The Man With the Golden Typewriter by Fergus Fleming provides unparalleled insight into Ian Fleming’s quest to become a successful novelist. This is a book for the James Bond aficionado, or indeed, anyone who has ever written a book, aspires to, or worked in publishing. It’s an expose of the man who created spy fiction’s everlastingly popular hero, told through the copious amount of letters he wrote to his wife, publisher, editors, fans, friends and critics. It reveals the man behind the myth, in his own words.
The best exchanges are those between Fleming and two of his most trusted readers, William Plomer and Daniel George, to whom he sent early drafts of each Bond novel. While they always found something positive to say, they didn’t shy away from criticism, either. As a writer myself, it is chastening to read commentary such as “on some pages the sentences all begin with ‘And.’” Polmer couldn’t see the point of this. “Presumably you are aiming at producing an effect of panting continuity. Take out all the ‘Ands’ and see if it makes any difference.” These are lessons every writer can learn from. But there are practical criticisms, too; faults in Fleming’s plot, or the continuity of events. 007 fanatics will lap up these exchanges.
Most terrifying (at least from my perspective, as I currently work in a marketing and PR) are Fleming’s interactions with his publisher, Jonathan Cape. To say Fleming was not an easy customer is an understatement. The way he haggles Cape for higher royalties, additional proofs, and pushes various marketing ideas, is frightening. But there is an elegance to their letters, despite the occasional underlying of sarcasm or (sometimes) malice. Fleming remains a gentleman throughout, seemingly unflappable and confident – an egotist – but there are moments when this façade cracks, revealing the anxious persona that exists inside all writers. In a letter to Raymond Chandler, he reveals his disparaging opinions of his James Bond novels, labelling them “straight pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety.” He admits, “I don’t take them seriously enough and meekly accept having my head ragged off about them.” But his readers took them seriously, showcased by the plentiful letters, many full of praise, others critiquing certain details.
Interesting, too, is the distinct lack of letters between Fleming and his wife, Ann. Not because they never wrote to each other – there are a few scattered throughout the pages of The Man With the Golden Typewriter – but because their correspondence was withheld from publication because of Ann’s daughter, which highlights the fractured nature of the Fleming family. Indeed, one can’t help but wonder whether Ian and Ann were better off as occasional lovers than partners for life – their relationship had an acrimonious ending.
There is plenty for readers to latch onto in The Man With the Golden Typewriter, and one needn’t be a Bond fan to find nuggets of gold here, though of course, it helps. The Man With the Golden Typewriter showcases a different era of publishing, and the mindset of one of the world’s most popular authors. I simply couldn’t put it down.
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom