Meet the author whose books are borrowed the most from UK libraries...and no, it’s not JK Rowling.

M C Beaton
M C Beaton
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HAVE you heard of Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Sarah Chester, Charlotte Ward, Marion Chesney, or MC Beaton?

HAVE you heard of Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Sarah Chester, Charlotte Ward, Marion Chesney, or MC Beaton?

Maybe not, but between them these writers have created around 160 books, including the Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin crime novels – both made into popular TV series.

Actually, all of these books were written (for different publishers) by the one-woman writing machine that is Glasgow-born Marion Chesney, whose most high-profile alter ego is M C Beaton.

She has sold 15 million books worldwide and her titles are borrowed from UK libraries a million times a year. There are scores of Regency romances and Edwardian mysteries. Hamish Macbeth scores 30, and 
Agatha Raisin, the scary London PR turned Cotswolds amateur sleuth, has reached 25.

Chesney, a twinkle-eyed 79-year-old, who starts the day with “strong black coffee and two cigarettes”, is seemingly unstoppable.

From her home in Gloucestershire she examines goings-on in rural England and finds endless inspiration for skullduggery amid the shrubbery, told with a light touch and marvellous titles such as Agatha Raisin And The Quiche of Death.

Her difficult-to-please mother told her dreamy teenager daughter “You’ll never amount to much”, but Marion was determined to prove otherwise. While working in a bookshop, a chance meeting with the features editor of her local paper and a fib about having written for Punch led to a commission to write a theatre review.

There followed a journalistic career that encompassed arts, crime, fashion and news reporting. “I was always determined to impress my mother, but nothing I did ever earned a ‘Well done’,” says the writer.

Her mother died without one encouraging word. “I got over it eventually – I’ve written any resentment out of my system,” says Beaton.

While living in the US, she complained to her husband – foreign correspondent Harry Scott Gibbons – that the historical novels she escaped into were inaccurate.

“Harry said to me ‘Well, why don’t you do something about it.’ I had a go, and an agent managed to sell it over one weekend.

“My aim was to fill a hole somewhere between Mills and Boon and the Pulitzer Prize. They sold well but didn’t pay much, so you had to really turn them out quickly.”

A move back to Scotland unleashed a new seam of murderous creativity. For the Macbeth series she calls on the years spent living on a croft in remote Sutherland where, according to her books, the body count is shockingly high.

One of the great things about being a novelist, she says, is that you can always have the last word.

She was unhappy with the choice of the short and slight Robert Carlyle for BBC Scotland’s adaptation of the ginger beard and bear-like Hamish – and how his love of a dram or two was turned into a dope habit.

She expressed her feelings by making the gentle Highland bobby’s next adventure Hamish Macbeth – Death Of A Scriptwriter.

M C Beaton says getting up every day and writing “is like breathing – and what else would I do, when I see potential stories all around me?”

She feels it’s essential not to take yourself too seriously, though. “I think of myself as an entertainer, trying to do for other people what books have always done for me.”

n MC Beaton, a special guest at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crimewriting Festival in Harrogate, will be in conversation with Fred MacAuley at the Crown Hotel at 10.30am on July 18.

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