Today, the Femmes Fatales welcome Alan Bradley, author of the enormously popular Flavia de Luce mystery series that began with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Who's not in love with Flavia, the irrepressible 11-year-old in 1950s England with a passion for chemistry and murder? A femme fatale if there ever was one!
I first met Alan when we shared the podium at the famous St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Weekend in Oxford, U.K. The topic that year was "Stop, You're Killing Me: Humor in Crime Fiction." Alan gave a hysterical talk entitled "The Undertaker's Jest Book; or, I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady," which had the audience in stitches even as it examined the close relationship between tragedy and humor. I've been an Alan Bradley (and Flavia de Luce) fan ever since. -- Marcia
photo by Jeff Bassett, the National Post
If you’re anything like me, you spend your days and nights digging through ancient volumes and trolling the Internet to find out whether the ancient Greeks used trumpets (those of us who are old enough know, because of Cecil B. DeMille, that the Romans did, but did the Greeks? The answer is ‘yes,’ and it was called the salpinx); or whether early Eskimos used eye-liner, as did the dynastic Egyptians (yes, but only in the form of soot smeared inside sun goggles made of ivory, bone or elk antler); or whether poison ivy was ever grown in England.
Having ferreted out the facts, there will always come a day of reckoning by that chorus of critics whose sole function in life is to tell you that you are dead wrong, and you will discover that, as Plato said—or should have said—‘No trumpeter plays louder or more persistently than he who plays the false note.’
They will also demand that you confess your error without delay and incorporate their corrections in any and all subsequent editions.
Although there are several schools of thought about how to deal with these communications, they boil down to two: should you attempt to set them straight? Or ignore them?
Like all Libras, I’m a perfectly balanced person: indeed so much so that there are times that I’m completely immobilized, caught on the cusp of decision.
And so I’ve worked out a way of pleasing everyone, as we Libras spend our entire lives doing.
Nowadays, when I receive one of these accusatory fingers, I’m likely to reply with a prepared response: ‘Thanks for your fascinating communication. Your opinion is valuable to me.’
I do not, however, ask them to stay on the line. There’s little point in arguing outside the pages of a book.
Oh, and about that poison ivy: it was first imported in England from North America in the late 16th century as an ornamental shrub, but soon (and for obvious reasons) fell into disfavor. However, after a lapse of about 100 years, it began to be grown there again, this time for commercial purposes, such as in the manufacture of boot-blacking and indelible laundry-marking ink.
I might add that I’m both honored and proud to be asked by Femmes Fatales to make this guest appearance. Since a considerable number of Flavia’s readers are female—and, I should note, to be fair, a considerable number are male—it is as humbling to be offered a brief soapbox here in the same way as it was humbling to win an Agatha Award for the first Flavia novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be a femme fatale, and now I know.
Good cheer to everyone here!
The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches, the sixth of ten projected Flavia de Luce books, was published on January 14th by Delacorte Books/Random House. The Flavia mysteries have been optioned by producer/director Sam Mendes’s Neal Street Productions as a TV series for BBC Television, with an air-date of 2015.