(As with "The Atrocity Archives" I need to refer you first to the essay I wrote, by way of an afterword, which is included in the book. This crib sheet is about all the other stuff—think of it as metadata about the inception and writing of the novel, rather than the James Bond oriented contents. For the most part.)
All stories have several seeds. In the case of "The Jennifer Morgue", the first seed was the surprising success of "The Atrocity Archives". The novel my agent initially thought was unsaleable sold to Golden Gryphon, a small but respectable Lovecraftian publisher in the United States. It went gold, going into reprint and becoming their second-best selling title at the time. Then, to everyone's surprise, the additional novella I wrote for the book ("The Concrete Jungle") made the shortlist for the Hugo award in 2005. This was a stunning surprise. GG had only sold around 3000 copies of the book; the other novellas on the shortlist had all appeared in magazines or anthologies with four to ten times the number of copies sold! After some hurried email consultation, Gary and Marty at GG agreed to let me put the whole novella on the web, to make it more readily available to the Hugo voters. I don't know if that's what did the trick, or if there were additional home-mover effects from the Worldcon in 2005 being held in Glasgow (thus bringing more British voters in than normal) but at the end of August that year I became the dazed and surprised owner of a very shiny trophy.
(And the performance anxiety that had been haunting me for years—"I'm not a real writer, I'm just winging this"—went away for a while.)
But anyway. This success coincided with a French publisher making an offer for translation rights to "The Atrocity Archives", which in turn got my agent's attention. She proposed a sequel, and James Bond was so obvious that I don't think I even considered any alternatives. It would have to be the Movie Bond franchise, for most people these days don't grow up on the original Ian Fleming novels (the way I did); the humour would come from the incongruity of Bob Howard in James Bond's shoes. We decided to auction the new book, along with paperback rights to "The Atrocity Archives", and ended up cutting a deal whereby Golden Gryphon would publish "The Jennifer Morgue" in hardcover while Ace rolled "The Atrocity Archives" in trade paperback, and eventually in mass market. Which then left me pondering what to write ... because every Bond movie (or novel) needs a Bond-sized plot device, doesn't it?
By this time we were into late October 2005. One evening, we were eating a Chinese take-away in front of the TV, watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel about one of the most bizarre CIA projects to happen during the Cold War—Project Azorian (better, but mistakenly, known to the public as "Operation Jennifer"). Seriously, if you don't know about it, go follow that link right now; it's about how the CIA enlisted Howard Hughes to help them build a 63,000 ton fake deep-see mining ship, the Glomar Challenger, as cover for a deep-sea grapple that would descend 4,900 metres and raise the hull of a shipwrecked Soviet nuclear missile submarine, the K-129. (Project Azorian was so James Bond that the engineering crew working on the ship were cracking jokes about the bald guy stroking the white cat in his seat on the bridge. How post-modern can you go?)
Well, this documentary was livened up by some CGI depictions of the Clementine grab latching onto the hull of the sub and lifting. And one of these animations in particular showed the view from underneath the hull, as the claws on the gigantic mechanical grab locked on and then began to take the weight of the sub ...
At which point my wife made an up-reaching gesture and said, "tentacles".
(And now you know where the first chapter and the whole plot revolving around the Deep Ones come from, right?)
That's when I got serious about studying the Bond movie canon.
Obviously I read all the books. I also ploughed through one and a half biographies of Ian Fleming. But I also realized I had gaps in my movie experience. So I ordered the deluxe 20-DVD boxed set of Bond movies, and with the help of a local film producer and an inordinate quantity of beer, we ran through most of the movies over the next two months. First the Sean Connery classics, then the early Roger Moore—I didn't have the stomach to re-watch "Octopussy" or the subsequent decline—then the Timothy Dalton movies (excellent actor handicapped by poor scripts) and the Pierce Brosnan reboot. This was, of course, pre-Daniel Craig. And I didn't bother with the non-canon movies: "Never Say Never Again", or the Basil Rathbone Bond of "Casino Royale". By the time I got through over a dozen Bond movies my head hurt, but I was up to speed again: I was even at the point of drawing flow charts of the generic Bond movie opening sequence. Here they are:
By December 2005 I was ready, and I began to write. And when you've got the Bond flow charts in front of you, it pretty much writes itself, from the opening scene to the moment our Hero runs into a femme fatale in a hotel bar, to the Perilous Mission and the Briefing Scene and the bald guy in the Nehru suit with the cat ("Fluffy has very expensive tastes ...") and the explosive finale and then the final villain's-attempted-revenge scene at the end (see also "Diamonds are Forever", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", etcetera etcetera).
