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M.C. BEATON on Raisin, Macbeth & Others

Written by Sue Lord

MC Beaton

 M.C. Beaton out sold JK Rowling on AbeBooks last year, but if you passed her in the street you probably would have no idea who she was. She says, "Not many people know who I am and I do like it that way. If it weren't for my cheerful and outgoing husband I might turn into a recluse."

The mysteries are written under her own name, Marion Chesney, she also writes Regency romances and has written under a variety of other pseudonyms: Sarah Chester, Helen Crampton, Ann Fairfax, Marion Gibbons, Jennie Tremaine, and Charlotte Ward.

M.C. Beaton is the pseudonym she uses for her mystery novels. She was born in Glasgow in 1936, and her first job was as a bookseller. She has been a fashion editor and a reporter. She has lived in Virginia where she worked as a waitress and New York where she began to write Regency romances.

M. C. Beaton writes the Hamish Macbeth mysteries (starting with Death of a Gossip 1985). She is also the author of the Agatha Raisin series (starting with Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death 1992) She lives in a Cotswolds cottage (mid-west England) with her husband, journalist Harry Scott.

 

In my research I found it difficult to find exactly how many books you have written. How many is it?

 I do not know how many books I have written but it must be somewhere over 160.

 

 Were there books in your home when you were a child? Did either of your parents write?

 My parents were both avid readers.  One of my earliest memories when I was ill was of my mother trotting along the garden path with two string bags bulging with books.

 

 Your first book was a Regency romance written when you were living in New York. What year was it? Why did you pick the Regency era?

 I started writing my first Regency – Regency Gold – in New York in 1978.  My mother was a great fan of the Regency period and so I read all Georgette Heyer’s novels, Arthur Bryant’s Age of Elegance, Edith Sitwell’s Beau Brummel, Philip Guedella’s The Duke (Duke of Wellington).  I started reading the Georgette Heyer imitators and complained to my husband that the history was wrong and the speech was wrong, and he urged me to write one.

 

 Many writers have published romance before turning to crime. Why do you think this is?

 Crime was intimidating and belonged to the greats like Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie, but then I noticed people were beginning to read old detective stories because at that time, the 1980s, there was nothing really between the Booker Prize type and Mills & Boone.Crime was intimidating and belonged to the greats like Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie, but then I noticed people were beginning to read old detective stories because at that time, the 1980s, there was nothing really between the Booker Prize type and Mills & Boone.

 

 You went to Sutherland on a holiday and were inspired to write the first Hamish Macbeth story. Why did you decide on a mystery?

 I was inspired to write the first detective story in Sutherland because I and my husband, Harry and son, Charlie were learning to fly cast for salmon at a fishing school in Lochinver. As I read nothing but detective stories – the brain is like a computer, it can’t put out what you don’t put in – and here were eleven people in the fishing school in the weird and magnificent scenery of Sutherland, that it all seemed a classic setting for a detective story. I was inspired to write the first detective story in Sutherland because I and my husband, Harry and son, Charlie were learning to fly cast for salmon at a fishing school in Lochinver. As I read nothing but detective stories – the brain is like a computer, it can’t put out what you don’t put in – and here were eleven people in the fishing school in the weird and magnificent scenery of Sutherland, that it all seemed a classic setting for a detective story.

 

 When you moved to the Cotswolds you started Agatha Raisin. Is a sense of place of uppermost importance to your writing?

 When we moved to the Cotswolds because we thought our son was going to Oxford – he went to Cambridge – I fell in love with the place and the people.  A sense of place is very important.When we moved to the Cotswolds because we thought our son was going to – he went to – I fell in love with the place and the people.A sense of place is very important.

 

 You write two books a year. Where do you find the energy and inspiration?

 As an ex-reporter I write very quickly and there are always ideas all about, like what people say, stories in the newspapers, or, in the case of Agatha, an on-going irritation with political correctnessAs an ex-reporter I write very quickly and there are always ideas all about, like what people say, stories in the newspapers, or, in the case of Agatha, an on-going irritation with political correctness.

 

 Where do you write? What is your room like? Do you use a PC?

 My office is a mess.  I write at a small computer desk next to the window but I can’t get much of a view because I broke the Venetian blind and can’t get around to fixing it.  There are books everywhere. My keyboard is covered in ash.  In fact the whole room looks as if it’s been recently burgled.My office is a mess.I write at a small computer desk next to the window but I can’t get much of a view because I broke the Venetian blind and can’t get around to fixing it.There are books everywhere. My keyboard is covered in ash.In fact the whole room looks as if it’s been recently burgled.

 

 What would you do if you couldn’t write?

 What would I do if I could not write?  I’m getting pretty old.  I might stock shelves at Tesco’s or some type of job where I wouldn’t have to think.  The curse of the Scottish work ethic is that I always feel I have to be working.What would I do if I could not write?I’m getting pretty old.I might stock shelves at Tesco’s or some type of job where I wouldn’t have to think.The curse of the Scottish work ethic is that I always feel I have to be working.

 

 Will you ever retire?

 I’ll probably retire when I’m dead.I’ll probably retire when I’m dead.

 

 You say that you like people not knowing who you are. Why is that? Would you really like to be a recluse?

 I suppose I would like to be a recluse but then I would turn even weirder than I am.I suppose I would like to be a recluse but then I would turn even weirder than I am.

 

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island which two books would you take with you? As usual, for some reason, the Bible and Shakespeare are already there. 

If I were shipwrecked, I would take the old version of The Common Book of Prayer. Not that I’m religious. I just like the words. The second book would of course be something like How To Build Boat.

 

 How do you relax and what do you do when you are not writing?

 

 

 

 

 

I go out places with my husband, to Paris when we can manage – we rent a flat there – or go for lunch or potter about together. I read lots of detective stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a good cook?

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a plain cook.  My baking is lousy but I can produce a good roast pheasant – they’re very cheap around here in season – and a few other things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your books are popular in the United States. Why do you think this is?

 

 

 

 

 

My books are popular in the U.S. because the setting and stories supply an escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not many people like Agatha Raisin, she is an unpleasant woman, bossy bullying, arrogant and often unkind. Hamish Macbeth is not a particularly likeable character. Why do you think they work so well? 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, hold back there! I think Hamish is likeable. I think Agatha is the type you are not meant to like but want to win out in the end.  Any more remarks like that about Hamish and I’ll give you the Glasgow kiss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hate to ask this after the last question, but is there anything of you in Hamish or Agatha? Is she your alter ego?  

Agatha says all the things I would like to say but am too polite, but anymore cracks about Hamish and don’t depend on that last remark.

Describe your life in six words.

 

Content, happy, old, creaky, roller coaster, Glaswegian.   

  Snobbery with Violence book jacket








Snobbery with Violence published by Constable Robinson August 2010 paperback £6.99

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M.C. Beaton



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