As this parade of writers suggests, Eton has been a hothouse for literary development. Like Fleming and Orwell, Paul Watkins began writing at Eton, and he writes in Stand Before Your God that he tied a pencil to his bed frame so he could scribble ideas on the wall when he woke at night. He wrote the first two drafts of his debut novel Night Over Day Over Night at Eton, when he was 16: “The Eton library has the original draft, which I wrote by hand,” he says.
What did Eton teach him? “The nobility in the pursuit of a goal,” he tells BBC Culture, “not just the goal itself. When I got out into the world, nobody cared that I was writing books until those books got published.” The most valuable lesson Eton taught him “was to have the courage to pursue what I felt I was built to do, and not just what others wanted me to do.”
For Okwonga, it was a sense of meeting society’s expectations – but also his own – from such a privileged education. “I knew it was an opportunity that so few black people get. And I think I’ve carried that my entire career, this sense of, ‘I have to achieve something, I have to make my time worth it.'”
“And actually,” he continues, “someone wrote to me, a friend who lives in the US. She said, ‘you haven’t wasted your talent’. Which is a very powerful thing to be told, because you go to a place like that, which is such a privilege, and you feel that keenly, every week you’re there. You go out into the world, going: ‘I’ve got to do something with this’.”
Love books? Join BBC Culture Book Club on Facebook, a community for literature fanatics all over the world.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.