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.
I stumble upon an unusual show in the State Library on my way to the bus and what a surprise. It’s strangely relevant without any reference to the dreaded COVID. But Behind the Lines is a political cartoon show based around the year 2019 so there is no pandemic, no stock market crash or storming of the Capitol.. It’s like stepping back in time without the final act. How refreshing to see everything lampooned so. Nothing is off the table. You are taken on a journey that is hilarious and informative and you are reminded of the loony politicians and their destiny of obscurity. Curator and writer, Jennifer Forest had to choose eighty odd pictures from over one thousand exhibits for the show and managed a fabulous selection. The Museum of Australian Democracy of Old Parliament House has a repository of images that defies its somewhat archaic title. Where cartoonists reign, political correctness is certainly absent. Nothing escapes the cutting satire of such traditional means as pen and paper regardless of updated communications such as messaging or YouTube. I guess everything is brought down to size. As I wander around perusing the pictures I can’t help feeling strangely uplifted. Is it because of the lifting of contagion restrictions or because of the lampooning? Who cares this is a gas.
Behind the Lines 2019 is a travelling exhibition developed by Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
Just a few of the cartoons on display for Behind the Lines 2019