Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Mystery master Alan Bradley on what's behind curtain #3

The author of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Alan Bradley is the author of the novel As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. (Jeff Bassett)

Since 2009, Alan Bradley has been spending a lot of his time trailing a precocious girl sleuth named Flavia de Luce. On his seventh novel in the internationally bestselling series, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, Alan took a moment out of his crime-solving schedule to explain how and why he writes.

Below, Alan Bradley answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. 

1. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Why do you write?"

I'm incapable of not writing.

2. Shani Mootoo asks, "Do you find that you are influenced in any aspect of your writing by other art forms? If so, which and how. If not, why not?"

I'm profoundly influenced by all of the arts. Music, painting and poetry play prominent parts in the Flavia de Luce novels — and I'm not speaking only of the titles. I've often wondered why, since the forms are identical, no one has ever written a novel conforming metrically to one of the Mozart symphonies or piano concertos.

3. Frances Itani asks, "Describe a walk that would and could feed your imagination and your writing. In what part of the world would this walk take place?"

A walk along the Thames raises spectres of all its many ages in history, from Roman to recent. The very soil clinging to your shoes is the DNA of the city of London, and contains all things, past and present. Nowhere on earth, I think, is the "then" so much a part of the "now," and vice versa.

4. Kim Thuy asks, "Doctors are often the worst patients. Are writers better readers, or worse?"

In my experience, writers are excellent readers. Like great conductors picking up a musical score for the first time, they see at once the crochets and the semiquavers, the nuts and the bolts, the strengths and the weaknesses.

5. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your worst writing habit?"

Procrastination — which isn't really a writing habit, but a non-writing habit. But once I get started, my habits are as pure as the driven snow. I usually begin work at about 4:30 a.m. so that when I slack off later and have a nap, I can feel all self-righteous about having completed my day's work.

6. Pasha Malla asks, "Please quote one egregiously stupid criticism — either specific or general — of your writing, and address, refute or mock it." 

"Egregiously stupid" is the perfect phrase to describe those inevitable and tiresome critics who begin by dreaming up what to them is a clever headline, and then writing a review to justify their own incredible, narcissistic wit. Fortunately, readers are on to them.

7. Eric McCormack asks: "Honestly, what does your writing tell you — both the good and the bad — about yourself?"

The act of writing reveals attitudes and opinions — both good and bad — that one never realized one harboured. I am sometimes surprised at how romantic — or how harsh — I am capable of being. It's uncomfortably like being on one of those dreadful quiz shows in which you're confronted with whatever tasteless horror lies behind curtain #3.

8. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"

None. I suspect this might be a character defect.