Q & A with Alan Bradley

Septuagenarian (and Canadian) publishing phenomenon Alan Bradley is ready to launch the second book in his Flavia de Luce series, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, featuring his precocious 11-year-old detective. Since writing the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, at the age of 69, Bradley has signed a six-book deal and been published in 31 countries. Zoomer talked to the author from his home in Malta, where he now lives with his wife and two cats.

ATHENA McKENZIE- PARKIN: Much has been made of the age at which you started writing the Flavia de Luce series. How long did you think about writing a mystery novel?
ALAN BRADLEY: I’ve thought about writing a mystery for a very long time. I’ve told the story so many times about beginning to write a novel when I was I about five or six years old. I’d had one of those years with a constant string of illnesses that kept me home and confined to bed and just to keep me occupied my sisters taught me to read. By the time I went to kindergarten, I was reading novels that we had in the house. It had always struck me that I would really like to write my own book. I thought what better person to write a book that would interest one than to write it yourself. I didn’t get much farther than the first couple of paragraphs. I think they teased me out of it and I quit and gave it up for something like 65 years.

AMP:You’ve said that in the beginning, Flavia’s character appeared in your head and refused to be ignored. Now that you are working on the third book is it easier to channel her voice?
AB: I wouldn’t call it channeling because Flavia is not dead- she is very much alive. She keeps me on my toes. It is easier in that I know more about her now. The first book I was somewhat disbelieving of the things that Flavia was telling me. As a writer, it was interesting to watch her develop because an eleven-year-old has to be fairly articulate if you are going to command an adult audience.

AMP: What do you say to people that think these are children’s books?
AB: There has been some discussion about it, particularly in the United States – not so much in Canada – and particularly amoung librarians. And it’s quite often related to, “where do we shelve this book?’ People really need to know physically if they put it in Young Adult or in Adult. I think it has been confusing somewhat because it’s definitely aimed at adults but the protagonist is 11. But at the same time, I’ve heard from people all over the world, ranging in age from ten to 95, who have loved the first book. So I’ve just begun to believe that perhaps it is a good cross-over.

AMP: Is that a consideration with the subject matter, because some of it is a bit darker?
AB: The plan for the series is that as the books go along, they do become darker and somewhat more convoluted. The first book is about the house and the family, the second book expands into the village and we have an opportunity to meet more of the people that live in Bishop’s Lacey and their backgrounds and the third book expands further. But it will never go outside of the village. We’re not ever going to have a book where Flavia goes to Paris or on an undersea adventure.

AMP: Will she stay 11 over the course of the series?
AB: More or less. She will grow a little bit older as the series goes along. But not too much. The reason for that is that I want her to be older than 11 before I inflict the sixth book upon her.