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Posts Tagged ‘Casino Royale’

A river journey

Biographies are all very well but what you really want to do is give Charon your life’s savings, cross the river Acheron, follow the trail of blighted birch trees to the outer circle where Mr Fleming can be found, ply him with a few martinis, stand over him with a stiff cane and force him to answer your questions.

“Ian old boy,” I began, trying to put him at his ease him with an easy Etonian familiarity, “now that you’re dead, and James Bond has left a more profitable and enduring legacy than anything Anne’s friends could muster, tell me the truth. You tried really hard with those novels of yours, didn’t you?”

“Don’t get me started on Anne’s friends,” he drawled, idly lighting one of his Morland cigarettes from a guttering pile of charred flails. “It’s true that the international flotsam and jetsam of Anne’s set liked to rag me about my books. Her literary cronies thought them nothing more than the crude sex-longings of a frustrated sadist.”

“Which may have helped their popularity,” I suggested.

“Willie Maugham liked them,” he said, with a gleam of nostalgia in his hooded eyes.

“He refused to make his admiration public, didn’t he?”

“Ray Chandler offered to put his praise on a gold slab for me.”

“Ah, Raymond Chandler. Few question his literary reputation. The poet of the private eye genre.”

“He called me the most forceful and driving writer of thrillers in England.”

“But he thought you could do better, didn’t he?”

“It’s true he wanted me to raise my sights. He seemed to think I had it in me to write proper novels and I was just being lazy about it. He couldn’t care less about my pain. If you’ve never had sciatica –”

“I think Chandler told you what you can do with your sciatica,” I said.

He drew sharply on his cigarette and I couldn’t be sure in the half-light of that infernal place whether he was grimacing in pain or pleasure. “The truth was,” he said with feeling, “my talents were extended to their absolute limits in writing books like Diamonds are Forever and From Russia with Love.”

“But what classics of the genre they are!” I replied. “You actually succeeded, after all, don’t you think, in your ambition of writing the definitive espionage novel?”

“My books were nothing more in the end than straight pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety. It’s what you would expect of an adolescent mind — which I happen to possess.”

“You said of your first one, Casino Royale, that you tossed it off with only half your brain.”

“I was worried that people might think it a dreadful oafish opus,” he said.

“Chandler thought it was your best.”

“Yes, yes, I can see that. Yes, it probably was,” he said, staring darkly into the dwindling flames at his feet. “But Live and Let Die was as serious a novel,” he said. “And every bit as good in my opinion.”

“Were you plagued by self-doubts?” I asked him.

“Constantly. Constantly.”

“How did you keep up your morale? I mean apart from stripping the clothes off  beautiful young women and thrashing them to within an inch of their lives?”

He paused dreamily, either pondering on an image from happier times or else thinking up an answer that would do justice to the seriousness of my question. “Writing is an arduous process,” he said at last. “You are constantly depressed by the progress of your opus and feel that it is all nonsense and that nobody will be interested. Those are the moments when you must all the more obstinately stick to your schedule and do your daily stint.”

“You wrote every day?”

“I wasn’t the lazy Shakespeare that Chandler supposed.”

“Were you consciously trying to be brilliant when you wrote?”

“Never on the first draft. Never mind about the brilliant phrase or the golden word. Once the typescript is there you can fiddle, correct and embellish as much as you please.”

“Is that some practical advice for all novelists?”

“For all writers. Let’s not be snobbish and think only of novelists, dear boy. Writers should never be depressed if the first draft seems a bit raw, all first drafts do. ”

“So how do you make it less raw at the revision stage?”

“Try and remember the weather and smells and sensations and pile in every kind of contemporary detail.”

“What about getting advice from a friend?”

“I’d say don’t let anyone see the manuscript — certainly not anyone who belongs to any kind of literary coterie — until you are well on with it and above all don’t allow anything to interfere with your routine. Don’t worry about what you put in, it can always be cut on re-reading; it’s the total package that matters.”

“And you certainly delivered the total package,” I said.

“Yes. In as much as after my death I made for my heirs the fortune that always eluded me while I was alive.” He coughed chaotically, threw his cigarette to the flames and extracted another from an elegant gunmetal case.

I looked around anxiously for Charon, wondering where to wait for the return trip. Somehow he’d forgotten to mention it when he dropped me on this side of the river’s desolate banks.

When I turned my head again, Ian Fleming had melted into darkness.

