As you know, I was a little underwhelmed by yesterday’s James Patterson interview. Tonight’s encounter, between M.C. Beaton and Stuart MacBride, more than made up for it, however – with both authors proving an engaging presence.
I love M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books. They make me laugh, make me cry – and make me want to move to the Cotswolds. I’m yet to watch the TV series, however: even though I’m a fan of Ashley Jensen, she isn’t how I picture Agatha, but I remain a Beaton aficionado. The elegant octogenarian is equally famous, of course, for her Hamish MacBeth books – although she gets cross, she told us, when people describe her work as “cosy crime”.
Stuart MacBride is the No. 1 Sunday Times best-selling author of the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels. He has also published standalones, novellas and short stories, as well as a children’s picture book.
Both authors are Scottish, although Beaton divides her time between France and the Cotswolds. Why, despite it being a small country, are Scotland’s books popular all over the world? “It has a romantic image that people love”, offered Beaton, while MacBride highlighted “the Scots’ subversive nature, which Hamish has. Whatever you tell the Scots to do, they will do the opposite”.
Whilst proud of their Scottish heritage, neither author describes themselves as a Scottish writer. “I’m a British writer”, M.C. Beaton stated, emphatically, pointing out that she lives in France and does not believe in Scottish nationalism: “I think they’re crazy. Growing up, I never understood it”. MacBride was more circumspect, commenting that he refuses to be told what to believe or how to vote – so never comments publicly himself, despite being frequently asked what side of the Brexit and Scottish independence debates he’s on: “But I do vote”.
With the pressing political issues of the day out of the way, the conversation moved on to where these much-loved authors source their ideas from. Beaton had the audience in stitches as she explained that she never runs out of ideas: “There are so many people one would like to murder”. Elaborating, she told us how she went on a cruise “…but I didn’t want to kill anyone. What a waste of money!” The Orient Express, on the other hand, proved a fertile source of inspiration.
Ever the pragmatist, MacBride responded that he scribbles his ideas down on post-it notes as & when they come to him.
The duo have mixed feelings about TV. Beaton told us that she “regrets” the Hamish MacBeth series, describing it as “dreadful. They insisted on trying to bring out Hamish’s dark side, even though I told them that he doesn’t have one. Middle Britain doesn’t want to have to rush its children out of the room and up to bed when the series comes on!” Having received no payments whatsoever for repeats or residuals, Beaton was gratified when the TV company went bust three years ago: “There is a God”.
However, on the subject of Ashley Jensen’s portrayal of Agatha Raisin (having been asked by an audience member “Isn’t she too young and pretty?”) Beaton responded: “She is an accomplished actress and she captures Agatha’s spirit and her vulnerability. And you never get exactly what you want, even if you choose an actress the same age as Agatha”. Hmm. I understand Beaton’s argument, but can’t help feeling that this would have been a golden opportunity for an older (and I use that word advisedly) actress. Giving the role to an actress 20 years younger than Agatha Raisin is hardly striking a blow for feminism.
For his part, Stuart MacBride refuses to sell his book rights to any TV companies: “I keep being told how wonderful the TV productions would be and then they send me appalling scripts where everything’s been changed – including the characters”.
Will there be another Hamish MacBeth book? As one audience member commented, the last one seemed terribly final. Beaton reassured us that she intends to continue writing about the character but that the past year has been a tough one: “My husband died, and I was left with a table of unpaid bills and taxes to sort out”. For the time being, she intends to continue living in France, but says she is saddened by how much it has changed. “The Champs Elysées, for example, has become so commercialised. And the level of racism across the country is shockingly high”.
Stuart MacBride has no plans to leave Aberdeen, where he has lived since the age of two – and chuckled when asked how people react to his “bleak” portrayal of the city. “I’ve lived there so long that I can get away with it. You can make fun of your own home town, but not of anyone else’s”.
Hear hear. I grew up in Bromley: much maligned across the U.K, but which will forever hold a special place in my heart (and it did produce David Bowie, Richmal Crompton and HG Wells, so it can’t be all bad).
I doubt M.C. Beaton and Stuart MacBride have ever been to Bromley, although thinking about it, maybe they should. I don’t doubt that Beaton would find someone there she wanted to murder. If this 90 minute encounter hadn’t come to an end when it did, I might even have suggested it. For now, however, we will have to content ourselves with murders in the far more scenic Cotswolds and Highlands.