'I really cannot remember exactly why I started to write thrillers,' Fleming recalled in 1956. 'I was on holiday in Jamaica in January 1951* [...] and I think my mental hands were empty. I had finished organising a Foreign Service for Kemsley Newspapers and that tide of my life was free-wheeling. My daily occupation in Jamaica is spearfishing and under-water exploring, but after five years of it I didn't want to kill any more fish except barracudas and the rare monster fish and I knew my own under-water terrain like the back of my hand. Above all, after being a bachelor for 44 years, I was on the edge of marrying and the prospect was so horrifying that I was in urgent need of some activity to take my mind off it. So, as I say, my mental hands were empty and although I am as lazy as most Englishman are, I have a Puritanical dislike of idleness and a natural love of action. So I decided to write a book.'
Thus Fleming described the genesis of Casino Royale. His wife-to-be, Ann, put it more simply in her diary: 'This morning Ian started to type a book. Very good thing.'
Fleming liked to say that Casino Royale wrote itself, but in fact it was the product of hard work and discipline. Every morning, for three hours, he sat at this desk and typed 2,000 words. He then put the sheets of double-spaced foolscap aside, and took the afternoon off. He repeated the process the next day, and the next, until by 18 March the book was finished. Occasionally he and Ann lit off on a spree: there was an outing to the Milk River Spa - 'the highest radio-activity of any mineral bath in the world', according to Fleming - and an abortive foray to shoot alligators at midnight when 'their red eyes shine in the moonbeams'. But he always returned to the task. 'I rewrote nothing and made no corrections until my book was finished,' he said. 'If I had looked back at what I had written the day before I might have despaired at the mistakes in grammar and style, the repetitions and the crudities. And I obstinately closed my mind to self-mockery and "what will my friends say?" I savagely hammered on until the proud day when the last page was done. The last line "The bitch is dead now" was just what I felt. I had killed the job.'
He also killed his bachelordom. He and Ann were married on 24 March 1952, with little pomp and much hilarity in Port Maria. The ensuing festivities were dear to his heart, with copious amounts of goodwill from a select guest list the included his neighbour Noël Coward. The evening was illuminated by Fleming's personal concoction: Old Man's Thing. (Take a glass bowl. peel, but do not break, an orange and a lime. Put them in the bowl, add a bottle of white rum and light with a match.) The next day they flew to Nassau and then New York for further celebrations. At the beginning of April the newly-weds finally returned to London where they moved into Fleming's Chelsea apartment, 24 Carlyle Mansions, to be joined by Ann's children, Raymond and Fionn, plus a talking parrot called Jackie.
Amidst this new-found domesticity, Fleming pondered the manuscript. Compared to his later output Casino Royale had involved little research and was taken from imagination and experience. It introduced the world to 007, licensed to kill, whose first fictional mission was to confront a Soviet agent, Le Chiffre, and bankrupt him at the gambling tables of a small French resort named Royale-les-Eaux. The resort was based on Deauville, which Fleming had often visited, and the idea of bankruptcy by casino was one that he had deployed during the war in neutral Portugal when he played against a Nazi operative in a futile attempt to deplete the Abwehr's exchequer. There was drama, high-explosives, cocktails, secret weaponary, a car chase, torture, a double-agent heroine and, of course, the famous first line: 'The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.' It was exotic fare for readers in post-war austerity Britain, but what really made it stand out was the immediacy and freshness of the writing.
Fleming was faintly appalled. 'I did nothing with the manuscript,' he wrote. 'I was too ashamed. No publisher would want it and if they did I would not have the face to see it in print. Even under a pseudonym, someone would leak the ghastly fact that it was I who had written this adolescent tripe.'
*Actually it was 1952
In an address to students in Oxford that year he encapsulated his approach to writing: say whatever you want, research it properly, and write fast. Never look back, he said: 'If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism you will be luck if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain.' He cast a warning note: there wasn't much money to be made from books; it was only when you made a film deal that you could sit pretty. But if you persevered, a writer's life had its advantages: 'You carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you. Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living [...] is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing, event if you only write thrillers, whose heroes are white, the villains black, and the heroines a delicate shade of pink.'
An extract from The Man with the Golden Typewriter by Fergus Fleming, out now.
Fergus Fleming is Ian Fleming’s nephew. He is the author of several other non-fiction books including Barrow’s Boys, Killing Dragons and Ninety Degrees North. He is also the co-publisher of Queen Anne Press.