© 2014 James Fleming - Damnable Iron


I LOVED writing my English books.  The words, the images, the very colours of the English countryside, its smells, its feeling of ancientness, everything just tumbled out whenever I picked up my pen.  They were good times, they were the best of times, the years I spent on The Temple of Optimism and Thomas Gage.

What tempted me away from England was the vision, when describing the primitive trains in Thomas Gage, of the vast and magnificent locomotives that used to ply the railroads of continental Europe.  No rail journey in Britain can end at other than the sea, and that not very far away.  I found it cramping my imagination.  I became restless, then impatient, then discontented.  I wanted to have a character who could march up to the ticket window, demand a single to Vladivostok and create a scene if he didn’t get it.  I wanted huge, panting engines, I wanted snow spraying off the tracks, I wanted wolves, malachite ashtrays, vodka, ruin - I wanted Russia.  In what period?  It could only be the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.  On which side?  My hero could only be a White.  Thus did the possibility of Charlie Doig start to take shape.

IT DIDN’T start off as a trilogy, but it’s turned out that way.  It wasn’t until I was half way through the last one (Rising Blood, to be published in June, 2011), that I could be sure I liked my hero – liked him, as opposed to enjoying his company.  Charlie’s rampant, rancorous, vulgar, loud, tough and flawed – a capital shit is how one of his antagonists describes him.  On the other hand he recognises beauty and loves it (he’s a naturalist by profession), and he cries easily.  He’s not handsome, but neither is he ugly.  He’s a man who grips life, a big man in stature and spirit.

HIS MOTHER IS A Russian aristocrat and his father a Scottish adventurer.  He’s been brought up in Moscow.  When the Revolution comes in 1917, he’s working in Turkestan for the Academy of Sciences.  His pay is stopped and his companion goes off to enlist.  Charlie returns to his mother’s family home, the Pink House, outside Smolensk.  There he falls in love with his cousin, Elizaveta, and marries her.  But the days of imperial Russia are numbered: the Tsar has just abdicated and the Bolsheviks are closing in.

What do lovers do when beset by ruin and revenge on all sides?  What could anyone in Russia do in that fateful year of 1917?  That’s what Charlie Doig has to work out.

“At last, the right kind of hero: virile, ruthless and adventurous.”

( William Palmer in The Independent)


“One detects the hand of a master” The Sunday Telegraph