LARGE, MALE-DOMINATED families are part of my make-up.  My mother’s grandparents produced a family of nine – two girls and seven boys.  Of the latter, five became soldiers, one a sailor, and Harry, the odd man out, Resident of the Ilorin Province of Nigeria (of which he wrote the official Gazetteer).  Decent, dutiful men, they were wiped out by World War I, either physically or emotionally.

My father’s side, the Flemings of Dundee, proved more resilient.  They also suffered in World War I, but when my grandfather was killed in 1917, his young widow, Eve, showed herself both tough and determined.  She was left with four boys (the “shiny boys” as Augustus John called them).  In 1926 she gave birth to a daughter, Amaryllis, fathered by Augustus John.  The youngest son, Michael, was killed in World War II.  The three other boys and Amaryllis were each remarkable in their own way.

Here are those boys, photographed on the same day in 1942, when they happened to be on leave simultaneously.

© 2014 James Fleming - Damnable Iron

Ian (1908-64), journalist and novelist, creator of James Bond.

Peter (1907-71), traveller and writer.  His two most famous books, Brazilian Adventure (1933) and News from Tartary (1936) have been continuously in print since they were published.

Richard (1910-77), my father, a man so unassuming that few would ever have supposed him to be one of the ablest international bankers of his time.

Amaryllis (1926-99), cellist, teacher, Buddhist and much-loved woman.

My parents had nine children: six boys and three girls.  I was born in 1944 – number four, behind Daniel, who died in infancy, and two sisters.

My schooling was commenced by Miss Malins, a governess we shared with neighbours.  She wielded power via a blue, oval crayon which she would jab into our ribs if ever we faltered over, for instance over the subjunctive of pouvoir.  As a result we never did falter.  By the time I went to boarding school at the age of eight, I was ahead of the game.  And since the education I received at Abberley was excellent , I remained ahead of it. However (which as Thomas Gage observed is one of the most ominous words in English), things went downhill thereafter.  All that need be said is that after getting a second in Modern History at Oxford, I signed up as an articled clerk in a firm of accountants at a salary of £600 per annum.

It is to this period of my life that I in fact owe a great debt, arising from the fact that one of the firms over whose accounts my eye would wearily slide employed a venerable Glaswegian book-keeper whose name was Doig.  (“Mr Doig,” to youthful me.) Thirty years later I seized his name for the narrator and hero of my Russian trilogy.  I hope I have repaid him for this gift by giving him a fictional life a great deal more exciting than the one he led when I knew him.

I abandoned accountancy as soon as I passed the exams and in my early thirties started a one-man publishing business, got married and had children.

The short history of these years says only that twenty-four hours are too few in a day.  Then, at the age of fifty, my marriage broke up, free time became available and I started work on The Temple of Optimism.

“Fleming has produced a novel of quite exhilarating brilliance...”

(David Robson in The Sunday Telegraph)


There is a substantial body of literature on these Flemings.

James Fleming’s photograph by Francesco Cincotta

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