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Book Talk: Alan Bradley on young sleuths and TV series

By Noreen O'Donnell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alan Bradley was already in his mid-60s when he wrote the first of his Flavia de Luce mysteries, starring an almost 11-year-old amateur sleuth in the 1950s English countryside.

His fifth book, "Speaking From Among the Bones," was published last month, and he is already working on next one.

Bradley is also developing the series for television with Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, who won raves for his films "Revolutionary Road" and "American Beauty."

The 74-year-old author spoke to Reuters from his home on the Isle of Man about the TV series and writing mysteries.

Q: How did you ever come up with your character Flavia de Luce? Why did you make her an almost 11-year-old chemist whose particular passion is poison?

A: Flavia just materialized. I can't really take any credit for her at all. She was presented to me on a platter so to speak. I was trying to write another mystery novel, and Flavia just appeared on the page and completely hijacked my book. And it took me a long time to realize that she wanted her own book. She came absolutely complete with all of her characteristics, her enthusiasms, her house, her family, her chemical lab - all of that was presented to me.

Q: What can you reveal about the TV series? Did you imagine Flavia on the screen as you were writing?

A: No, no I didn't. I think I write visually anyway, but I have resisted for years any offers of Flavia becoming a film or TV series. I really thought that unless absolutely the perfect producer came along that it would not be very well done. And I really thought that Flavia was better left to the imagination than embodied in a real person. But I must admit that when I heard that Sam Mendes had read the books and loved them, I changed my mind ... I don't think there's anybody on the planet who's better equipped to turn Flavia into a TV series.

Q: Why did you write about an ancient country house somewhere in England when you had never been to England?

A: I grew up in a very British family who had been transplanted to Canada, and my grandmother's house was filled with English books. I was a very early reader so I was really brought up being surrounded with piles of British books and British newspapers, British magazines. I developed a really great love of England. I dreamed for years and years and years of going to England, flying to England for some reason, but I would always wake up before I got there. But I never really had an opportunity to go to England and I was beginning to think that I never would. But when the first book won the Dagger Award and I was whisked off to London, it literally was a dream come true.

Q: Why do you think mysteries are so satisfying?

A: They fill in the blanks. They allow people to exercise their minds and try to solve a puzzle. They allow people to compete with the author and with other readers. Who can be the first to solve it? They're a good recreation, a form of a puzzle that lasts and lasts and lasts, and a puzzle that you can do again and again.

Q: What pushed you to write a novel? You had a very long career.

A: I had always wanted to. I had thought for years, probably 30 or 40 years, that it would be a lot of fun to try my hand at a classic English mystery novel ... I love that form very much because the reader is so familiar with all of the types of characters that are in there that they already identify with the book.

They feel that they know who the vicar is and they know who the squire is that owns the country house and, of course, they know the village policeman. You don't really have to do a lot of work to immerse them totally in the story ... And as many people have said, it's always easy to tell the murderer in a village mystery because he's the only person that is from outside the village, which I suppose is true to some extent.

Q: Did you worry that adults might not want to read a book about an 11-year-old detective?

A: No, that never occurred to me because Flavia was so interesting. She had such adult preoccupations that I thought that she was probably interesting to older people. She was certainly interesting to me. And I felt that she would appeal to people who had the same kind of mind that I do, that's kind of a jackdaw mind that loves collecting all kinds of curious, shiny objects and strange facts and putting it all together. And as it turned out, that was correct, those are the sorts of people who love the Flavia books.

Q: Whatever happened to the novel that you were writing when Flavia appeared?

A: Oh dear, not much. Flavia and one other character were all that survived of it to date. I might go back to it someday.

(This story has been fixed to corrects the author's first name to Alan from Adam in the headline and the lead)

(Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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