Written by Alan Bradley
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
ISBN: 978-0-385-66584-1 (0-385-66584-9)
Pub Date: March 9, 2010
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Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce didn’t intend to investigate another murder — but then, Rupert Porson didn’t intend to die. When the master puppeteer’s van breaks down in the village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is front and centre to help Rupert and his charming assistant, Nialla, put together a performance in the local church to help pay the repair bill. But even as the newcomers set up camp and set the stage for Jack and the Beanstalk, there are signs that something just isn’t right: Nialla’s strange bruises and solitary cries in the churchyard, Rupert’s unexplained disappearances and a violent argument with his BBC producer, the disturbing atmosphere at Culverhouse Farm, and the peculiar goings-on in nearby Gibbet Wood — where young Robin Ingleby was found hanging just five years before.
It’s enough to set Flavia’s detective instincts tingling and her chemistry lab humming. What are Rupert and Nialla trying to hide? Why are Grace and Gordon Ingleby, Robin’s still-grieving parents, acting so strangely? And what does Mad Meg mean when she says the Devil has come back to Gibbet Wood? Then it’s showtime for Porson’s Puppets at St. Tancred’s — but as Nialla plays Mother Goose, Rupert’s goose gets cooked as the victim of an electrocution that is too perfectly planned to be an accident. Someone had set the stage for murder.
Putting down her sister-punishing experiments and picking up her trusty bicycle, Gladys, Flavia uncovers long-buried secrets of Bishop’s Lacey, the seemingly idyllic village that is nevertheless home to a madwoman living in its woods, a prisoner-of-war with a soft spot for the English countryside, and two childless parents with a devastating secret. While the local police do their best to keep up with Flavia in solving Rupert’s murder, his killer may pull Flavia in way over her head, to a startling discovery that reveals the chemical composition of vengeance.
21 Writerly Questions for Alan Bradley
1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
(The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag) “Death of a Giant.”
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
About a year.
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
At the computer keyboard – wherever it may be.
4. How do you choose your characters’ names?
I think about them a lot – make lists - reject many – and the others just seem to leap out at me. It’s always easier to recognize instantly what a character’s name isn’t than what it is. I’ve been known to change a character’s name at the last minute when I realize that it’s not precisely right.
5. How many drafts do you go through?
I tend not to work in drafts. The manuscript is one coherent document that is constantly being revised and polished: dynamic; forever changing. I might print it out 4 or 5 times, but that’s more for a bird’s-eye view than anything else.
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, whose component parts exist in several astonishingly different versions. His literary agent wrote that White had the power to make grown men cry, and it’s true.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
As Flavia? A complete unknown.
8. What’s your favourite city in the world?
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
William Shakespeare. “May I have your autograph?”
10. When do you write best, morning or night?
Very early morning – about 4 a.m.
11. Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript?
My wife, Shirley.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Years ago, it was Stephen King. Nowadays, it’s the Sunday papers from the UK.
13. What’s on your nightstand right now?
Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden; The Broken Teaglass, by Emily Arsenault; Still Alice, by Lisa Genova; The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon, Plato’s Republic (Benjamin Jowett translation).
14. What is the first book you remember reading?
Pinafore Palace by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It contained what is still one of my favourite poems:
The Owl and the Eel and the Warming-Pan
They went to call on the Soap-Fat Man.
The Soap-Fat man was not within:
He’d gone for a ride on his rolling pin.
So they all came back by way of the town
And turned the meeting-house upside down.
My sisters taught me to read before I went to kindergarten, and I think I went from Pinafore Palace to Little Men and Huckleberry Finn. One of my sisters had a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I occasionally dipped into. I didn’t understand it, but how I loved all those words! After Ulysses, I remember finding the Dick & Jane readers a crashing bore.
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, for as long as I can remember. I started my first novel when I was about five, but my older sisters teased me out of it. I don’t think I ever got past the first couple of paragraphs. A bit later, I used to fold a piece of notepaper in four to make a booklet, in which I would print and illustrate in pencil, little stories such as “The Adventures of Muddy the Turtle”. I would sell these miniature comic books to my younger cousins for five cents each, and I considered myself quite wealthy until their mother made me give them a refund.
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
Nothing. Computers, food and drink don’t mix.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
18. What do you wear when you write?
Something loose and comfy. As a writer, you want your blood in your brain, not in your toes. Long-sleeved BVD shirt and jogging pants, with sandals. (BVD, by the way, stands for Bradley, Voorhees and Day, who first manufactured them. No relation, but still one of the pinnacles of clothing design.)
