Brain Pickings

The Only Surviving Recording of Raymond Chandler’s Voice, in a BBC Conversation with Ian Fleming

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“You starve to death for ten years before your publisher knows you’re any good.”

Raymond Chandler (July 23, 1888–March 26, 1959) endures as one of the most celebrated novelists and screenwriters in literary history, an oracle of insight on the written word, a lovable grump dispensing delightfully curmudgeonly advice on editorial manners, and a hopeless cat-lover. In July of 1958, to mark the publication of Chandler’s last book, Playback, BBC brought Chandler and Ian Fleming together on the air. Fleming and the BBC broadcaster producing the program picked up Chandler at 11 A.M. on the day of the interview and even though they “found his voice slurred with whisky,” the broadcast went quite well. Seven months later, Chandler died. This discussion, which covers heroes and villains — Fleming’s James Bond and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe — and the relationship between author and character, is believed to be the only surviving recording of the author’s voice. Transcribed highlights below.

Chandler on the doggedness literary success (or any creative success) requires:

How long did it take me [to become a successful writer]? You starve to death for ten years before your publisher knows you’re any good.

Fleming on villains:

I find it … extremely difficult to write about villains, villains I find extremely difficult people to put my finger on. … The really good, solid villain is a very difficult person to build up, I think.

Fleming and Chandler on heroes:

Your hero, Philip Marlowe, is a real hero — he behaves in a heroic fashion. My leading character, James Bond, I never intended to be a hero — I intended him to be a sort of blank instrument wielded by a government department, who would get into bizarre, fantastic situations and more or less shoot his way out of them, get out of them one way or another.

Chandler on James Bond and how he differs from Marlowe:

A man with his job can’t afford to feel tender emotions — he feels them but he has to quell them.

Fleming, responding to Chandler’s amazement at how he can write so many James Bond books in addition to his intense editorial commitments, offers a glimpse of his creative routine and a testament to the value of discipline:

I have two months off in Jamaica every year, in my contract with the Sunday Times, and I sit down and a write a book every year during those two months.

Chandler on the difference between the British and the American thriller:

The American thriller is much faster paced.

Complement this with Chandler’s collected wisdom on writing, which is among history’s finest advice on the craft, then revisit the only surviving recordings of Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman.

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