Alan Bradley on the origins of the precocious young detective Flavia de Luce
Alan Bradley says he's what his mother would have called a "late bloomer." His third act began in his late 60s when he started to write his series of Flavia de Luce mystery novels. Millions of copies later, Bradley, now 80, is publishing his tenth book, The Golden Tresses of the Dead, the final book under contract in the series.
In the new book, precocious 12-year-old detective Flavia is back on the case when, at her sister's wedding reception, a severed human finger falls out of the elegant wedding cake.
Shelagh Rogers spoke to Bradley in 2013 about the origins of his wonderful young protagonist.
The making of Flavia de Luce
"I can't take credit for Flavia being alive because she was 11 when she first arrived on the page. Since I've gotten to know her, I have thought a lot about how 11 is a very important age. It's a cusp that is not puberty nor adulthood, and yet it's not childhood. Some of the things that come with that age are so intriguing. There is a sense of wonder I can remember from being 11. You are absolutely invincible. It's that age where you think that you can build a glider out of bed sheets and jump off the castle wall and you won't get hurt. You can do anything. There is no sense of being stifled by the world that comes so quickly once you get on a bit in school. So I certainly encourage people with 11 year olds to give them a lot more credit than they have been doing."
A daughter without a mother
"For Flavia, being motherless has been desperately sad and yet, at the same time, it has been the making of her. I think it's because she is left alone that she is allowed to flourish. She would never have the same kind of life or knowledge if she had been constantly organized by a parent.
"I was brought up by a single parent mother who had really the good sense to leave me completely alone. She encouraged me in the things that interested me, but she never tried to organize my life. I think I became aware as a student in public school that there were certain elements in the community who felt sorry for me and for my sisters that we didn't we didn't have two parents. Yet, to us, at the same time it was wonderful because we were allowed so much freedom."
The village of Bishop's Lacey
"[The setting] came with Flavia. It was a question of just turning her loose and letting her go out of doors and go into the village. It was just there as it was required. It materialized. It's a lot of fun to be allowed to spend the day writing in Bishop's Lacey because I can wander around looking over Flavia's shoulder and seeing what she sees. I know what's going on, but I'm not driving it. I'm not creating things. I'm just listening to Flavia as she speaks. She so often surprises me. I'm almost ashamed to admit that she makes me laugh out loud because I don't know what she's going to do or what she's going to say. She just does it and I laugh and jot it down on. My wife Shirley will be sitting in the next room or at the other end of the same room and she'll say, 'Flavia's just done something outrageous.'"
Alan Bradley's comments have been edited for length and clarity.