TORONTO - Canadian author Alan Bradley has lots to celebrate these days: the fifth novel in his Flavia de Luce series hits bookstores Saturday and the exploits of the 11-year-old English super-sleuth is to be brought to life on TV by someone whose work he greatly admires.
"It's incredible, it's almost unbelievable," said Bradley of the planned TV series by British director-producer Sam Mendes, whose films credits include "Skyfall" and "American Beauty."
Selling the filming rights to the Flavia books — including his newly released "Speaking From Among the Bones" — was an idea Bradley had long resisted.
"I didn't think it was a particularly good idea, unless it happened to be the right person and it were done in the right way. I think I had felt that a British-produced television series was probably the only way to go. I've never seen it as a Hollywood movie."
It's not surprising that Bradley is somewhat possessive of his spunky, precocious heroine, who despite her age is a dab hand at solving murders, the grislier the better.
Initially he told film agents he wasn't interested in seeing Flavia, who lives with her family in a run-down mansion in a post-Second World War English village, jumping from the page onto the screen.
"Finally I told them if they wanted to entertain offers, they were free to do it, but don't tell me," the Cobourg, Ont.-raised Bradley said from his home on the Isle of Man off the coast of England, where he and his wife recently moved.
"It would be too head-turning unless precisely the absolutely right thing came along, which I doubted would even happen."
But when a New York agent mentioned that Mendes was a huge fan of the novels and wanted to turn them into a 10-episode television series, Bradley said he recognized that the respected film-TV-theatre director was probably the one person in the world who should bring Flavia to the screen.
"I'm very positive about it, very confident about it and absolutely delighted that's who wound up having the rights to make the series," he said, explaining that he has met with Mendes and will have some input into the scripts and probably which actress is cast as Flavia.
Does he have a favourite for the role?
"I don't have the faintest idea, really," he says, but points out there are "a huge number of very accomplished young actresses in the U.K."
No doubt, the part of the braided, bicycle-riding snoop will be eagerly sought after.
But whomever ends up personifying Flavia will have to be comfortable handling glass beakers, a microscope and bunsen burner, the tools employed by the chemistry-loving crime-solver.
Chemical formulas — especially those for concocting poisons, for which she has a passion — play a key role in Flavia's detecting abilities, even though Bradley had no experience with them until he began penning his first novel in the series, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie," almost a decade ago.
"I fooled you, did I?" laughs Bradley, who admits he knew less than zero about the wonders of chemistry until Flavia landed in his life.
An electronic engineer by trade, Bradley worked at radio and TV stations across Ontario and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) before settling at the University of Saskatchewan, where he was director of television engineering for about 25 years.
It was when he was trying to write a long-dreamed of detective novel after taking early retirement and moving to Kelowna, B.C., that Flavia suddenly materialized on the page before him and wouldn't be denied, recalls Bradley, who switched writing gears to develop her story line.
"Once the elephant puts its head into the tent, you might well move out," he says. "She wanted her own book."
What this mystery character came with was a flare for chemical conjuring, so Bradley dove into old textbooks to bone up on formulas.
"I was really happy ... because it was something that I knew nothing about whatsoever, so I was able to start right from the beginning and start all over fresh learning these things with Flavia, and have maybe as much gee-whiz enthusiasm as she had in doing the research."