The craft of … Ian Fleming

This year is, of course, the centenary of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond: not only do we have Quantum of Solace to look forward to in November but also the new novel by Sebastian Faulks and an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. Fleming was the consummate creative craftsman, both in his journalism and his novels, and he gave these insights into his working methods in a meeting with the Belgian master of crime fiction, Georges Simenon, in 1965:

‘I try to write neatly, concisively, vividly, because I think that’s the way to write, I think that approach largely comes from my training as a fast-writing journalist under circumstances in which you damned well have to be neat, correct, concise and vivid. My journalistic training was far more valuable to me than all the English literature education I ever had.

‘My plots are fantastic, while being often based upon truth. They go wildly beyond the probable not, I think, beyond the possible. To anchor my fantastic plots I employed the device of using real names of things and places. The constant use of real and familiar names and objects reassures the reader that both he and the writer have their feet on the ground in spite of being involved in a fantastic adventure. That is why I started using the technical device of referring to say, a Ronson lighter, a 41⁄2-litre Bentley with an Amherst-Villiers supercharger, the Ritz Hotel in London, the 21 Club in New York, the exact names of even the smallest details. All of this gives the reader the feeling of feasibility.

‘I think that communicating enjoyment is a very good achievement even in the fairly modest seam of literature that comprises thriller writing … I think a writer should try to get an accurate ear for the spoken word and not, so to speak, put on a top hat when he sits down at his typewriter. He mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that literature has to be literary.’

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