To her legions of fans around the world, she was the undisputed queen of cosy crime.
Best known as creator of best-selling village crime-fighters Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin, MC Beaton wrote hundreds of books before her death in December.
But now her characters – brought to life on screen by Robert Carlyle and Ashley Jensen – will continue as her friend and fellow writer, Rod Green, has been revealed as guardian of her literary legacy.
Dogged Highland bobby Hamish and irascible, gin-swilling ex-public relations executive-turned detective Agatha will live on in Rod’s reliable hands.
The latest Agatha Raisin, Hot To Trot, written by Rod with the approval of her creator – real name Marion Chesney Gibbons – and completed just a couple of weeks before she died is just out. Now he is busy working on a new Hamish Macbeth.
Rod, who has written 80 non-fiction books, met the novelist through her publisher Krystyna Green, who happens to be his wife. He explained how the surprise succession came about.
“I knew Marion for more than 20 years,” he said. “We’d meet at functions and we always got on well because we were both Scottish and had worked as journalists. We became friends over time. But she fell ill last year. She was struggling and had the next Agatha Raisin book to write.
“My wife went to see her because they needed to discuss what was going to happen to the book. I was there as a chauffeur for my wife more than anything else.
“Marion had lots of ideas, but she was not well enough to sit in front of a computer all day. She wanted somebody she could trust and we thought I could be of some help. I thought that would essentially mean taking some dictation but it turned out that she wanted me to be more involved than that.
“I visited regularly while we were working on the book but I never sat at her bedside. She was always up, dressed and sitting in a chair ready to chat and work, and always with her make-up on because like Agatha Raisin she didn’t like to be seen without it. She liked to be looking her best.
“She wanted to discuss the scenes and plots and what would be happening to the characters. My job was to flesh out the plots we discussed, and chip in a few ideas.”
Dundonian Rod, 59, started out on DC Thomson’s iconic comic strips Oor Wullie and The Broons in The Sunday Post and ended up working alongside household names like the late, great Spike Milligan, Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson, and comedian Paul Merton.
The Glasgow-born novelist passed away in December aged 83 and Rod is happy that she had the chance to read his first Agatha Raisin book.
He said: “I think it was a big relief to Marion that as a publisher in the 1990s I worked with Spike Milligan and his good friend Eric Sykes. When Spike was writing The Goon Show, he became ill and Eric stepped in and wrote some of the scripts.
“One of the things he said to me was that Spike had created such brilliant characters it was a joy to work with them. That always stuck with me and I think the same about Marion’s characters. They are a joy to work with but you have to stay true to them. There are parameters to work within; the characters are established.
“More importantly, the readers know Agatha. If I was to do something with Agatha that was out of character it would not go down well.”
He says he learned the importance of character integrity during his decade with DC Thomson in Dundee.
“I count myself as very lucky. I got to work with characters like The Four Marys in the Bunty. On the Sunday Post I worked with Oor Wullie and The Broons and used to answer Oor Wullie’s fan mail. Everything that happened had to be kept in character to retain their integrity.”
MC Beaton died soon after Rob delivered the finished text for Hot To Trot. But he dismisses any “romantic” notion she was waiting for its completion before leaving the world. He said: “Marion died only a couple of weeks after we finished writing it. She had read it all and changed practically nothing. That was a great compliment to me.
“Her death took us quite by surprise even though she had been very poorly. There was no sense of her hanging on just to get this book finished.
“She was hanging on because there were lots of other things she wanted to do. She had been talking about going to Paris in the springtime.
“Marion was looking to the future. She would be furious that I am doing this interview and not her.”
But did she leave him with any pearls of wisdom? He smiled: “Marion always said if you are not having fun writing it will show and people won’t have fun reading it. I loved writing the new Agatha Raisin.
“At the moment I am working on the next Hamish Macbeth – Death Of A Green-Eyed Monster. Although I am working on it now, it is not due to be published until early 2022. As far as the plot is concerned, Hamish meets the love of his life, but the course of true love and murder never did run smooth and he has to deal with some very nasty characters.”
He added: “I’m maintaining Marion’s legacy. She would be thrilled to know her characters will live on.”
Like Marion he has to answer to the publisher – his wife – and we wonder how that is working out? He laughs: “I do as I’m told.”
Agatha Raisin: Hot To Trot by MC Beaton with RW Green is published by Constable. The commemorative edition of Agatha Raisin And The Quiche Of Death by MC Beaton, with an introduction by Stuart McBride, is published on November 12
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