Beyond the Book: Background information when reading White Blood

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White Blood

by James Fleming

White Blood by James Fleming
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 368 pages

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James Fleming was born in London in 1944, the fourth in a family of nine children. His education began with a governess, Miss Malins, who "wielded power via a thick, blue oval crayon that would be jabbed into our ribs if ever we faltered." At the age of eight he was sent to boarding school at Abberley Hall. He got into Oxford "by a whisker" and gained a second in Modern History. On graduation, he became an articled clerk (trainee accountant) and went to work with Angus & Robertson, an Australian publisher with an office in London.

Since the age of 10 he had been interested in being a writer, and during his twenties had experimented with three or four ideas for books about everyday products (such as A Social History of Tea), but none came to anything. He put writing aside when he got married, had children, started a one-man publishing house and took over the family farm on the death of his father. But in his fifties, with his children grown and his marriage broken, he found time to start writing The Temple of Optimism set in Buxton, Derbyshire in the 1780s, which was published in 2000. This was followed by Thomas Gage in 2003, set in Norfolk, England about 150 years ago during the early period of the railways. White Blood was published in the UK in 2006 and the USA in early 2007.

When asked about writers who have influenced him, Fleming names Nabokov, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Isaac Babel, Stevenson, Conrad, Joyce Cary, Camus, Saul Bellow and "the most individual of all writers in English" – Laurence Sterne.


Useful to know?

  • Doig, the protagonist of White Blood, is named for a Glaswegian book-keeper in one of the firms Fleming used to audit.
  • Doig's father works for Hodge & Co. A reference to Fleming's mother's side of the family and her seven brothers, the "Hodge boys" who Fleming says were all "wiped out by World War I, either physically or emotionally."
  • James Fleming's father was one of four sons, one of whom is Ian Fleming (1908-64) of James Bond fame. Fleming writes, "I used to think it leech-like to mention this family connection, as if I was trying to rub some of his gloss off upon myself. But now I have grown more confident of my own skills."

Fleming talks about his writing
"I write because I must. It’s the only valid reason for doing something that is so antisocial. I write first in longhand, on one side only of a pad of white, ruled, A4 paper (letter-sized paper) with a Pilot V5 Extra Fine pen. I like the scoring sound of the nib; the triumph of completing a page and laying it to one side; scratching a line through duff words; the formation of certain letters in the alphabet. I like the sense of progress that comes from manually numbering a page. And I know that anything I compose straight onto a PC will be total rubbish – cheap, slack and sometimes even juvenile. I cannot understand why it should be, but it is. Writing is not a burden to me: I find no need to bribe myself. My only necessity is to be facing a blank wall: a window or picture is fatal."

This article was originally published in February 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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