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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

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Good things come to those who wait. Alan Bradley is 71 but his second Flavia de Luce novel was recently released and he now lives in Malta. We could also add that his six-book series of Flavia mysteries has been sold to dozens of publishers around the world and his inventive plots and intriguing characters have been widely praised by critics and booksellers.

But when I ask what’s changed for him over the past 12 months, the Canadian author, rather modestly, replies: "Well, I’m learning to touch type. My wife, Shirley, is teaching me."

In reality, many things have changed for Bradley, who only took up full-time writing in 1994 after a career in radio and TV, and teaching. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie put him on the mystery map in 2009 and the just-released The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag is already proving to be a successful follow-up. He has toured across North America, signed thousands of books, charmed countless journalists and faces much more of the same in 2010.

"It’s been an amazing 12 months," he said. "I visited Murder by the Book in Houston, one of the top specialist mystery bookshops in the States, and they had 800 copies of Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie for my appearance but they sold out before I arrived. They said Sweetness was their all-time bestseller. The reviews were wonderful and supportive. When talking about Flavia, people use the word love and not just like. People seem quite devoted to her."

Alan BradleyBradley’s heroine is a precocious, chemistry-obsessed 11-year-old girl, who lives in a crumbling manor house in a post-World War II English village. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag was almost complete when his debut novel hit the bookshelves but he finished it after moving from his home in Kelowna in western Canada to the Mediterranean.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag revolves around the arrival of a famous puppeteer in the village of Bishop’s Lacey, where Bradley’s stories are set.  The plot moves along briskly but almost everything hinges on the inquisitive ways of the young de Luce as she unravels the mystery while tangling with two older sisters and a pushy aunt.

"The third book will be called A Red Herring without Mustard and it will be published in spring 2011," said Bradley. "I’ve written 70,000 words, so that’s about three-quarters of the way through it."

Setting his stories in England in 1950 means Bradley’s books go through extensive fact-checking. He had to provide documentary evidence for every real-life factual reference in the book. "I have had a wonderful group of copy editors working on the books," he said.

He has faced the problem of whether to age his 11-year-old heroine in a realistic way or simply freeze her in time. "I’ve thought about this and the books wouldn’t work without the charm of an 11-year-old," the author said. "If she was 12 or 13 then it just wouldn’t work. There is a series of six books and I have a general theme for each one."


More about the author in our first Alan Bradley interview.