Alan Bradley - March 2010

 
Alan Bradley
Alan Bradley is a Canadian author with a penchant for crime.  He has written children's stories, taught screenwriting and television production.  He has collaborated on a book, Ms Holmes of Baker Street, which posits that the Great Detective is, in fact, a woman.  Where could such a talented person take his genius?  Why to the England of the 1950's and the mind of an eleven year old girl named Flavia de Luce.  Flavia is a chemistry prodigy who is afflicted with sisters and rather blessed in family retainers.  She is also somehow always falling into murders.  Flavia's first adventure, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (now in paperback from Bantam) was first published last year and took the mystery reading world by storm.  It won the Debut Dagger Award
The second Flavia adventure, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag (Delacorte Press) is out today (March 9).
 
Sara:   
 Are you yourself a philatelist?  If so, do you have a favorite stamp?
 
 
Alan:
I collected stamps as a boy. As you may have guessed, my favorite stamp is the Penny Black. Patrick Hamilton, the author of "Gaslight" and "Hangover Square" once wrote a book called "British Stamps" in which he outlined the 
almost pathological fears of the British Post Office that their stamps would be forged or - heaven forbid! - that the cancellation marks would be erased and the stamps reused. This, I think, was my inspiration for "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie".
 
Sara:    
  I absolutely adore the American hardcover design of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie".  The size and lack of dust jacket makes it feel very much like a 1950's era novel.  I'm sure that the British edition is somewhat different.  Do you have a design preference between them?
Alan:
T
he American (Doubleday) edition was designed by Catherine Leonardo, with cover art by Joe Montgomery, and I'm absolutely in love with it. Publishing tradition holds that a book should never - ever! - have a green cover, and I'm eternally grateful that the incredible team at Doubleday are capable of thinking outside the box.
It's one of the things I love about them. The UK edition, from Orion Books, is more of a traditional blood red, but then the philosophy of book design in the UK and Europe is quite different than it is in the US.

I like both of them, but with Flavia now forthcoming in twenty-six languages besides English, and each one with a different cover, it's hard to pick just one.
 
 Sara:   
Do you have any literary guilty pleasures?
Alan:
I find it's very difficult to read other people's fiction when you're writing your own. It derails you. That said, I used to read anything by Stephen King I could get my hands on. I still think that technically he's one of the greatest writers that America has produced. He has a way with characters, and especially disadvantaged characters,
that has seldom, if ever, been equalled. I'm waiting for him to get through mainstream horror and to write the Great American Novel about the Civil War. Please, Mr. King?
 
Sara:    
 What is your favorite zoo animal?
Alan:
Humans. The other animals don't belong in a zoo.
 
Sara:    
  Would you trust Flavia around your kitchen?
Alan:
I'd be mighty wary. In the "Ignorance is bliss" department, the adults in Flavia's life haven't the faintest idea how truly dangerous she is.
 
Sara:    
Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
 
Alan:
No. I wish I did, but I don't have the time. I'd like to have a first rate collection of early British stamps, but it isn't likely to happen.
A very kind gentleman named Jonathan Topper brought a fine selection of Penny Blacks to my book signing at Murder by the Book in Houston.
If I was too gobsmacked to thank him properly, I'd like to do so now.
 
Sara:    
 Who were your favorite authors growing up?
 
Alan:

Many of those long-forgotten people who wrote for Chums, the British boy's magazine and annual: tales of pirates, school life, dirt-track racing, fantastic aviation, and life in the grizzly-haunted wilds of British Columbia. 
S. Walkey, Captain Frank H. Shaw, and Hylton Cleaver are some of the names that spring to mind.
I was an early reader, and I remember my grandmother lending me a copy of Dorothy L. Sayers' "Busman's Honeymoon" not long after I started school. My favorite book? "The History of Funeral Directing in America", which a local undertaker had donated to the town
library. My grandmother ordered the librarian to give me an adult card so that I could borrow it. As a teenager: Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Robert Lewis Taylor. By the time I got to high school I'd read my way through the local library and had begun to acquire my own.



Sara:
Do your cats help or hinder the writing process?
 
Alan:
Absolutely. Besides keeping me company, they also remind me when it's time to take a break: when it's time to eat and when it's time to pay homage. I can't imagine a home without at least one cat.
 
Sara:    
Which of the great detective's cases is your favorite?  (As an aside, Nancy Springer has a charming children's series about Sherlock's younger sister Enola.  I rather fancy that she and Flavia would get along well if they could have met.)
Alan:
"The Case of the Blue Carbuncle" I think, because it's set in an English winter, and at Christmas. Conan Doyle does weather superbly. When he describes (or doesn't describe) a cab splashing from the Oxford Street end of Baker Street, you find yourself looking down to see if your feet are as wet
as they feel.

I haven't yet read Nancy Springer's books, but I'll keep an eye out for them. Years ago, I co-wrote (with the late Dr.
William A.S. Sarjeant) a book called "Ms. Holmes of Baker Street" in which we hoped to have proved conclusively that the Great Detective was a woman, perhaps named Shirley. So Enola is no surprise.
 
 
Sara:    
 What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
Alan:
It's a toss-up between the Qu'Appelle Valley in southern Saskatchewan and M'dina, "The Silent City" in Malta. The former, seen from a train in the early morning, made you think you'd been dropped into Happy Valley in "Mickey and the Beanstalk", the latter, that you'd been reincarnated in the Middle Ages.
Oh, yes - and I mustn't forget driving through the mountains in British Columbia - and through Pennsylvania - and upstate New York. Come to think of it, almost everywhere I've been has been beautiful - particularly Buckshaw and Bishop's Lacey.
Comments