The Secret Books of Poison

by Alan Bradley


In my library are three slightly repellent books. One is the colour of poisoned custard, and the other two are a poisonous purple.

They look as if they’ve been through a lot. And they have.

These fat volumes, of about 500 pages each, were compiled in a time of disaster, and at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing or why. All I knew was that it needed to be done.

But first, a word of explanation. I am often asked, as are most writers, “Where did your main character come from? How did you go about creating him/her?” The simple answer is “I didn’t”, but the truth lies hidden in the thousand and more pages of these three uneasy books.

We had, at the time, a comfortable home on the edge of a forest – just like in the fairy tales. Until one night, lightning struck, and our forest was ablaze. Although we managed to get out safely with our pets, just ahead of the flames, more than 200 of our neighbours’ homes were reduced to ashes. When we were finally allowed to return, several weeks later, we found ourselves living in a blasted landscape: skeleton trees in a dead landscape of soot and ashes.

Time changed, and everything became different, including ourselves. What were we to do?

Sometime during those long hours and days and weeks that followed, I began compiling a compendium of poisons. The psychologists ought to have a field-day with that! Without knowing why, I had begun collecting and collating everything I could find on poisons and their history, all nicely filed alphabetically and indexed all the way from ‘A is for Arsenic’ to ‘Z is for Zarutin.’

The files grew from a folder, to many, and then to a book, then two, then three.

They contained detailed descriptions of the life and crimes of famous and not-so-famous poisoners, the history of specific poisoners from antiquity until just yesterday, the chemistry of poisons and their medical aspect. Ancient newspaper accounts told many a grim story, all so sadly the same: love gone wrong, ambition gone mad, and cleverness come a cropper.

There were heart-breaking tales of poor children who, in searching for something to eat, had – but enough! You get the idea.

Then, as the world around us restored itself, I put these books away, not knowing if I would ever look at them again. Whatever angel had caused me to compile this stuff had not bothered to leave an explanatory note. When the time came, I would know why.

Several years passed. Five, in fact. And there came a day when I decided that it was time to sit down and write that ‘Golden Age’ mystery novel I had been mulling since my younger days. It was a book that I much looked forward to, a tale that would draw on my years of experience in television broadcasting. Something fresh – something startling.

But it was not to be. I got no farther than the second chapter when, in a scene involving a visit to a crumbling country house in England, an eleven-year-old girl materialised suddenly on the page and would not, in spite of my every effort, be budged. She would not be written out and she would not be ignored. After a time, I realised that she had taken over my book completely. It was her book now, and my role was to sit down, shut up, and write what she told me to write.

And it came as no real surprise that her whole being revolved around a passion for poisons. Her knowledge of the subject was, you might say, voluminous.

Since then, she has more or less dictated ten novels, and has gathered readers around the globe in forty-some countries and forty-some languages. She has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

And that, dear reader, is the origin of Flavia de Luce, as best as I can manage to explain it.

And these three noxious volumes are the only proof I have that all of this is true.

See for yourself!



My website is  My facebook page is AlanBradleyauthor. My gmail is
Happy to hear from readers.
Photo by Jeff Bassett
I grew up in a small town in Southern Ontario, and being always fascinated by the magic of light and colored glass, naturally went into television broadcasting, both private and public. After twenty-five years as Director of Television Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, I took early retirement to write a mystery that never got written. I did manage to write other things, though.
Now that I’m retired from retirement, having lived for a while in Malta, my wife and I now live in the Isle of Man, in the shadow of an old castle, where we keep an eye on the sea at our door, which was once frequented by Saint Patrick and the Vikings.
Alan Bradley has written TEN Flavia deLuce books, plus a short story, The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse. His newest novel is The Golden Tresses of the Dead. All the books are available in audiobook form (which I love). 
He also wrote a wonderful ebook memoir, The Shoebox Bible. 


