Two goodies in the last week and both published by Bloomsbury. As you probably know by now, Bloomsbury published my daughter's book so they can do no wrong in my eyes, but I remember a few years ago reading an article saying that they would perish now there were no more Harry Potter books to come. Well the writer could not have been more wrong as an endless stream of interesting and fascinating books emerge from this publishing house. I am writing about the first one here and the second will be for another day.
First up the Man with the Golden Typewriter and yes, Ian Fleming did have one. He bought the gold plated typewriter as a present to himself for finishing his first novel Casino Royale. Very fitting for the creator of James Bond. Ian Fleming wrote fourteen bestselling Bond books, two works of non-fiction and, of course, the famous children's story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which I remember finding quite surprising when I discovered this fact. On further thinking however, I realised that the Child Catcher in this book, who has scared the living daylights out of generations of children, including my two, was really another Bond villain.
His output of letters was quite extraordinary. We now use laptops and tablets to write, send and receive emails, and in offices letters are also attached to emails, which makes life very easy indeed. But imagine sitting down and pounding out the keys on an old fashioned typewriter and writing not only your books, but also your correspondence. I have an old Olivetti portable tucked away in a corner and on the odd occasion I have used it the keys jam and after five minutes my fingers, particularly the little ones which have to reach the p and the q, ache dreadfully.
Though Bond was hugely successful Fleming regarded him with some amusement as he had his hero dragged over coral reefs, caught in steam pipes, sharks by the score and corpses all round and some amazement at his extravagant sex life. He got rather tired of him in the end and was contemplating killing him off at one stage but was persuaded not to.
He responded to fan letters in the most delightful and thoughtful way always thanking them for their 'charming letter' and always grateful when the writer had spotted an anomaly or a wrong date or description. He never got annoyed by this. However, an article in the Manchester Guardian condemning him for the 'cult of luxury for its own sake' and expressing the opinion that this was a sinister development and a sign of moral decay got him rather irritated and he replied 'I am most grateful for the scholarly examination of my James Bond stores in your leader columns but since this follows upon a nine page inquest into the Twentieth Century, I hope you will forgive a squeak from the butterfly before any more big wheels roll down upon it'.
I really enjoyed this book and found it impossible to put down once I had started. I know many people feel that one should not read letters straight through and one after the other, but I find they give a full portrait and a positive narrative drive if read in this way. I liked Fleming. Every time I review a book of letters or diaries I say the same thing, that the character and personality of a person comes through their writing. A biography, inevitably, takes on the slant or the attitude the biographer chooses, but personal writing from the subject will give away the true nature every time and I found myself warming to the author as I progressed through the book.
His health was slightly precarious and fame and celebrity eventually took its toll. From Russia with Love premiered in October 1963 and Fleming found it an ordeal and insisted that his doctor be present in the cinema. This film was so eagerly anticipated that people queued around Leicester Square to gain admission and I remember this so well as I was one of them. The queue went right round the Odeon and back and I honestly thought I would never get in, but I did and boy what a thrill it was.
A fascinating book and full of the most intriguing and interesting correspondence with luminaries such as Noel Coward and Raymond Chandler to a local book seller who had written to say how much she enjoyed his books, and to fans from all over the world.
And all written on his golden typewriter.
'The name is Bond, James Bond'......