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Laurie King’s Guest Post

February 19, 2009

  The first book I wrote became The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  One September morning when my son was old enough to go to preschool three whole mornings a week, I sat down and wrote, I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.

            My 1987 first encounter with Mary Russell, who speaks those words, was every bit as unexpected, and every bit as life-changing, as that of hers and Holmes in 1915.  I had experimented with fiction a few years earlier, putting aside a half-written futuristic novel (eventually published as Califia’s Daughters) when I found I really had no idea how to write a book.  So I went back to my unpaid job of home-making for three years until that day when my younger child was old enough to venture into the world of part-time preschool.

            And now, in 2009, the ninth Mary Russell story will be out in April.  It is set in 1924, after she and Holmes have returned from overseas adventures to that same Sussex landscape where she nearly stepped on him.  In that time she has aged nine years, and gone from being a brash but uncertain girl to a self-assured woman.

            This is more or less what I had in mind when I sat down and wrote those first words.  The book—I called it The Segregation of the Queen, which later became the subtitle—was designed to follow this precocious and troubled young orphan girl on the road to maturity, under the none-too-nurturing guidance of the retired detective.

            I wrote the core 280 pages of what would eventually become The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in 28 days, a speed that, unfortunately, I have never been able to duplicate.  A few months later, I began to send it to publishers, a frustrating process that only seven years later bore fruit.

            One of the problems of the original manuscript was that it described a series of episodes from Russell’s development as an amateur sleuth, as she begins to learn Holmes’ trade, growing in skill and confidence.  But it was still a string of largely unrelated events, and a string of stories do not a novel make.

            It wasn’t until I added an adventure in Wales, solving the kidnap of a child while the true perpetrator remains at loose, that I caught sight of the novel behind the stories.  What, I thought, if that same slippery and invisible villain were to remain in the story…?

            With that, the book found its narrative arc.  The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was still episodic—unavoidably so, since it follows the development of this girl as she meets a series of increasingly difficult demands—but it was now a novel.

            And it was a novel that laid the groundwork for a series, with an interesting dynamic between the main characters and an excuse for involving them in future cases (avoiding the terrible problem of the amateur sleuth, also known as the Jessica Fletcher syndrome: Would you invite this woman to dinner, knowing that a corpse would appear before you’d finished your coffee?)

            In fact, two future books are embedded firmly within the pages of Beekeeper.  In the story, Russell and Holmes are forced to flee an invisible foe, and do so by undertaking a completely unrelated case for Holmes’ mysterious brother, Mycroft.  They go off to Palestine (modern-day Israel, then under British control) where Mary explores her Jewish heritage while Mycroft in London is developing certain lines of the investigation.  However, because this chapter in their life has little to do with the events of Beekeeper, it is presented as just that: a chapter, after which they sail back to England and dive once more into the fray.

            The Palestine chapter is in Beekeeper because I knew I wanted to write about Israel during this key period of 1919, when decisions reverberated down to our day.  However, doing so within the bounds of this one book would have made it a 900 page novel, and although that might have pleased some people, my publishers were not among them.

            So I gave those Middle Eastern events a novel of their own: O Jerusalem.

            And then, following a throw-away line in Beekeeper concerning the anomalous accents of the two Bedouin guides, the door was cracked open for a third related novel: those two Bedu show up in England under very different guise, in Justice Hall.

           All of which makes me look like a terribly deliberate and organized writer, knowing the story-line of the series for years in advance.  In fact, those links were forged with only the faintest idea of what I would do with them.

            I’m not going to tell you how many links those books contain that have not, and will probably never, have other stories hung on to them.

            Much better my readers think of me as all-knowing.  Either that, or (as indeed the preface to Beekeeper admits) the stories are not my novels after all, but merely transcriptions of the true-life memoirs of one Mary Russell, living still in Sussex with her husband, the aged Beekeeper.

