The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan

Author Alan Bradley Finds Joy in Writing Flavia Series – 2014

An exclusive Authorlink interview with the author of
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte Press, 14 January 2014)

Columnist Anna Roins

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
by Alan Bradley

Buy this Book

The Flavia series is set in the fifties and is about an 11-year-old genius living in the bucolic English village of ‘Bishops Lacey’. Flavia de Luce has a voracious passion for chemistry, as well as solving local murder crimes. She lives with her brooding widowed father, and snippy elder sisters in a large family estate that is falling into disrepair. Each story features nostalgic aspects of post World War II Britain that we no longer see today; like travelling puppet shows, or gypsies or even old movie projectors.

Bradley’s series has been sold to publishers in 37 countries and been translated into 34 languages. It has received numerous awards including the Crime Writers’ Association – Debut Dagger Award and the Dilys Award.

The Flavia books will be turned into a BBC miniseries from the production house run by the acclaimed British director, Same Mendes (Skyfall), and produced by the same team that gave us Call the Midwife with an estimated airing date sometime in 2015.

Alan Bradley’s sixth book in the series, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches debuted at number six on the New York Bestseller list for Hardcover Fiction.

“Each mystery tends to arise naturally out of its unique setting.”

AUTHORLINK: Mr Bradley, thank you for joining us for this interview about The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, your sixth novel in the Flavia de Luce series. It was a wonderful read.

You have said in the past that it was not your original intention to write about an 11 year-old when you first set out to pen a novel of fiction. Flavia’s character just appeared “out of nowhere” and simply “hijacked” the story you were writing at the time. Other than reminding you a bit about yourself (as an 11 year-old) does she remind you of anyone else?

BRADLEY: No. Although I’ve met some remarkable 11 year-olds, none of them are Flavia. Flavia shares my limitless enthusiasm at that particular age, but that’s about the extent of it.

AUTHORLINK: How interesting. How do you deconstruct the murder-mystery element of each book? Did you check with writerly friends afterwards about the plausibility or not, of each mystery?

BRADLEY: Each mystery tends to arise naturally out of its unique setting. I’ve never consulted with friends about the means of murder, although I do have several kind and generous helpers who are always ready to review the chemical or medical details.

AUTHORLINK: They must be invaluable. Was it hard marketing this series to adults given that it’s a book about an 11 year-old girl? Do you think that most child-protagonists, to be interesting to adults, need to be of an exceptional intellect?

BRADLEY: Perhaps they do. The Flavia books were originally intended for an adult audience, but over the years have gathered a phenomenal following of all ages. Up until recently, readers ranged from 8 to 95, but I’ve just heard from a mother whose 5-year-old daughter is so keen on Flavia, and so knowledgeable, that their veterinarian has presented her with a microscope!

AUTHORLINK: That’s wonderful, good on her! You wanted the first six Flavia books to take place in her 11th year (which is a lot of dead bodies for that age!). You believe it’s an important age, a “cusp age” where one feels invincible. You once said that you “can imagine her [Flavia] at 70, but not 17.” Does that mean that you feel being 11 is closer to being 70 than any other age? Are there any child-protagonists in classic literature in your opinion that didn’t age well?

BRADLEY: 7 and 70 have a lot in common, particularly in the “caution to the winds” department. But Flavia’s eleven-ness is a huge part of her character. Literary children have never aged well. Mark Twain (as usual) put it best when he said that he would never allow Huckleberry Finn to age because he might become just another cheap swindler (or words to that effect).

“Writing Flavia is an indescribable joy, and I feel honoured to be allowed to spend all day looking over her shoulder, as it were.”

AUTHORLINK: Separate from the delight at being asked to write a further four books by the publisher is there a bit of anxiety involved, as well? How will these new books impact on the whole story arc of the series and the development of the Flavia character?

BRADLEY: No, there’s no anxiety whatsoever. Writing Flavia is an indescribable joy, and I feel honoured to be allowed to spend all day looking over her shoulder, as it were. The four additional books will continue to chronicle Flavia’s life, and perhaps to explore the parallel lives of some of the other characters.

AUTHORLINK: Your Flavia books will be turned into a BBC miniseries by the acclaimed British director, Sam Mendes of ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Skyfall’ fame. We understand you will have a notable input in its production. How important is it to you that they find the right actress to play Flavia?

BRADLEY: The right actress will be crucial, although I’m told that there’s such an astonishing amount of young talent now available that the real problem will be in narrowing down the choice to just one.

AUTHORLINK: Understandably. We can’t wait to see who will be selected! You questioned once whether children today had lost their sense of wonder about the world around them citing television, and computers as the possible culprits. Do you like to think your books remind parents to give their children the freedom to take more risks in their playtime?