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
Even a few trial paragraphs should demonstrate what works and what doesn’t. For a character-driven novel, first person is often the only choice. Third person is cool, first person is hot, and second person is a millstone around your neck.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
21. What is the best advice someone could give a writer?
Selected praise for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
“One of the hottest reads of 2009.”
— The Times (U.K.)
“Sure in its story, pace and voice, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie deliciously mixes all the ingredients of great storytelling. The kind of novel you can pass on to any reader knowing their pleasure is assured.”
— Andrew Pyper, acclaimed author of The Killing Circle
“A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we will be seeing Flavia again soon?”
— Laurie R. King, bestselling author of The Game
“Alan Bradley brews a bubbly beaker of fun in his devilishly clever, wickedly amusing debut mystery, launching an eleven-year-old heroine with a passion for chemistry — and revenge! What a delightful, original book!”
— Carolyn Hart, award-winning author of Death Walked In
“Alan Bradley’s marvelous book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is a fantastic read, a winner. Flavia walks right off the page and follows me through my day. I can hardly wait for the next book. Bravo.”
— Louise Penny, acclaimed author of Still Life
“The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an absolute treat. It is original, clever, entertaining and funny. Bradley, whose biography suggests he did not spend a great deal of time in 1950s rural England where his novel is set, has captured a moment in time perfectly.”
— Material Witness (e-zine)
“If ever there were a sleuth who’s bold, brilliant, and, yes, adorable, it’s Flavia de Luce, the precocious 11-year-old at the center of this scrumptious first novel… Her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and the loyal family retainer, Dogger, are among the book’s retinue of outstanding characters.”
— USA Today
“Oh how astonishing and pleasing is genuine originality! . . . I simply cannot recall the last time I so enjoyed being in the company of a first-person narrator…. This is a book which triumphantly succeeds in its objectives of charming and delighting. And on top of that it is genuinely original.”
— Reviewing the Evidence (e-zine)
“Like just about everybody else I've been reading — just finished reading, in fact — Alan Bradley’s altogether admirable The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It made me very happy, for all kinds of reasons: for its humour, for the wonderful invention of the 11-year-old chemist-detective Flavia de Luce, for its great attention to period detail, and mostly because it was so deft and assured, from top to tail.”
— CBC Radio host Bill Richardson, in The Globe and Mail
About this Author
Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. With an education in electronic engineering, Alan worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan, where he worked for twenty-five years before taking early retirement in 1994.
Bradley was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers, and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. His children’s stories were published in The Canadian Children’s Annual and his short story “Meet Miss Mullen” was the first recipient of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature.
For a number of years, Alan regularly taught scriptwriting and television production courses at the University of Saskatchewan. His fiction has been published in literary journals and he has given many public readings in schools and galleries. His short stories have been broadcast by CBC Radio, and his lifestyle and humour pieces have appeared in The Globe and Mail and The National Post.
Alan Bradley was also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings. There, he met the late Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant, with whom he collaborated on the classic book Ms. Holmes of Baker Street (1989). This work put forth the startling theory that the Great Detective was a woman, and was greeted upon publication with what has been described as “a firestorm of controversy.” As he’s explained in interviews, Bradley was always an avid reader of mysteries, even as a child: “My grandmother used to press them upon us when we were very young. One of the first books she gave me was Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Holiday. I was profoundly influenced by it.”
Upon retirement, Bradley began writing full time. His next book, The Shoebox Bible (2006), has been compared with Tuesdays With Morrie and Mister God, This is Anna. In this beautiful memoir, Bradley tells the story of his early life in southern Ontario, and paints a vivid portrait of his mother, a strong and inspirational woman who struggled to raise three children on her own during tough times.
In July of 2007, Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award from the British Crime Writers’ Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009), based on a sample that would become the first novel in a series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. As Bradley has explained, it was the character of Flavia that inspired him to embark upon the project: “I started to write The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in the spring of 2006. Flavia walked into another novel I was writing as an incidental character, and she hijacked the book. Although I didn’t finish that book, Flavia stuck with me.” The Dagger award brought international attention to Bradley’s fiction debut, and Sweetness and the additional novels planned for the series will be published in twenty-eight languages and in more than thirty countries.
Alan Bradley lives in Malta with his wife Shirley and two calculating cats. He is currently working on the third novel starring Flavia de Luce, A Red Herring Without Mustard.
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