Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers, book of a lifetime

Sayers' book inspired MC Beaton to write detective stories

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The Independent Culture

I was inspired to write detective stories by reading Dorothy L Sayers' Murder Must Advertise in my early teens. As George Orwell pointed out, that is the most important period of your life when the books you read ultimately shape the books you will write.

Sayers once worked for an advertising agency as a copy writer. Murder Must Advertise is witty and funny and you'd never want to believe another advertisement when you've finished it. So my first attempt at writing was to emulate her by becoming a copy writer.

I wrote to all the advertising agencies in Glasgow. Only one replied. He told me I was badly in need of advice, as I stood there in my old school coat and stilettos. "Never say you edited the school magazine," he said. "Lie. Come back and see me in a couple of years' time."

So I went back to my job as a bookseller, although by taking his advice, I soon got a freelance job as a theatre critic for the Glasgow edition of the Daily Mail.

It was when I moved to America and was reading the would-be successors to Georgette Heyer that I bitched to my husband, Harry Scott Gibbons, that the history was wrong, the dress was wrong and the you-name-it was wrong and he suggested I write one.

Fortunately I already knew a lot about the period. Harry found me an agent, Barbara Lowenstein, who sold my first book and is still selling them. But after writing more than a hundred Regency novels, I felt that if I didn't get out of 1811-to-1820 I would have the screaming ab-dabs.

The inspiration for the first detective story came when we were on a fishing holiday in Sutherland. So while Harry and my son, Charlie were learning to fly cast for salmon, I began to dream of a body rolling down into the salmon pool. You can't write what you don't read, and I still read masses of detective stories.

We moved south to the Cotswolds and my editor, Hope Dellon said she would like a Cotswold detective story. I thought up the character of Agatha Raisin because I always did like anti-heroes and heroines, such as Arthur Abdel Simpson in Eric Ambler's Topkapi and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair.

I wanted to create someone whom you might not like but would nonetheless like to see win through in the end.

M C Beaton's latest novel is 'Agatha Raisin: Dishing The Dirt' (Constable, £14.99)

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