Putting Your Book into Audio Format with Narrator Becky Parker Geist and Author Karina Fabian


Have you ever wondered what it takes to make an audio book? We are lucky to have two talented women on Writers in Residence today who are going to share their behind-the-scene experiences as they walk us through the steps to bringing characters to life–audio style! 

We bring you Karina Fabian and Becky Parker Geist! (Don’t forget to check out the links at the bottom of the interview!)

Becky Parker Geist owns Pro Audio Voices, serving clients internationally with exceptional voiceover for audiobooks, advertising & animation. She loves creating audiobooks with sound effects! Married with 3 adult daughters, Becky lives in San Francisco and New York, working Off Broadway regularly.

After receiving her M.F.A. in Acting in 1981, Becky began narrating Talking Books for the Blind through the Library of Congress, narrating over 70 titles in two years, and quickly became one of their most popular narrators. As a professional stage actress, she has toured internationally (England and U.S.) and on the east and west U.S. coasts. She performs a wide range of voiceover work, but has a particular love for creating audiobooks with sound effects – the more theatrical the better! Becky brings her broad range of theatre skills – acting, directing, producing, marketing – to bear in all her voiceover and production work.

Winner of the Global eBook Award for Best Horror (Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator), Karina Fabian’s writing takes quirky tales that keep her–and her fans–amused. Zombie exterminators to snarky dragons, things get a little silly in her brain. When she’s not pretending to be an insane psychic or a politically correct corpsicle for a story, she writes product reviews for and takes care of her husband, four kids and two dogs. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars online. 

Now, the book.

Zombie problem? Call Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator–but not this weekend.

On vacation at an exterminator’s convention, she’s looking to relax, have fun, and enjoy a little romance. Too bad the zombies have a different idea. When they rise from their watery graves to take over the City by the Bay, it looks like it’ll be a working vacation after all.
Enjoy the thrill of re-kill with Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator.

First, we wanted to hear from Karina about the process of creating the book.

Zombies. Did you anticipate the popularity of the genre? Or were you interested in writing about the undead for another reason?

I wrote my first zombie story, “Wokking Dead” starring Neeta and Ted, because Kim (the publisher of Damnation Books) had asked. It was really an excuse for puns and slapstick, but people loved Neeta and the funny twists, so I made a novel with her. Now I’m on my third novel.

I really don’t care about the trend one way or another. I watched Walking Dead for a couple of seasons but got too frustrated at the stupid living people. I’ve watched movies and read books where zombies just need love or acceptance. I parody that in the Neeta Lyffe books. I prefer the undead shambling and just smart enough to work in my jokes.

Your lead characters, from Sister Grace to Neeta Lyffe, are strong women of action inhabiting extraordinary environments. Has your imagination always been this active, or did you begin to create new worlds as you grew as a writer?

I tend to start with characters or situations, and the worlds grow as they move, interact, affect, and are affected by it. But yeah, my imagination has always been overactive. It’s why I write. Otherwise, my brain would be too crowded with characters telling me their stories.

I also write strong men (and dragons), and weak men and women – and some who are stronger than they think. I like Tess, the little bartender at the Crude Lady, who has a small but important role in I Left My Brains in San Francisco. She has always wanted to be strong and brave, but never felt like she was. Yet in the end, she’ll offer herself as bait to draw away a zombie from her friends. (She survives by holing up in the walk-in freezer. And no, she did not consider that the zombie could have opened the door. Fortunately, it didn’t think about it, either.)

Next, let’s summarize the process from each professional’s point of view.


1. My publisher, Kim, tells me she wants to have the next Neeta Lyffe book produced by Becky. I do a happy dance and post on social media.

