Licence to Write by Nicholas Shakespeare

Nicholas Shakespeare

Licence to Write


Scepticism and superstition are a writer’s guiding stars. This is especially true when it comes to biography. Before you devote years of your life to plotting someone else’s, you can be spookily receptive to the tiniest twinkle.

When approached to write a new authorised biography of Ian Fleming, the first since 1966, my initial reaction was hesitation. Could I face spending so long in the company of a melancholic cad and creator of the cold killing machine James Bond? This incomplete image was my only image of Fleming.

Inclined to reject the proposal, I nonetheless did some background research and found to my surprise that Fleming, the sardonic bounder in charge of ‘in-trays, out-trays and ashtrays’, was kinder and a great deal more significant than his popular caricature. What clinched my decision was my stumbling on mysterious connections which suggested that Fleming might be a propitious subject after all.

By a strange set of coincidences, before he joined Fleming as his ‘leg man’ on the Sunday Times Atticus column, John Pearson, Fleming’s first authorised biographer, had shared a desk at the Times Educational Supplement with my father, who himself went on to perform an identical role for Fleming’s successor as Sunday Times foreign

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