When Ian Fleming wrote to his publisher 50 years ago, enclosing two volumes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in longhand, he was unsure what Jonathan Cape, who published his James Bond novels, would make of the children's story about a flying, swimming, magical car.
He had written the stories for his eight-year-old son Caspar, after suffering a heart attack aged 52. He need not have worried: the story became a classic, and this week – half a century after the original manuscript was submitted – Frank Cottrell Boyce's first sequel to the novel will be published.
The Fleming family approached Cottrell Boyce, whose first book, Millions, won the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2004, to write the sequel. Lucy Fleming, the niece of Ian Fleming, said: "Everybody loves Chitty, and it seemed that it was time to have another look at her, to crank her up and get her off the ground again. It coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first books being written. We all love the film so much, but people don't know the book so well: it took us a bit of time to find the right writer."
She said the family is "absolutely thrilled" with the sequel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, in which a father, who has been made redundant and is restoring a camper van, comes across a magical engine. Joe Berger has illustrated the adventures. "There's been a great deal of care taken," Ms Fleming said. "It's a jolly tricky ask. [Cottrell Boyce] has set it so cleverly. He has seven children, which helps. He's made it funny and a bit frightening, and fun for grown-ups too."
Lucy Fleming, now 64, remembers her uncle from when she was a child and a teenager. "The house lit up when he came in," she said. "He was very funny and kind, and didn't speak down to children as some adults did. He always had an interesting angle on life. He loved inventions, swimming, cars, gambling and adored gadgets. We loved him very much."
Fleming died of another heart attack in August 1964, aged 56, on the day his son turned 12, just as the first advance copies of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were leaving the printers.
His book was dedicated to the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, built in 1920 by Count Louis Zborowski, a rich motor-car enthusiast, on his estate near Canterbury. Fleming had seen the car, in reality called Chitty-Bang-Bang, at the Higham Park estate, when he was 16. He had seen two of his Bond books transformed into films, but never saw Chitty published.
"My father was worried for [my uncle's] health, which could have been sorted quite easily nowadays," Lucy Fleming said. "But he enjoyed his life, and I think he knew he was pretty ill. He worked hard for the last 12 years of his life, writing a Bond book every year. But I think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was more fun to write. He had a huge imagination, and these were the stories he'd been telling his son."
Caspar, for whom the story was originally invented, died from a drug overdose at 23. "I think he would have enjoyed the sequels. I don't think anyone wouldn't," Ms Fleming said.
Cottrell Boyce said he believes the book "came from somewhere close to Fleming's heart", and the sequel, which he hopes will follow Fleming's legacy and be made into a film, has also "come from close to [his] heart".
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