Ian Fleming

For someone with no literary aspirations, ‘if I wait for genius to come, it just doesn’t arrive’ and to confess his Casino Royale as an ‘oafish opus’, how did Ian Fleming manage so much success? Maybe there’s something beneath the self deprecation, behind the throwaway one-liners.
Born into a wealthy family and schooled at Eton, the style and content of his writing contains the world of the privileged. To some degree this is to be expected but it was to be his work as a journalist and in the military with the secret Intelligence during WW 2 where he obtained first hand experience for his thriller spy novels. The central character, James Bond is similar to Fleming’s own character including his penchant for martinis, clothing sense and inability to maintain deep relationships. But the similarities end there as he was plagued with ill-health and taken to addiction. Excessive sedentary living and smoking eighty cigarettes a day inevitably take their toll. What broke his habits must have been the inspiration. Each day while at his retreat in Jamaica, he’d rise for an early morning swim and write two thousand words before lunch. And it must have paid off as he would become the biggest selling crime writer in the US. Even President Kennedy was a fan.
So what was his secret?
It goes without saying, an imagination for creating a set of endearing and memorable characters. A dastardly villain with particularly obnoxious sensibilities may not be so hard if you base them on someone you already know – Blofeld was named after a rival from Eton and Goldfinger from his neighbor architect who’s buildings he hated. But then you have to contrast the evil with regular character types. Fleming’s knowledge of people in the military and Secret Intelligence helped to develop characters such as Miss Moneypenny and Q but they are really composite personalities in the author’s past. A propensity for guns and gadgets ironically reinforce a sense of reality. While they may seem farfetched and fanciful they at least appear plausible. In the context of the far flung story world they manage to reinforce it. And with the characters firmly grounded in the reader’s mind, Fleming can let loose with an all out electrifying, hair raising adventure story that doesn’t let up to the very end.
Sixty years on from Fleming’s death, the Bond saga is as popular as ever and has survived inevitable cultural change. Analysis of the Fleming magic formula can be evasive as is Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Perhaps it’s best left a mystery.

Ian Fleming

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