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The Spy Who Inspired Me

09/25/2015

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In 1964, I was fourteen. Someone gave me a copy of Moonraker and it hit me like a star-shell. When I’d started reading years before, stories about World War Two were all the rage.

There were comics like The Lion, The Tiger, The Victor and The Hotspur, all with war stories. I had devoured W. E. John’s books about Biggles. I discovered James Bond was, in ways, just like Biggles, but with girls. Sadly, the flow of books stopped when Ian Fleming died in 1964, just as the James Bond film phenomenon was taking off. Surprisingly, even though almost everyone has seen at least one James Bond movie, very few people have actually read any of Fleming’s books.

At the time, there was a rash of copycat writers turning out similar stories. A mature version of Biggles was produced by Gavin Lyall in The Wrong Side of the Sky, published in 1961.

Lyall’s writing also contained overtones irony and understatement found in the novels of Raymond Chandler,. Lyall produced seven novels in this genre, the last, Judas Country, published in 1975. Between them, Ian Fleming and Gavin Lyall provided me with the inspiration to write my own first novel.

I’d been trying to write a novel since I was ten years old. They were all the same, war stories, spy stories, detective stories, the kind of thing adolescent boys read. My first attempt featured a character based on the hero in the comic cartoon, I Flew With Braddock. I managed to write about ten pages, but then lost the copybook it was written in. Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, as Thomas Gray said.

Eventually, in 1977, I sat down to write and managed to complete first novel. Since then, I’ve managed to complete seven novels, along with a few nearly past the finishing post efforts.

Sadly, none of them reached the standard I’d be happy to publish. About three years ago, I went back to the Ian Fleming novels to see what it was that made them work. Fleming was the son of a British officer, Major Valentine Fleming, who was killed in France in 1917.

Being of a rich banking family, Ian Fleming was a member of the establishment. Educated at Eton, Sandhurst  and various European universities, he got a job as a reporter for Reuters, covering the 1936 trial of six British engineers in Moscow on charges of spying. From there he moved on to become a stockbroker, at which he failed miserably. With the outbreak of World War Two, his mother then arranged for him to take the position of assistant to the Director of Naval intelligence, Vice Admiral John Godfrey. After the war, he worked as Travel editor for the Sunday Times.

His contract allowed him to spend three months every year, usually the winter, in the house he built in Jamaica, called Goldeneye. There in 1952 he wrote Casino Royale, the first of the James Bond books, basing it on his wartime and travel experiences. He went on to write a total of fourteen novels, setting them in exotic locations.

Who better to take inspiration from, I decided.

I read all the books again, taking notes as the framework for a new novel took shape. My own career was a help. I had spent almost forty years as a civil servant in the Department of Justice, both in the Department itself and in the courts. I also served for thirty three years in the Reserve Defence Force, or the FCA as it used to be known, beginning as a recruit and finishing as a captain. This enabled me to base my fiction on experience, both in terms of characters and events.

From → Better Beginning

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