An interview with mystery author Alan Bradley, creator of the Flavia de Luce series
Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries revolve around an 11-year-old girl English girl with a predilection for poisons and a talent for solving murders in the early 1950s. She's an utterly delightful character, and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is the sixth book to feature Flavia, her family (of the nobility, but cash-poor) and the people of the nearby and fully fictional town of Bishop's Lacey. The award-winning series has also been optioned for television by director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty.")
Bradley was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to chat with us a bit about the latest book, Flavia, writing, and the series' future.
How did you develop a character like Flavia? Did she come to you fully formed, or did other ideas that became part of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (the first Flavia book) end up leading you to her?
That's a very perceptive question. I suppose ideas that had been simmering for years came together and led me to Flavia (what a nice way of putting it!) but once materialised, she sprang, as Athena was said to have done from the brow of Zeus, fully formed, complete with family, home and history.
Why did you choose to center a series on an 11-year-old girl with a predilection for poisons and chemistry? Also, does her age allow for some interesting contradictions, like one which occurred in the most recent book in which she had plans to use chemicals to do the absolutely impossible — something that you wouldn’t otherwise expect of her, but that the emotions of an 11-year-old propelled her to contemplate and almost try to accomplish?
I don't think I made the choice to have Flavia be eleven, but I realised that it's the perfect age for a sleuth. An eleven year old girl is perfectly invisible: no one pays her the slightest attention.
An awful lot of murders have occurred in and around the fictitious town of Bishop’s Lacey in Flavia’s 11th year, which has culminated with some unexpected revelations in the most recent book, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Do all those murders somehow connect back to the new information with which Flavia will begin her 12th year?
I believe they prepare Flavia for her future. Each crime has taught her something about murder, about detection, and about herself.
How many more books do you think Flavia has in her?
There are presently ten planned. We have just announced the title of the seventh book: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust.
Will we learn more not only about Flavia, but the rest of her family — her Aunt Felicity, her father, her sisters, and her mother — as the series progresses? Are there more secrets to be told and can you hint at any?
Discovering our family's secrets is a never-ending process. Most of us never live long enough to learn them all.
How much research goes into each book and how do you decide what chemical processes Flavia will encounter? What’s been the most fun to learn about so far?
I do a huge amount of research into the chemistry of each book. Because I know nothing whatsoever about the subject, it's always fresh and exciting.
You’re originally from Canada. While there’s never a requirement for a writer to write about their environs or their own time, why did you choose to set the books in post-war England? And not to reveal too much about the current book, but why did you decide on a potential change of place for the future books in the series?
I was brought up by a family of British expats in Canada during the 1940's and '50's. England always seemed a kind of remote and idyllic Shangri-La. Flavia's world has continued to expand with each book, and the seventh is no exception.
Have you always been a fan of mysteries? Are there any particular authors whose work influences yours?
Yes, I've read and enjoyed mysteries since I was a child and read my way through our small-town library. Particular influences were Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of course!) and that whole tribe of now-forgotten writers who dreamed up endless adventure for the British boy's annuals, such as Chums, the Scout, and the Boys Own Annual.
What is the appeal of writing a mystery?
Creating a credible and consistent world: one in which the wicked get their come-uppance.
I’ve seen the Flavia de Luce series referred to as a cult series, but it’s an unusual one, in that it holds a broad appeal, for everyone from young adult to adult readers. It could easily be part of an early education in mysteries for a young reader, and I think would lead beautifully into reading classic Agatha Christie. Was this broad appeal intentional?
I have never thought of the Flavia books as being written to appeal to any particular age group. I originally had an adult audience in mind, but quickly discovered that I was writing for readers of any age who enjoyed that particular kind of book, whatever their age. In general, I'm anti-genre, other than appealing to readers who enjoy the sort of books that I enjoy.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
My advice? Don't ever give up: sit, write, sell.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Having a front-row seat as the characters come alive on the page.
And yes, I’m greedy in asking this, since I just finished The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, but when is the next Flavia book set to appear?
Publication is planned for early (probably January) 2015.
Thank you again!
The first in the Flavia de Luce series. Just start it -- if you enjoy being thoroughly entertained by a mystery, you'll be charmed and you'll then blaze your way through the remainder of the series.
Number 5 in the series and this one has a humdinger of an ending that leads straight into The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches -- but not how you would expect.
Stephanie Mangino loves interviewing authors of fiction, cookbooks, craft and home and garden titles. If you're an author who'd like to be interviewed please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.