Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Author Snapshot: Alan Bradley

Most recent book: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Born: Toronto, Ontario
Reside: Kelowna, British Columbia
Birthday: October 10th
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
London, England.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Squeeze in a visit to all of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s remaining churches. That’s a church an hour.

What food do you love?
Egg salad sandwiches.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

What’s on your nightstand?
Conceit, by Mary Novik, and The Frozen Thames, by Helen Humphreys.

What inspires you?
What Peter Ackroyd (and others) have called “Albion” -- the idea of England as part of the collective imagination. Ackroyd wrote: “I truly believe that there are certain people to whom or through whom the territory, the place, the past speaks .... Just as it seems possible to me that a street or dwelling can materially affect the character and behaviour of the people who dwell in them, is it not also possible that within this city (London) and within its culture are patterns of sensibility or patterns of response which have persisted from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and perhaps even beyond?”

By observing myself, I can see that this sense extends not only throughout time, but through geographical space; that I am linked to England by more than genetics.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the second book in the Flavia de Luce series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. And begun work on the third.

Tell us about your process.
For me, inspiration springs from the thinking process. I might be ploughing through a rather dry old chemistry text, when I spot a certain suggestive phrase, such as “the egg shell will now be seen to assume a reddish tint,” and I think -- or rather Flavia thinks -- “Aha!”

As others have pointed out, plot springs from character, and character springs from plot, and they both spring from that kind of book-browsing inspiration. It’s rather like the recycling symbol: a circle of arrows that recycles, in itself, the idea of the alchemical Ouroboros, or Uroboros: the snake that swallows its own tail.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
Two cats cuddling, one teakettle boiling.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I began a novel at the kitchen table when I was five, but never got much past the first couple of paragraphs.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

Reading books. For years I longed to be a theatre projectionist, but now I’ve done that.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
The moment when The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie won the Debut Dagger Award.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The actual writing -- and the research.

What’s the most difficult?
Forcing myself to stop researching and get writing.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?

“Do you actually get paid for doing this?”

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
“Would you be willing to provide a good home for a Steinway concert grand and a complete collection of Chums annuals?”

Please tell us about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
It’s a book about how far youthful idealism can carry you if it’s not stamped out, as it so often is. And besides that, I like to think that it’s a rattling good mystery, too -- the sort of book that makes you feel better when you’ve finished than you did when you started.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
That I share, with hawks, the ability to see into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum (at least, with one eye).

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Blogger Mary Novik said...

What clever, inspiring answers! Now I really have to dash out and get Sweetness! I've also discovered there's a Flavia fan club at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 8:35:00 AM PST  

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