Alan Bradley is the New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning Flavia de Luce mystery series. His first novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie received the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, the Agatha Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the Macavity Award and the Spotted Owl Award. Recently, Mr. Bradley took a bit of time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Killer Nashville. The author discusses his protagonist and the unique choices made in creating her, his writing process, and offers advice to those who—like Bradley—began their writing careers a little later in the game. Thanks to Liz Gatterer for conducting this interview.
A Killer Nashville Interview
KN: When I first looked at the press release for The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place and saw that the story was about a 12-year-old girl, I assumed this was a children’s book, or a middle-grade book and was intrigued that was not how it was categorized. Who do you write your books for?
I write my books for people who are interested in the same kind of things I’m interested in. I dote on curiosities and wonder, and I have been accused of possessing a magpie mind. Fortunately, there are vast numbers of readers of all ages who share my enthusiasms. I have heard of a four-year-old girl who insists upon having the books read aloud to her, then acting them out with herself as Flavia, her father as Dogger, and her mother as Mrs. Mullet.
KN: I must admit, I am a new Flavia fan. I enjoyed The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place so much I have now binge read/listened to the entire series from the beginning. By the way, the narrator, Jayne Entwistle is just fantastic! There is an incredible amount of information in each book. How long does it take to research one of your books? Do you squirrel away factoids for use “at some point” or is it a more focused practice?
Yes, Jayne is incredible. I recently had the opportunity of speaking to her “live” during an internet broadcast. I think we were both in tears of laughter and recognition!
Some of the facts in the Flavia books are titbits I’ve been saving up for years, while others come to light during research. Because I’m a great fan of ancient and outdated reference books, it’s often harder to decide what to leave out than what to put in. In general, it takes about nine months to a year to write each book, a substantial amount of which is research. It’s not always easy to find out, for instance, what the weather was like in England at a certain hour of a certain day in 1952, or whether the 10:32 from Waterloo ran on Sundays in November.
KN: I have read at first you thought this would be a six-book series, and then a ten-book series. Well, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place is book 9… Is book 10 in the works? Will that be the end of the series? (Please say no) Are there any plans for your next series?
In spite of reports to the contrary, I’m presently working on a tenth book. Beyond that? I don’t know. I’m sure my lovely publishers would be happy to continue, but, as Sherlock once so wisely remarked, “It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts.”
KN: Although the character of Flavia de Luce has certainly developed over the series, she has not really aged. She was 11 in Book 1: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and now in Book 9: The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place she is 12. It has been quite a year for the young girl! Is Flavia destined to be a pre-adolescent forever?
Flavia at 18, for instance, would be a completely different person than she is now, and perhaps not half so interesting. At any rate, there’s still much to be told about her present circumstances, and I’ve never been one for rushing things.
KN: As an author that really began to write in earnest after retirement and who published an award-winning novel after 70, what advice or words of encouragement (or words of warning) would you give to others who are just beginning their writing later in the game?
First of all, my heartiest congratulations to anyone who manages to get published at 60 and beyond! At that age, it seems unlikely that you’ll be changed: your life will be, but you won’t.
My best advice would be, as has been said so many times before, never give up. I was once told that real success takes ten years, but in my case, it took fifteen. To summarize: apply bottom to chair, write, and keep writing.
As Philip Van Doren Stern (author of the book that inspired the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”) once said, “The only thing that’s important is the manuscript. All the rest is just bubbles on the horse-piss.
Many thanks to Alan Bradley for taking time to answer our questions and to Sharon Propson from Random House Publishing for facilitating this interview.