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Imagine Noël Coward at the wheel

There are many books written for writers. They can be fun to read and one or two may even be useful. But few are as deep or as influential as the recorded experiences of flesh-and-blood writers. We can learn a lot from these writers. Real writers. You know, the giants of the craft who have blazed a trail for those of us “undone by sloth, discouragement, and of course distractions.”

Take Ian Fleming, for example. His was a complex personality but I believe he nurtured, from a very early age, a consuming literary ambition.

A real writer, as Fleming’s life proves, is a writer even when he isn’t hunched at a desk bashing out words on a typewriter. Happening to be in Estoril during wartime, Ian urged his boss to accompany him to a Casino. He was thrilled by the atmosphere. Even so, he couldn’t help applying his imagination to give it an added twist. Having lost his money to some Portuguese businessmen, he remarked, “What if those men had been German secret service agents, and suppose we had cleaned them out of their money; now that would have been exciting.”

And so the plot for Casino Royale was conceived.

Imagination is all very well but writers need other skills. They must be resourceful and diligent researchers. They must be observant, with a keen eye for the telling detail. It helps, of course, to have a quick and agile mind. But what a writer really needs, what a writer must have above all else, is an unflinching urge to tell the truth and the ability to puncture pomposity wherever it occurs.

On a jaunt in Jamaica, recounted in Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett, Fleming confronted the unassailable egotism of Noël Coward and demonstrated that he was a writer of genius.

Coward’s move to Firefly coincided with his decision to leave Britain, sell his two houses there, and become a tax exile, living part of the time in Jamaica and part in Bermuda, where he became a resident. To celebrate this change of circumstances, he bought himself a vast sky-blue Chevrolet Belair convertible. When he took Ian and Cole Lesley for a drive along the coast, a local Jamaican, observing the extravagant vehicle and its high-spirited occupants, exclaimed, “Cheesus-Kerist”, whereupon Coward asked, “How did he know?”

Their stately progress was almost halted when they reached a petrol station. The car seemed to take an inordinately long time to fill up. When Coward asked the problem, Lesley informed him, “They can’t find the hole.”

“We’ve all had that trouble at one time or another,” replied Coward who refused to get out and look himself, thinking it would demean him in front of the natives.

With the help of the instruction book from the glove compartment, Ian finally solved the problem: the petrol-tank cap was behind the stop light.

“Anyone could have told you that,” Coward pronounced airily.

“It’s interesting,” Ian shot back, and he was the only person in the world who could have said this, “when you sweat with embarrassment the sweat runs down your face and drops off your first chin on to your second.”

“Don’t be childish,” blustered Coward.

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Eva Green in Casino Royale

As I was putting up Lanying’s bedroom mirror, she said to me “Shall I wipe away the pencil mark now?” She had made a mark on the wall where she wanted the mirror to go.

“Only if you want me to trip over you and break my neck,” I told her, aiming the drill at a spot on the wall three inches above her left shoulder.

That made her angry. “I hate you English!” she said. “Why can’t you say what you mean?”

But I was saying what I meant.

I’m sure Vesper Lynd was also saying what she meant when, wearing a black velvet dress that was “simple and yet with the touch of splendour that only half a dozen couturiers in the world can achieve,” she turned to James Bond and said:

‘Do you mind if we go straight into dinner? I want to make a grand entrance and the truth is there’s a horrible secret about black velvet. It marks when you sit down. And, by the way, if you hear me scream tonight, I shall have sat on a cane chair.’

It is a perfectly reasonable thing to scream about but some commentators seem to have missed the irony and take her for only a silly woman.

The irony is not lost on Bond, who screams and thinks of Vesper while Le Chiffre is attacking his exposed underparts with a cane carpet beater through the hole in a bottomless cane chair.

Some commentators have called Ian Fleming a misogynist because of his portrayal of Vesper Lynd. Probably those commentators are impervious to the tenderness in the moment when Bond’s ice cold brutality melts and he asks her, ‘Do you know, that first morning I was coming back to ask you to marry me. Can’t we go back to the beginning again?’

Fleming’s detractors probably skimmed over the bit where Vesper’s deep blue eyes were swimming with tears because of the secret she couldn’t possibly share. The depths in her actions and in her character must have been lost on them.

I wonder how much they skipped in order to reach the last paragraph, which they probably read, as they read the whole book, without irony.

‘This is 007 speaking. This is an open line. It’s an emergency. Can you hear me? Pass this on at once. 3030 was a double, working for Redland.

‘Yes, dammit, I said “was.” The bitch is dead now.’

Call me misogynistic, but for me that final sentence is definitely the best in the book.

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