The John Griswold CBn Interview
While books about James Bond films are plentiful, only a handful deal exclusively with Ian Fleming’s written work. 20 years in the making, John Griswold’s Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies has been well received among Bond and Fleming scholars, though the chronologies have caused some debate.
CBn spoke with Griswold about his landmark work and the journey from idea to fruition.
Thank you for agreeing to the interview. First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a Bond fan?
I am a person who enjoys doing analysis, research, and artwork (primarily, drawing and sculpture) and, for over twenty years, has pursued a career in computer systems design work which also tapped my creative side.
As for becoming a Bond fan, it began in 1964, halfway through the movie Goldfinger when I realized that the character on the screen, James Bond, was the same one who was in the movie From Russia With Love. Then, at the end of Goldfinger, when the words appeared on the screen that James Bond would be returning, my interest was forever cemented. The movies made me aware of Ian Fleming’s thrillers. Doctor No was the first Bond novel I read. From then on, I read the whole series.
What prompted you to create this book?
I have been analyzing and researching Ian Fleming’s Bond stories for over twenty years as a hobby and was fortunate to have had access to many of the original Fleming manuscripts. As time went on and our culture and environment changed, I became aware of the need to annotate Fleming’s Bond world to ensure that his references would not be misunderstood or unknowingly ignored. In 1993, on a part-time basis, I began consolidating my notes obtained from a variety of sources. As an analytical and curious person, I also began constructing a chronology based on the literary series as whole as opposed to viewing each book as an independent entity. In mid-2001, I began writing my book part-time. By 2002, it became a full time endeavor where I worked on it full time up to 12 to 14 hours a day, writing, researching, and crosschecking.
You mention annotated authors such as Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Tolkien, and Conan Doyle in your introduction—was there a work on one of those authors that served as inspiration or blueprint for your Fleming work?
To be honest, no. It was the process of annotating a work of literature that interested me. As I point out in my book’s introduction, Fleming’s Bond stories were contemporary when written, but with the passage of time, have become period pieces covering the 1950s and early 1960s. Fleming had a broad base of knowledge and utilized the knowledge of many of his friends and correspondents. References to literary works and items of historic interest lend us insight into Fleming, the man.
Did you set any goals for yourself when starting the book? For instance—was it always going to include chronologies—or was that idea added after you had started researching annotations?
By the time I actually began to write the manuscript, I had a mental outline as to exactly what I wanted to accomplish. The book that one sees is the book that I envisioned. The chronologies were always one of the goals.
For Moonraker, I did extensive analysis of the famous contract bridge game between Bond and Drax. Each hand played and their results are given. At the conclusion of the analysis, British pounds were converted to their equivalent 1953 American dollars. These amounts were then converted to their equivalent 2001 purchasing power values. This was done to demonstrate for readers as to how large the stakes had become.
To crosscheck my analysis of the location of the fictional Spectreville in Diamonds Are Forever, my wife and I went to Las Vegas, Nevada. From Las Vegas, we took Highway 95 to the Specter (Fleming spelt it as ‘Spectre’) mountain range and observed how the path of the fictional Spectreville railroad’s track could have been laid out. This path appears on a map included in the section on Diamonds Are Forever.
Maps were created for many of the other novels. Travel to the Bahamas was necessary to locate the ordnance map of New Providence Island as it was in 1959 for my section on Thunderball since many of the road names on New Providence Island have been changed and no longer correspond to those mentioned in the novel. The Sunday Times Book Publication Go Golfing in Britain (1961) had wonderful hole-by-hole graphics of the Royal St. George’s golf course for which I obtained the rights to use in my book as the Royal St. Marks golf course. The fictional Royal St. Marks golf course in Goldfinger was in reality the Royal St. George’s golf course as it looked during the time Goldfinger was set. Now readers of Goldfinger can follow the graphic hole-by-hole while reading the novel. In 2003, my wife and I were fortunate to be invited to tour the Royal St. George’s golf course. It was an exciting experience to walk from one hole to another and get the actual feel of the course.
What was the most difficult part of completing the chronologies?
The key to creating the high level chronology was to view the series of books as a whole. As noted in my book, it wasn’t until From Russia, With Love that Fleming began creating a clearer chronology of events for the books. As it turned out, it was the relationship among Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that challenged me most from a chronological point of view.
Based on information contained in You Only Live Twice and The Man with the Golden Gun, one can determine that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service takes place from September 1961 to January 1962. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Fleming states that the events involving Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me occurred in October and one of the dates is Friday, October 13th. Friday, October 13th is a day in 1961. Interestingly enough, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a flash-forward structure. Fleming had left a space in time for the events involving Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me to fit nicely between mid-September and mid-November 1961.
Both The Spy Who Loved Me and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had statements concerning Operation Thunderball that didn’t seem to make sense. In Thunderball, Fleming stated explicitly that portions took place in June 1959, but in The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond mentioned Operation Thunderball as having been less than a year ago. In Bond mentioned Operation Thunderball as having been about a year ago. It isn’t until the context of these statements is reflected upon that one can arrive at the conclusion that Bond was referring to when some vague information about Operation Thunderball was leaked and first appeared in the newspapers around the end of November 1960 and not when Operation Thunderball actually occurred. In The Spy Who Loved Me,, chapter 11 – Bedtime Story, October 13, 1961, Vivienne mentions the newspapers as having had some information about Operation Thunderball, and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, toward the end of November 1961, Bond mentioned the leaks about Operation Thunderball to the Sable Basilisk.