            This latter would explain why Russell has taken to blogging on MySpace


Laurie R. King’s ninth Mary Russell novel, The Language of Bees, will be published in April 2009, shortly after the first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, turns fifteen.  Her website is celebrating with contests, activities, and Russell and Holmes events during this spring’s Fifteen Weeks of Bees.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2009 8:56 am

    Thanks so much, Laurie, for sharing this insight into the process of developing this book. Fascinating how you saw the novel taking shape behind the series of stories. I think most people (even aspiring writers) almost expect the story’s progression of events to evolve organically and easily. Dedication obviously pays off.

    I admit I haven’t read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, but between Eva’s thoughts and your post here, I can see I need to add it to my list and move it to the top!

  2. Pat Floyd permalink
    February 19, 2009 11:07 am

    Laurie, may you live to surpass Mary Russell’s age and develop all the links in all the novels.

  3. February 19, 2009 1:48 pm

    What a wonderful description of how you came to write this series! (And what a terrific-sounding series this is.)

  4. February 19, 2009 2:09 pm

    What a great idea with these guest posts :)

  5. February 19, 2009 2:13 pm

    Having thoroughly enjoyed the Mary Russell series, it is fascinating to learn a little about how the original and follow-up novels came about! I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment!

  6. February 19, 2009 2:58 pm

    Having just began this series, it is wonderful indeed to have this treasure of a post. Many thanks to Eva and Ms. King.

  7. February 19, 2009 7:31 pm

    Can’t believe The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is 15-yr-old. It couldn’t possibly have been that long ago that I started and fell in love with this series. Applause to Laurie King for creating such a delightful character to match wits with the master detective.

  8. February 19, 2009 9:10 pm

    Thanks so much for this guest post! How awesome!

  9. Wanda permalink
    February 19, 2009 11:12 pm

    Wow, between this and the peek your giving us on your blog about the evolution of your new Russell (#9 – is it?)”The Language of Bees”, I should be able to write my own novel any day now! -Thanks!

  10. February 20, 2009 5:33 am

    What fun to read about the evolution of the first book and the series. I love to hear details that make an author real, like that your son had started pre-school, and you finally had time to write. Thanks!

  11. vickivanv permalink
    February 20, 2009 6:35 am

    Mary Russell, is also blogging and twittering, which is a lot of fun and most impressive for a 109yo. :D

  12. February 20, 2009 8:52 am

    Thanks for this post. I love hearing a bit of the story behind the story. I can’t wait to read “The Language of Bees”!

  13. February 20, 2009 10:30 am

    Thank you Laurie, for your books. I first picked up the Beekeeper’s Apprentice 9 years ago. It has been so long!

  14. February 21, 2009 1:41 pm

    Would you invite this woman to dinner, knowing that a corpse would appear before you’d finished your coffee?

    My mother was a hardcore Murder, She Wrote fan when I was little. I remember asking my mom if Jessica Fletcher was a killer: “Mommy, everywhere that lady goes, somebody dies.” My mother laughed about this comment for quite some time (much to my confusion — I was only 5 and was quite serious about my observation) before she was able to answer me.

    Thanks for another fascinating look into your writing process. I remember the first time I read the Palestine scenes in Beekeeper, desperately hoping you’d write more about that time period some day. Of course I was absolutely delighted when O Jerusalem came along.

  15. jacqui permalink
    February 22, 2009 10:33 am


    I would never have discovered this series and all your other books if the local library had not bought a copy of “Monstrous Regiment of Women” – and so I was hooked even though at that time it was really difficult to obtain them in Britain and I had to import them book by book with the carriage costing more than the book itself. My late husband was also a fan and was in the middle of re-reading “The Moor” when he died. (well not literally)

    Now my 17 year old daughter is hooked too and we read them aloud together (which is even more fun as the humour comes through better). From both of us Thank You

    And by the way I really enjoyed the latest Kate Martinelli and the in-jokes.

  16. February 23, 2009 1:58 pm

    Thanks for making me welcome here, I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the books.

    Good to know the libraries are continuing their subversive activities of getting people hooked on books.

    And good luck to those of you like Wanda with a book in them, just waiting to get out.


  17. July 3, 2009 12:01 am

    I will go to you.,


  1. Guest Post — A Striped Armchair : Laurie R. King: Mystery Writer

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