2. Becky contacts me with questions about character voices, pronunciations of odd words, and any special sound effects.

3. Becky starts doing the voiceover, emailing me with any issues. I forward any caught typos to Kim in hopes we can fix them. (In fact, next book, I’ve suggested just going to go straight to producing I think, so Becky can find more typos for us; she’s very good at it. J )

4. Becky posts the chapters. The first time, I think Kim proofed them. This time, I did. It was a surreal experience for me. If I catch anything that seems odd (like a mispronounced word or a difference of inflection that changes the meaning of the word or phrase), I email her and she tweaks that part.

5. In the meantime, we’ve been working together on ways we can promote the book. Thanks so much for interviewing us.


1. I either get contacted by the publisher or the independently published author that they’d like an audiobook produced.

2. If I haven’t worked with them before, I will send one or more sample reads (auditions) from myself and/or other narrators on my team. When I’ve worked with the client before or they know my work well, we might bypass this step as we did in this case.

3. I start reading in advance of recording, figure out what questions I need to ask, pronunciations, etc. In a case like this where we’re adding sound effects, I start a sound effects ‘map’ so I know what sounds I’ll need and get a sense of the soundscape so there is balance overall in the audiobook.

4. I record and edit my recording chapter by chapter. I’m editing out re-takes, re-recording anything that seems unclear or where I could improve the way the words are stressed – stuff like that.

5. In this particular case, I ended up creating a song for the book. THAT was fun. Since the whole Crappy Crude song can’t be heard during the audiobook itself, we’re going to make it available as a download on my site – with a freebie code in the About the Author section of the audiobook.

6. Then I master the edited audio file – that’s stuff like making sure the volume is within the accepted range, sort of the technical quality control and polish piece.

7. I send the finished audio files to the client for any feedback or corrections or tweaks.

8. I make any requested adjustments and send them back for proofing.

9. I upload the files to ACX and submit. The client then does her submit to ACX. It takes about 2-3 weeks to get through their QC queue and then the audiobook is launched!

10. Throughout all this, but especially when it launches, my marketing efforts kick in to help boost sales.

Karina, when you first decided on this venture, were you worried that no one would ever be able to bring your characters to life as you imagined them? 

Not worried at all. I did hear the characters in my head, but I also know that others will hear them differently, so I didn’t have an especially strong attachment to a particular voice. In fact, it’s been very interesting to hear Becky’s interpretation. Her inflections are not mine. It added a new dimension to the story, and it made some scenes take on different levels. I especially love Neeta’s voice when talking to Ted.

I will admit (and Becky knows) that Roscoe is nothing at all like I imagined. It was jarring for me at first, but after a chapter or two (because he has short appearances in this one), my ear got used to it. Now I hear his “Oh, gawd!” like Becky says it.

Becky, do you need to really love the material to take a job, or are you game for anything?

I’m pretty game for anything. But what I am not really interested in is poor writing or unedited writing. There’s a saying: Good authors have talent; great authors have editors. Yeah, that was probably written by an editor, but I think it is safe to say that every manuscript that is going to be published really should have an editor. Too many don’t. But I’ve narrated a wide range of genres. My favorite, though, is audiobooks that call for sound effects. That is SUPER fun – creating and sourcing sound effects and mixing those in. Good times. These are a couple reasons I so love doing Karina’s books: she’s an excellent writer, her books are edited, and we’ve juiced them up with sound effects and music.

Becky, when you are preparing to record a book, do you pre-read the entire book, or just get a feel for it and then read it cold?

I usually read ahead a few chapters so I’m not reading cold. The thing about reading cold is that I am more likely to have to re-do a section, so that’s more time-consuming than going in prepared. For example, the attitude of a character sometimes does not become clear until the next character responds or the scene is further along. I always want to make sure the emotions and attitudes are where they should be, because that’s like the blood flowing through the veins of the story.

Karina, was this a collaborative process from start to finish, or was the finished product a surprise?

A little of both. Becky emailed me about particular characters and phrases (and caught some typos!), and I made a couple of suggestions (like adding “Unchained Melody” to a section.) But other things I did not expect, and more than once, I buckled over laughing. Then Becky gave me the best surprise of all.

