It is our honour to welcome in from the cold, Ian Fleming’s nephew James Fleming. James’ Russian Blood trilogy of “Cold Blood”, “White Blood” and “Rising Blood” features the Scottish/Russian character Charlie Doig and we caught up with him about this, his stewardship of The Book Collector and naturally, his Uncle Ian.
001 Could you tell us about your memories of Ian as an Uncle?
My most vivid memory of Uncle Ian was at the funeral of his mother (and thus my grandmother) in the summer of 1964. When offered a drink by a family retainer he replied briskly, ‘Gin and tonic, quick as you can.’ ‘Oh, but Mr Ian, you know what the doctors said,’ responded Kathleen. ‘Damn the doctors,’ he said,’ it’s too late for them.’ As indeed it was: he died a fortnight later.
002 What got you started on your own writing career?
I almost got published with A Social History of Tea in my twenties. But nothing came of it and then family life pressed upon me so it wasn’t until the clouds thinned at the age of fifty that I got started again. For most writers the urge is always within them, like some sort of worm. Then something happens and they get going.
003 Who are some of your favourite authors?
Today? Trollope, Hrabal, most diarists, the New York Review of Books, Laurence Sterne.
004 Tell us about the inspirations for your Charlie Doig trilogy and your process for writing these.
My first novel involved horses and coaches. My second (and best), the coming of the railways. I defy anyone to write a novel involving steam engines without visualising, at some point, snow, wolves, Russia and the thunder of love. My Charlie Doig trilogy is set in the first person in revolutionary Russia. He has a Russian mother and is a bit of a bruiser. Much action, much tragedy, hard-won happiness. Women enjoy these stories far more than men, who feel threatened by Charlie.
005 Do you have favourite works by Ian?
Oh, his first ones are superb, no question of it! I re-read Casino Royale the other day, almost in one sitting. It’s only when you’ve written yourself that you can really appreciate the extraordinary skills of someone like my uncle. People say disparagingly, Oh, he was a newspaperman, it was like shelling peas for him. Hell no!
The strength of his narrative, the pace, characterisation, command of detail, these would mark him out anywhere. But there was something else: he understood the essential sadness of the human condition – and it shows.
006 How has the Book Collector evolved since Ian started it?
We’ve just published a bumper Ian Fleming Issue of The Book Collector (282pp, illustrated, £20 from www.thebookcollector.co.uk only) which covers that whole collecting part of his life. The rows that Ian had with his fellow directors! They wanted articles that professionals would pore over, he wanted articles that people would enjoy.
Since then we’ve learned to strike a balance that favours the people. Wit, pleasure and knowledge, those are our key words. In addition to our four issues a year in print, we have an online archive going back to 1947 and auction sale records since 1952.
We are, in fact, the largest private research facility of this sort in the world. Ian would be over the moon!
007 What practical advice would you give to new book collectors?
First, don’t collect specifically for profit. Collect what interests you, collect it well, and profit will naturally accrue. But what? you ask. Isn’t everything very expensive? I mean, £30,000 for a Casino Royale is not exactly peanuts, is it? Indeed. So look around. Why not Brexit literature? Why not Sunken Cities (with an eye to climate change)? Why not Apocalypse, starting with the Middle Ages? There are always areas waiting to be discovered and collected – always.
James Fleming was born in London in 1944, the fourth in a family of nine children. He read history at Oxford and has been variously an accountant, farmer, forester and bookseller. In addition to the Charlie Doig Trilogy, he has written two previous novels: The Temple of Optimism and Thomas Gage.
Visit James Fleming’s website
Interview with James (Plymouth Herald)