Now, the Laundry novels have a strong horror tone. And while I was writing "The Jennifer Morgue" something very strange was happening to me. I had a peculiar sense of dread, a numb, tingling fear that kept creeping up on me, an unreasoning conviction that something was very wrong in my world: a premonition that I was going to die.
This kept growing over a couple of months, and it was most disturbing. I didn't talk about it to anyone, but it kept eating at me, trying to sneak into the book at odd moments. And then, one Saturday evening, the dam burst at a regular monthly writer's workshop session in Edinburgh (the same workshop that various Edinburgh SF writers have come out of—people like Andrew J. Wilson and Hannu Rajaniemi). I began to feel a fluttery sensation in my chest, my heart skipping beats. That wasn't a premonition: it was an actual physical symptom of something. The parasympathetic nervous system is a wonderful thing, and if you should feel numinous dread creeping up on you for no obvious reason you should consider the possibility that your body is trying to tell you something. In my case, I went home, did some hasty revision, concluded that palpitations weren't immediately life-threatening, and scheduled a visit with my GP the following Monday (rather than clogging up an emergency room on a Saturday night).
My GP back then was very old-school, so when he took my blood pressure, frowned, checked his sphygmomanometer, and took it again, I got a little worried. But not as worried as I got when he picked up the phone, dialed a number, and said, "cardiology ward? Do you have a free bed?"
The reason for the sense of dread was that I was slowly drifting into hypertensive crisis, with blood pressure of 250/150. The palpitations emerged when my blood pressure was so high that the back-pressure was impeding the flow of blood through my heart (which showed signs of enlargement on ultrasound—a common symptom of prolonged hypertension). Seriously. Bizarre sense of dread and palpitations? Go see a doctor. I did—which is why I'm still alive, seven years later, and my blood pressure is much closer to normal, thank you very much (and thanks to my cardiologist).
((Lest you think this medical ramble is irrelevant to the writing of fiction, I'm going to bring it—and its long term consequences—up again in future Crib Sheets. Because going on blood pressure medication for life can have weird cognitive effects, and as most authors are in their 30s to 60s, I'm hoping someone reading these essays finds them helpful—or even life-saving.))
Anyway: this is by way of saying that while "The Jennifer Morgue" isn't as obviously scary a read as "The Atrocity Archives", it was very scary while I was writing it.
(Penultimate note: the incident in the first chapter about Bob, in which he's driving a Smart car up the Autobahn while being strafed with BMWs and Audis from behind, is based on an anecdote the CTO of Datacash told me. Dave had flown out to visit a possible customer in Dortmund, but ended up at Dusseldorf airport's car hire desk, only to discover he'd been given the keys to a Smart car. He survived, but was a bit shaken by the experience.)
The Golden Gryphon cover: Gary Turner commissioned Steve Montiglio to design the cover for hardback of "The Atrocity Archives". So it was a natural choice for him to get Steve to do the cover for the sequel. Now, my input on covers from my major publishers is mostly restricted to being expected to respond enthusiastically when I receive an email with an 8Mb attachment and the text, "Charlie, here's you're new book cover—all of us here at the office love it, what do you think?" (For more on this subject, I have an in-depth explanation.) But with Golden Gryphon, the author is (shockingly!) given some choice in the matter. Steve came up with a couple of rough sketches ... and neither Marty Halpern (my editor) or I were terribly keen on them. So then Steve did a couple more, and a joke design, riffing off the dubious, sexist cheesecake of the Bond movie title sequences (traditionally full of silhouetted naked women), only with a fish-headed chimera in place of the model. And both of us went, "yes!" ... which is where "The Jennifer Morgue" got its cover.