Friday 30 December 2022

A Prisoner of Fan Fiction

Writer Mike Bodnar has published his first novel, Unity, knowing that no matter how popular it becomes he will not make a penny from it...

I've recently finished writing my first novel. Thank you; a hat will be passed round shortly.

Image of Patrick McGoohan courtesy of Cultbox
However, to be clear, I had a springboard to leap from, and I can't lay claim to the original idea on which Unity is based. That, dear reader, is all down to one Patrick McGoohan (see pic), and if the name rings a bell it's because in the 1960s he was famous for playing agent John Drake in the British TV series Danger Man (Secret Agent in the United States), and, in 1967-68, as the unnamed eponymous lead in The Prisoner. It's this latter enigmatic series from which my novel takes its inspiration.

Why? Because The Prisoner has, for the past 55 years, confused, bewildered and beguiled audiences around the world, and still to this day people ask, what was it all about? What happened in the end? Did he ever really escape? And, just generally, WTF?

Prisoner fans re-enact the human chess game
from the episode 'Checkmate' during a convention.
(Image courtesy Welsh Holiday News)
There are multiple fan clubs and associations devoted to scrutinising The Prisoner's story arc(s) and quirks in minute detail. If you add up the memberships of those groups on Facebook alone dedicated to the series you'll find almost 30,000 devotees. And there are multiple websites which attract membership from around the globe. There are even cosplay-style annual conventions. In short, The Prisoner very quickly acquired cult status, and shows little sign of slowing down.

As a result, there are many, many books that have been written about The Prisoner, some factual, others speculative, along with many novels and novellas. The - excuse the pun - captive audience laps them up, so I knew before starting out on my writing venture that there was a market out there hungry for more. I hope so; I'm banking on it.

Initial trial print run
Or rather, I'm not banking on it. Because I can't. I cannot - in fact am not allowed to - profit
from this work because I do not own the rights to the original work itself, the TV series. That is now held by television company ITV. And before you ask, yes I have tried to buy the rights, but have met with a blank refusal, along with a warning to 'seek independent legal advice.' But I will not be pushed, stamped, filed, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered, to quote The Prisoner himself, and am determined to see the drooling audience satiated. I am resigned to not making any money from it though.

So why bother? I hear you ask. Because, although not a rabid fan or cult follower, I have been intrigued by The Prisoner since first being enthralled by it as a 13-year-old, and have enjoyed watching the odd re-run over the years since. I have also now had over fifty years to ponder what McGoohan was trying to say with the series, and - thanks to the Prisonerverse - I've been able to view numerous documentaries, interviews and other random material, all of which have also tried to answer the same questions. There is no shortage of analysis, and I thank all those who have done all that research for me.

Portmeirion, the charming yet menacing 'village'
where The Prisoner was held captive
(Image: Mike Bodnar)

But that doesn't answer your question. For a long time I've had oblique thoughts about the obverse side of The Prisoner's story. If he'd resigned and was then captured and interrogated as to why, then what was it that made him resign? Why did he need to be caught and incarcerated? What threat was he? And who held him prisoner?

With those thoughts tumbling around in my head for a few years it was no surprise to me when they finally coalesced into a plausible storyline, told from the side of his captors. This - unlike so many of the other tie-in stories - doesn't aim to continue the story after The Prisoner TV series ends; mine is instead a contemporaneous narrative, paralleling what happens in The Prisoner from episode one to the final bewildering act. Although, if I were to base my story on all seventeen episodes it would be pushing 200,000 words and likely be a trilogy, and given that there's no financial reward to be had I was not about to embark on such an epic adventure. 

Be seeing you

Instead I have taken what many regard as the seven 'essential' episodes of the series and 
written a 1967-based spy thriller that sits alongside those stories and, hopefully, makes sense of them, or at least provides a viable explanation as to WTAF is going on. It is a more palatable 80,000 words, or just over 300 pages in paperback form. As stated in my foreword, the book aims purely to entertain, not to swell any coffers, and if there is inadvertent profit it will go to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the RNLI.

I self-published the book as, to be honest, I couldn't be arsed sending it to publishers or agents who these days don't bother reading anything and don't respond anyway. Also, as a tie-in novel they're unlikely to be interested. So the sale price of Unity will be to cover production/publishing costs.

I'm officially launching the book during the 2023 Prisoner convention (21-23 April). Called Portmeiricon, it's being held at 'The Village' itself in North Wales, and the organisers have very kindly given me an hour's slot in Hercules Hall at 7pm on the Saturday (22nd) for the launch. Copies of Unity will be available. I'll even sign one for you!

(However, would you like to be one of the first to read it? You can get Unity on Amazon right now!)

But where, then, do I get my reward? Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Unity over the past two years, and that in itself is profit of sorts. If readers actually like it then that also is a bonus, as will any favourable reviews. But there's more; while I openly admit to having used the basic storyline of The Prisoner as my muse, I have in the process created a raft of original characters within the zeitgeist of 1967 London and the British intelligence community.

The author pretending to work
I've grown to like these characters, and as I wrote the last few pages of the book it dawned on me that I could craft a sequel, only this time using my own dramatis personae, and a story not related to the TV series; in fact having no reference to The Prisoner at all. This makes the next book a stand-alone intellectual property of mine, and one which, fingers crossed, I can make as much money from as people will throw at me. Form an orderly queue.

All I can tell you at this stage is that it's set in Britain and the island of Ireland in 1970, and is called (working title) The Liscannor Intercept. Yes it's another spy thriller, and yes I have started writing it.

Should you be as excited by it as I am (unlikely), or are now feeling sorry for me having written a full-length novel from which I can earn nothing but glory (ditto) then you might be interested (but probably aren't) to know that I've set up a crowdfunding page via Gofundme. In advance of Unity being published, and in the hope that I will add you to a pre-launch recipient list, you're very welcome to click here and make a donation of any amount no matter how large to support the struggling writer. I thank you in advance and wish you a very happy new year.

Now if you'll excuse me I have a new novel to craft. 

It was a dark and stormy night... (Well, you didn't think I was going to give anything away did you??!!)

(PS: The Unity website is here)


  1. Hello Mike, Pleased to read about your book. I wish you every success with it. No money earned, but at least you will have the pride and satisfaction knowing the book will be read by fans out there.
    Be seeing you

    1. Thank you David. As someone who has contributed so much to the Prisonerverse your good wishes are very 'well come.' BCNU too :-)

    2. Where can I get a copy, or how can I get a copy by post?, regards kevin

  2. Hi Kevin, thanks for your interest. Unity isn't available anywhere yet but in about a month you'll be able to buy it through Amazon as a paperback or eBook. I'll be launching it officially at this year's Prisoner convention on 22 April at Portmeirion. If you're there I can sign a copy for you 🙂


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