In I Left My Brains in San Francisco, a song plays an important part of the plot. I won’t explain because – spoilers! – but I had to make up lyrics. I am not a poet. I am not a songwriter. I did some lame rhyming and vague meter, had one character say it had kind of a reggae beat because I thought that would be the funniest contrast to the words, and left it at that.

Becky put them to music.

Wow! What a difference someone with talent can make to a bunch of flat (albeit funny) words.

Becky, how do you make the voices of the various characters in a book distinct, and do you ever try accents?

Distinct voices is actually a very important aspect of narration to me. So many narrators don’t differentiate enough for me as a listener and I get annoyed when I think one person is talking then find out it was someone else and I have to go back and listen again to understand what is going on. I use several techniques in changing my voice. I can focus it more into my nose for a more nasal sound, drop it into my chest for those big heavy guys, add raspiness or breathiness, raise or lower the register. Sometimes I’ll talk more out of one side of my mouth or the other, or open the back of my throat more. Even just changing my face into a squint or scrunch can change the voice. It’s really fun. But one of the challenges is remembering, in a book with lots of characters, who sounds like what and how I made that voice. Consistency. The toughest is when a minor character suddenly turns up again. At times I have to go back to listen to what I did before.

Becky, what makes the perfect author client and what makes your worst nightmare?

Perfect author client: works collaboratively and enjoys the process; is clear on who the characters are and provides me with pronunciations of made up names and words (since researching those is impossible); understands the importance of editing; is engaged in social media; loves writing and publishing and keeps doing it. Like Karina. J

Worst nightmare: gives me an unedited manuscript with lots of errors and expects me to figure it out; has no marketing presence or activity; is not available if I have questions.

Generally, my worst nightmares don’t happen because I’m looking for those perfect clients.

What is the demand for audio books and who do you see at the target audience? Do you see them most often rented from libraries or Amazon etc. or purchased? And are they most popular as downloads or physical copies?

Karina: That’s probably a question better answered by my publisher and Becky. Personally, I’d see the target audience as people going on long drives looking for something to keep them amused and alert. This book is funny, fast-moving, and doesn’t need a lot of deep thinking or concentration to enjoy. I’d love to see these in truck stops.

Becky: The audiobook market is growing annually by double digits. Increasingly they are bought as downloads (about 70%), especially now that newer cars let you plug your phone into them. But there is still a fairly strong market for CDs as well. (a division of Amazon – no surprise there) is by far dominating the audiobook market. There is an increasing number of audios showing up as available through libraries as downloads – through OverDrive. And I think Karina’s idea of CDs in truck stops is fantastic! Yes! As for the target audience for audiobooks overall, it is definitely adults listening to fiction.

Do you have any advice for writers on the hunt for a voiceover artist to read their book?

Karina: I didn’t look for a voiceover artist. My publisher did. However, I would say find someone who will work with you and get some samples of the work.

Becky: Get auditions that are at least 5 minutes long. And listen to other audiobooks narrated by the narrator. Listen to the whole thing. Because many narrators can deliver an audition piece that sounds like you could listen for hours, but after an hour you may be tired of listening. A narrator needs to stay fresh and keep the listener engaged throughout. S/he needs to understand the flow of storytelling. Also, I strongly suggest using a narrator who is a trained, professional actor. That makes a huge difference. I’ve had clients come to me who had contracted with a narrator through ACX after the audition and then couldn’t get the person to make any changes when given direction. It’s a good idea to request a different reading of part of an audition before hiring just to see if the narrator knows how to take direction and implement it.

Thanks for interviewing us!

You can find more about Becky at the following links:  Website, Blog

Check out Karina’s latest books and find out more about the author at the following links:

Find I Left My Brains in San Francisco at:

Amazon:  (paper)  (Kindle)
And read more about it at
Audio Link will be sent once live….or undead, as the case may be.

Video Links

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