BRADLEY: I’m really no expert on these matters, but I would hope that parents would continue to encourage and share enthusiasm with their children. It pleases me a great deal that families are reading the Flavia books aloud together, or listening together to the CD’s or audiobooks. Parents, though, should not underestimate the immense focusing power of children without computers and cell phones.

“I write every day unless I have a good reason not to. I like to start at about 4:30 a.m.”

AUTHORLINK: That is so very true. Do you write every day? Do you have a favourite room in which to write? Do you have time for any other hobbies given the extraordinary amount of research you do – and is your research largely localised on the net?

BRADLEY: I write every day unless I have a good reason not to. I like to start at about 4:30 a.m. when the world is quiet. And I like to write in bed because it’s comfortable. You can remember your childhood better in bed. My wife encourages this by sometimes bringing me breakfast in bed so that I can go smoothly from sleep to the writing state. Besides, being finished for the day by 8 a.m. allows me to go around feeling all self-righteous for the next 12 hours. It’s a wonderful feeling!

AUTHORLINK: Yes I can imagine. Twelve glorious hours to do anything you please! Your wife sounds like a gem. You once said, in words to the effect of that you, “intentionally chose chemistry as Flavia’s passion” because you didn’t know anything about it. Is there another area that Flavia will delve into as a consequence of attending Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy?

BRADLEY: If I said that, I didn’t quite mean it in that way. I didn’t choose chemistry: Flavia did. I’ve said, though, that I was grateful for her choice, since it was a subject that was mostly a mystery to me. Knowing nothing about it allowed me to approach the research with fresh, unjaded eyes, so that I could be as “gee-whiz” as Flavia is about the marvels of creation.

AUTHORLINK: That’s so interesting. Since selling your home in Kelowna, British Columbia in 2009, you and your wife Shirley have been spending time in various places where your books have been sold. Which has been your favourite place to live and why, and where would you like to live in the future?

BRADLEY: Since beginning the Flavia series, we have lived in Canada, Malta, and the Isle of Man, and all of them have provided us with precious memories. I have also travelled extensively in the U.S, Germany, the U.K., Norway, Croatia, and Poland, and will soon be doing a book tour in Finland.

There have been times when we thought we’d like to live in Ireland because of its literary resonances and multitude of bookshops, and perhaps one day we will. But for now, we’ve almost within walking-distance of the Mountains of Mourne, which is, in itself, remarkably inspiring. From where we live, it is said that you can see the Seven Kingdoms: Man, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, the Sea, and Heaven. What more could you ask than that?

AUTHORLINK: Nothing really! You’re living the dream. Do you have any thoughts about bad or good reviews? Do you allow negative feedback to bother you and if not, what is your advice on how to insulate oneself against them?

BRADLEY: No one has ever put it better than Richard Burton, who said that he never read his reviews because the good ones were never good enough and the bad ones were upsetting. You can never please everyone, and that’s a simple fact. No matter what you write, there are always going to be that 1 or 2 percent who loathe it. Ignore them and bask in the joy, the warmth and the love of the other 98 or 99 percent.

“I’m presently researching another series which is entirely apart from Flavia’s world . . .”

AUTHORLINK: Sage advice indeed. In relation to future projects, have you started on the seventh Flavia book as yet? After the Flavia series – or perhaps at the same time – do you plan on revisiting your first novel attempt about a woman called Lily Chant who worked for CBC television in the 50’s, or writing a book or series based on the Flavia series character, Adam Tradescant Sowerby, flora-archaeologist and investigator?

BRADLEY: Although it would be a lot of fun to go back and revisit the other characters, it’s really limited by the number of hours in the day. I’m presently researching another series which is entirely apart from Flavia’s world and mystery. Oh, and yes: I’m now well into the 7th Flavia mystery, which I expect will be published next January.

AUTHORLINK: Fantastic. We’re looking forward to reading it! Mr Bradley thank you once again for your time. We wish you further success in the future and look forward to watching the BBC production which will, no doubt, be a roaring success enjoyed by young and old alike.

About the Author:

Alan Bradley studied electronic engineering and worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, as well as Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto. He became the Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan, where he worked for twenty-five years teaching scriptwriting and television production as well as publishing his own works before taking early retirement in 1994

About Anna Roins:

Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor before she embarked in a career in writing six years ago. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to numerous articles on social and community issues. She has also edited a number of books, websites and dissertations, as well as continued studies in creative literature with the University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to Authorlink assigned to conduct interviews with bestselling authors. .