persia, up near the Caucasus Mountains, because the germans were expected to try to take the oilfields, and there were lots of refugees, many had been on the move for years through the Balkans, trying to evade the German army. We were camped by a stream, having our evening meal, which was stew,and suddenly this child appeared. she was alone, she was barefoot, she wore a rag of a dress, she had all her belongings tied up in a blanket on her head and she had a cord round her neck with something hanging on it, I couldn't see it at the time. She sat down at a distance from us and started gnawing on something she removed from her bundle. I told one of the guys to take a mess tin full of stew to her and a mug of tea to her, and when she got up to go, I'd put a couple of tins of food near her, so she could get them without coming too close to us, and a can opener too; She was about twelve, she wasn't an Arab child because she said something to us and we knew it wasn't Arabic, and the thing round her neck was a piece of wood with a long nail lashed to it with a piece of wire, it was a weapon, which she obviosly needed. I surmised that she was a refugee from somewhere in the Balkans, and she had been on her own for some time, because she wasn't phased, she was her own person, this little kid, and she washed the utensials in the stream, and brought them back to where we had put the tins of food, and indicated where these for her, we said yes and she opened her bundle and put them in. She stood there for a few seconds, and then she gave us a smile, and you could have lit up a small village with that smile, and then she said something and walked off into the desert going south, and she was on her own, she walked like a little Princess (!).........I never forgot that child, I hope she is alive today, she would be in her 60's now. But when I wanted a background for MB,I knew that child was the story, but I had to give her a slightly different story, and to get her educated, which I did by having her take care of and befriend an old academic Hungarian Jew,who was also on the run, and they wandered through North Africa and the Middle East for about 4 years, she looked after him and he taught her so she ended up at about 16 or 17 as a qualified person for who I wanted MB to be. SM. There is an old adage that says you should only write about what you know, so does that mean that yours and Modesty's CV overlap somewhere? POD. _laughs_ No, no no, I don't do the types of things MB does! I just write about them! I know that old adage, and it is true up to a point, but you have an imagination, and that is what a writer is supposed to use, and where you have a factual background you have research to do. I do a lot of research. There are over 30 years of National Geographic Magazine in that bookcase behind you, which will give me photos and background to anywhere in the world I want, and if I want something specific I will go and find someone who can tell me. In one of my books I wanted some fencing scenes. I don't know anything about fencing, but I got some books and studied them, and worked out what I thought was a rough plot of the two scenes, and then I went to the Amateur Fencing Assoc. and people are so helpful if you approach them, and they got two of their sword masters to go over the scenes and they said " Oh you can't do that....that's all right and that is almost the correct way to do it, how about doing it this way.....". So I went away and re wrote it, went back and these two guys went through it in slow motion and said yes, that works, put it in the book, so I did. So that's what you have to do. I didn't have to be an expert to write two fencing scenes. SM. You've written 13 MB books now, and the first was made into a film; what did you think of that ? POD.(laughs) It makes my nose bleed just to think of it!!!!!. I wrote the script for British Lion, the biggest film company in England in the 60's, but after that it was rewritten by - wait a minute - another Englishman Sidney Gilliat, a Scotsman, an Italian woman in Italian and translated back into English and a West Indian and the outcome was only one line of my script remained (laughs) literally one line!! It was a well earned disaster, the photography was superb, it was directed by Joseph Losely a great director but entirely the wrong horse for the course. He was bessoted with Monica Vitti, who was playing the part of MB, and she was the wrong horse for the course too. There was an awful amount of waste in the film, as there is in most films. They got a voice tutor for Monica to teach her the lines she had to say, as she didn't speak any English at all, and this voice tutor was over here for 16 weeks, and she was put up at a top London hotel and driven every day in a limosine to Sheperton....and the voice tutor they chose was an Austrian Baroness (laughs) and by the time it was finished, and they ran it, they decided they had better re voice which they did. They dubbed all MB's speeches. I don't know who it was, but it certainly wasn't Monica Vitti's voice ! (laughs). SM. I see from the sleeve notes to your new book Cobra Trap that there is a new film in production. POD. I think there may well be. An option was bought almost 3 years ago now, an 18 month option, and it took forever to get off the ground, but there are 2 British producers,I'm glad to say, and it is being backed by Miramax films, a division of the Disney corporation.But they have got an American scriptwriter who doesn't seem to understand the character at all, and the script that was finally turned out after nearly a years work was quite hopeless, so that went down the tube. They renewed the option for another 18 months, but in the meantime Neil Gaiman, a very successful young scriptwriter, he created The Sandman,and he has been a fan of MB since he was a youngster at college. He lives in America now, and he met the producers and he is keen to do a script of I,Lucifer which has a fair bit of fantasy in it, and my understanding is he hopes to have the first draft of the script finished by the end of January, so if that works, we could be in production by the summer...I dont hold my breath though,I've been down this road a number of times and anything can go wrong.Even if you get a good script, you dont know who you will get as a director, and anything can happen. Don't ask me who would play MB, I've no idea. SM. Who would *you* like to play Modesty ? POD. I have no idea. I won't be specific, but I would like them to find a virtually unknown girl, although she would have to have suitable experience in film acting, but unknown to the extent that Sean Connery was unknown when he was chosen to play James Bond. This is so they could secure a three film deal, without having to pay astronomical fees if she takes off. I mistrust what the American film industry call bankable stars,I think you could do really well with an unknown actress, if you could find her, and some interesting guest characters, because the book has some very interesting characters in it, you know, like Maggie Smith. SM. We are sat here in your office, and I can see you are working on the cartoon strip for the Evening Standard (Note - this is the London daily paper),but as it is fairly common knowledge that Modesty and Willie both die in Cobra Trap, what is the future for them ? POD. Well, the thing is I'm 76 now, and I retired from writing books 10 years ago, but I kept the strip cartoon going,and during this time I kept thinking how Modesty and Willie would end, as I didnt want to leave them in mid air with no ending, and I couldn't concieve they would end up in an old folks home, tottering around on zimmer frames (laughs), and I thought they would probably end up doing something rather worthwhile in a small way perhaps, so what I did, I moved 20 - 25 years into the future, so Modesty would be around 52,or something , and Willie a few years older, and I had something crop up, that demanded their attention....I'm not going to give the plot away!....but the fact is they go together, they go under rather good circumstances. I think it is a most satisfying end to the saga, and from the reactions I have had..I must say a lot of tears have been shed, and not only female tears, quite a few chaps have confessed to shedding a manly tear or two, but, that was the way I thought it should end, and it seems to have been satisfying to the readers, bit it does allow for 20 odd years of adventures between now and then. In fact, as they have this facility of ageing only one year in every 15, you have almost 300 years of adventures, which will probably see me out!(laughs) SM. So, when the films take off, you've left the door open to write some more books? POD. No no, there will be no more books. That is the last one, but I continue to do the cartoon strip, and I will continue to do it untill I feel I cannot do it justice, then I'll pack it in. But what I am saying is there is plenty of scope for more cartoon adventures, If I live to be 120 I could still be doing them them, there is no shortage of time for me !!
Thanks to Peter O'Donnell and Simon Moss for this.