Here is a little known fact about a little known author - MC Beaton out sold JK Rowling on AbeBooks last year.
MC Beaton, who created the Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin mysteries, is actually called Marion Chesney. Born in Glasgow, the former journalist is now based in the heart of the English countryside in the Cotswolds where she also sets her popular but largely unheralded Agatha Raisin books.
Agatha is a pushy middle-aged, middle-class public relations executive who becomes entangled in murder mysteries. Seventeen Agatha Raisin books have been published since 1992, including the memorably titled Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death and also Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet.
"I chose to make Agatha into a public relations executive because I wanted to create someone the reader might not like but would want to win through in the end," said MC. "When I was fashion editor of Scottish Field magazine, I came across many weird and wonderful PRs, including a savagely bullying one like Agatha. She is bossy but vulnerable and not quite grown up although she is middle-aged."
If there is such a thing as a best-kept secret in publishing, then MC Beaton may well be it. Her Hamish Macbeth mysteries received nationwide exposure in the UK in the mid-1990s when BBC TV turned them into a successful Sunday night series, but her profile remained low.
"Not many people know who I am and I do like it that way," she admitted. "If it weren't for my cheerful and outgoing husband I might turn into a recluse."
In 2006, BBC Radio serialised a number of her Agatha Raisin mysteries but again MC Beaton was happy to let her stories do the talking for her.
"I write two books a year - one Agatha and one Hamish Macbeth," said the author, who enjoys reading Patrick O’Brian, PD James, Joanna Trollope, Denise Mina, Ruth Rendell and Eric Ambler. "I get up, reluctantly, in the morning, get my cigarettes and black coffee and head for the computer, and I write steadily for two hours a day.
"My favourite Agatha Raisin story is still Quiche of Death, the very first one. I will keep on writing the Agatha Raisin mysteries as long as the public wants them."
On AbeBooks.com, the Agatha Raisin books are bought by readers around the globe. Her brand of mysteries immersed in classic characters from English village life is particularly popular Stateside.
"Readers of Agatha Raisin books come in all shapes and sizes and are usually amusing and intelligent," she explained. "I have a huge fan base in the United States. The only unfortunate thing about that is that American fans are apt to confuse me with Agatha and shout out requests like, "Show us your legs" - Agatha is described as having good legs. And at the start of the series, two muscular Texan ladies practically assaulted me because I would not tell them whether Agatha was going to marry James Lacey (Agatha’s neighbour). Fortunately for me, readers often start with one book and go on to read the whole series."