Considering the length of time it took to work on this—was there ever a time when you thought it might never get done?
Due to the Internet’s somewhat transitory nature—were you reluctant to use web sites as sources for entries or not?
With the nature of the world today, one must use qualified resources where one finds them. At one time, many books, many good books, have had a transitory lifespan. The Internet has been a great tool for locating some of these out of print books.
Contacting people with specific expertise by mail and via the Internet was extremely productive. Their generosity was greatly appreciated, and I gave full credit in the footnotes for the information they provided and listed their names on the Acknowledgements page. I have a separate binder that contains permissions for usage from people who have contributed to the book. For example: The people at the Continental Register helped me to clarify Fleming’s Bentley information, and a Scottish-based film producer and screenplay writer pointed me in the right direction for finally solving the ‘girl in the balloon bet’ mentioned in Moonraker and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Akihiko Sato, who is a Japanese scholar, supplied the information concerning the Bar Mecca murder case, which was referenced in Moonraker.
Again, many thanks to people who were kind enough to help me in this effort.
Some entries are very detailed while others are a few words. How did you decide what topics to go into great depth on?
The entries are there to clarify the meaning of terms. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Hopefully, I have provided enough information to inspire readers to delve further into an item of interest. It would be wonderful if an entry in the book sparked a reader’s interest to pursue further research on his or her own.
You must have spent a great deal of time getting permissions to quote for some of the entries—was there anything that had to be left out because you couldn’t get permission?
Nothing was left out. Patience and persistence were the keys. The hard part was locating the rightful owners of source material.
Did you approach Ian Fleming Publications during your research, or did you go to them after your manuscript had been completed?
The book was written in 2002. In February 2003, I traveled with my wife, Deborah, to London to present my manuscript to Ian Fleming Publications Limited (formerly known as Glidrose Publications, Ltd). I met with Kate Jones, a publishing consultant; Zoë Watkins, Publishing Manager, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd; and Kate Grimond, Ian Fleming’s niece and co-conservator of his estate. The manuscript was approved and a license was granted for its publication.
Was it a difficult decision to self-publish rather than go through a traditional publisher?
Due to the unique nature of my book, it was difficult to find an traditional publisher willing to publish it. I decided to self-publish through AuthorHouse where I would have the greatest creative control over the format of the book.
Note: In my book, book titles referenced are underlined, as opposed to being italicized, so they standout on the page. The footnote source references were placed at the bottom of pages corresponding with the footnotes on a given page to make it easier for readers to confirm my sources.
Do you have a favorite among Fleming’s novels? Do you view it differently after your research on your book?
My favorites are Doctor No, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice. The placement of Doctor No on the series timeline was especially difficult, and I finally determined that 1956 was the best fit. While creating the detailed chronology for Doctor No, an interesting happenstance occurred by using a year 1956 calendar. The date derived for Bond and Quarrel’s arrival on Crab Key came out to be March 15, 1956. This was the same date that Fleming and Ivar Bryce arrived at Great Inagua. Fleming later used aspects of Great Inagua for his fictional island Crab Key.
Which Fleming novel was the most difficult to research, and why?
One of the most intriguing novels was You Only Live Twice. The original manuscript’s ‘Chapter 21 – Obit:’ triggered off a whole chain of thoughts and intense research as to what Fleming was possibly thinking.
In the Chapter 21 – Obit: of the original manuscript for You Only Live Twice, I found that Fleming originally stated that Bond entered ‘a branch that was subsequently to become the Ministry of Defence’ at the age of 17 in 1939. He later changed this to ‘1941’. As in the published edition, Bond’s parents are stated as having died in a climbing accident when he was 11. The fact that Fleming first used the year ‘1939’ was intriguing because if one subtracts 17 from 1939, one gets the year 1922. When you add 11 (Bond’s age when his parents died) to 1922, the result is 1933 which is the year Bond ‘bought’ his Bentley mentioned in Casino Royale. Fleming seemed to be hinting as to how Bond actually got his first Bentley, but then changed the year in the manuscript from ‘1939’ to ‘1941’ for another purpose which I touch upon. Using Bond’s November 11th birthday which was assigned by John Pearson, November 11th in the year 1921 (instead of Pearson’s 1920) can be used while still having Bond be 11 years old within the date span of January 1, 1933 to November 10, 1933. Fleming’s changing of the year ‘1939’ to ‘1941’ points to the possible origin of Bond’s fictional secret service: the SOE (Special Operation Executive) which actually existed during World War II. This issue is fully examined in my book.
Would you consider doing future volumes featuring the works of Amis, Pearson, Gardner, Benson, and Higson?
No, but it sounds like a fine project for someone else to pursue especially since these authors are still alive. I wish that I had had the opportunity to meet with Fleming.
What advice would you have for budding Fleming/Bond research authors?
If you have an idea and know its boundaries, begin to work on it. Don’t wait only to have regrets later that you didn’t try.
Purchase Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies from Amazon.com (U.S.)
Purchase Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies from Amazon.co.uk (UK)