Last month saw the publication of The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters, edited by Fleming’s nephew, Fergus. Here he answers a number of questions posed by The James Bond Dossier.
I understand that you have no memory of meeting your uncle, who died when you were 5 years old. When did you first become aware of the phenomenon he had created and did it affect your early life in any way?
Ian’s books were on the shelves when I was growing up (as were his brother Peter’s) so it was just an accepted part of life that we had writers in the family. I don’t remember Ian’s novels being treated with particular reverence – as he wrote to Raymond Chandler, ‘ [I] meekly accept having my head ragged off about them in the family circle.’ My father was so horrified by the autobiographical details in The Spy Who Loved Me that he made my mother read it under a brown paper cover.
How long did it take to edit Ian’s James Bond letters and how did you decide what went in and what didn’t make it to print? And why has it taken so long for these letters to come to light?
Very hard to say how long the book took. It proceeded in fits and starts, with much to and fro between myself, the Ian Fleming Estate, the agents and the publishers. Perhaps 18 months on and off?
Ian was a prolific correspondent. But while many of his letters contain nuggets that are gold to a biographer they also include chatty details and repetitions that are a nightmare to an editor. To give the book structure it made sense to concentrate on his literary output. The result is therefore a representative selection rather than the full works. But within its remit it gives a pretty fair picture of Bond’s progress and of Ian’s thoughts while writing what he called his ‘opuscula’.
I imagine his letters haven’t been published before because they don’t fit the standard mould – that is, they’re neither scurrilous/ scandalous/ sensational, nor are they high literature. Perhaps, too, his stock wasn’t as high in the past as it is today. Anyway, here they are now!
How difficult was the editing process and were there any really tough decisions?
The hardest decision was whether or not to include Ian’s correspondents’ letters. Very often his fans wrote charmingly and incisively. Sometimes they included illustrations to make the point. When it came to a US writer at Playboy who sent Ian a knife (the courier was Stirling Moss) that had last been used to hack off a rhino’s head and, to his knowledge, had killed several people, this seemed perfect. But it didn’t work. One can only include so many voices and it seemed best to focus on Ian’s.
Was there anything that particularly surprised you, or is there anything you think might surprise readers?
On the publication of Dr No Ian received a letter, couched in chillingly polite terms, from a reader who said he would be happy to kill him should their paths ever cross. I guess most people would be surprised to get that in the post!
Kurt Vonnegut said in his 8 Basics of Creative Writing that you should write for just one person, which is taken by some to mean you should write for yourself. Editing is quite a different job, but did you have a particular reader in mind or did you do it for you? And who will the book most appeal to?
Personally, I try to write on topics that enthuse me, in the hope that some of that enthusiasm will reach the reader. Editing is slightly different, in that one is bound by someone else’s words. Nevertheless, while presenting the material accurately it is also an editor’s job to structure it in a way that is accessible to the reader. And in this case to tell a story of sorts. As to who those readers might be? With luck, everyone; and particularly those – of whom sadly there are quite a few – who don’t know that James Bond started life on the page rather than on screen.
As the nephew of Ian Fleming have you ever felt people have certain expectations of you, either as a writer or simply as a human being?
Being the ‘nephew of’ can be a hindrance if you’re trying to make your way in the same field – you don’t want to be taken on just for being related to someone famous. I was lucky enough to have my books accepted without anyone knowing the connection. Alas, I had to out myself in 2008 on becoming co-publisher of Ian’s old firm, Queen Anne Press.
What is the most Bond-like thing you have done in your life?
I have read the Daily Express.
I’d like to thank Fergus Fleming for making time to respond to my questions.