Last weekend Stirling hosted ‘Bloody Scotland’, Scotland’s first international crime-writing festival. And this year – fan-girl alert – the programme included M C Beaton! Now, I’ve never read any Hamish MacBeth stories and ‘Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death’ did nothing for me. But M C Beaton has also written over a hundred historical novels, most of them under the name Marion Chesney. Many years ago, a friend told me that this was her favourite author, so I tried unsuccessfully to find anything by her. This was in pre-internet days, and I asked in every bookshop I was in, and even made a special visit to ‘Murder One’, a marvellous specialist store in London which carried imported crime and romance titles. Nothing. Eventually, of course, Constable and Robinson began reprinting her Regency titles, and I acquired the six volumes of ‘The Travelling Matchmaker’ series. I read them. Loved them. And started collecting her other titles.
Naturally, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance of seeing her. M C Beaton’s author biog says she now divides her time between the Cotswolds, Paris and Istanbul. Clearly she wouldn’t be visiting Stirling often. So I booked my ticket and went to the Albert Halls to hear M C Beaton in conversation with Catriona McPherson. I’d never heard of Catriona, either, but it seems she writes 1920s cozy mysteries set in Scotland starring a girl named Dandy Gilver, which sound right up my street. So, all in all, a good day. By the way, Catriona said that ‘Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue’ was her favourite Marion Chesney Regency. I have it but I haven’t read it yet – I love being in that anticipatory position!
M C Beaton grew up in Glasgow and started out in Smith’s bookshop, a Glasgow institution which I too remember, before she worked as a journalist. And I suspect that writer’s block isn’t something that old-style newspaper editors were interested in; that’s why many journalists write novels. They’ve had to spend so many years getting two thousand words out by 5pm that it’s become a habit. There were some questions at the end, one of which was ‘Do you suffer from writer’s block?’ and the reply was ‘absolutely not’. Although she did then add that each book was more difficult than the last. As this is something I’m finding out with my second, I can’t comprehend how difficult a 100th book would be!
I particularly enjoyed the story of how she came to write her first Regency. After exhausting the works of Georgette Heyer, like may of us, M C Beaton sought something similar in the modern Regencies then being published. But, coming from the UK she was appalled to find in novel that the hero stopped his curricle under a hickory tree so that the heroine could admire a field of geraniums growing nearby. Her husband suggested she should write one herself, which was sold almost instantly by a recently-acquired agent. Pamela Lowenstein is still her agent, 40 years later – it must be one of the longest partnerships in writing, surely?
M C Beaton was gloriously indiscreet about the making of the television version of ‘Hamish MacBeth’ – but my lips are sealed. I can tell you, though, that Sky One HD is doing a pilot of ‘Agatha Raison and the Quiche of Death’. The interview and questions lasted just an hour – far too short a time for such an interesting, witty and entertaining lady. If you have the chance to hear M C Beaton in person, do go – you won’t regret it!