Friday, January 3, 2020

The Irreplaceable Mrs B.

 The old year ended slightly darker than it has started, the world of crime fiction lost one of its cleverest, most witty and devilishly mischievous writers.


I was strolling through Facebook Hogmanay, in my bed, too tired to stay up for the bells and I saw the news that MC Beaton had passed away after a short illness age 83. I was actually shocked when I read it, somehow I thought she would be around for ever as we tend to think these larger than life characters should be. She was small, wide swathed in purple velvet and attitude, her eyes glinted with an intellectual sharpness that was a beacon for her total inability to put up with inappropriate political correctness.

She was of course the creator of Hamish Macbeth and the fabulous Agatha Raisin, the former had been televised here 20 (30?) years ago starring a very young Robert Carlyle and a Westie Dog who broke wind constantly during the shoot, keeping its most potent out puffing for the sections of the story filmed in the airtight set of the police car interior.

My first encounter with MC Beaton was on a panel at Crimefest many years ago. I think I am right in thinking that our moderator was a much acclaimed crime writer called Cara Black. She is of course, American – I know we know that but I am pointing it out for a reason.  She introduced me and said something like ‘Caro was born in a ghetto in Glasgow, a place called Govan….. ‘And so it went on.

Then she introduced Marion, who spoke in public with quite a pucker English accent…’ Interestingly, I too was born  in Glasgow, in a ghetto called Newton Mearns…’’  They audience then had to witness me trying not to laugh, I was left snorting and snivelling. Newton Mearns is the Jewish really posh area of Glasgow, nobody was any the wiser but me.

And that moment always stayed with us. Whenever we met there was always that bond, I like to call it a no bullshit bond.

At one awards ceremony, I was already seated, I saw her come in. I popped over to say hello, she had her attendants all around her but she leaned over and whispered 'can you not come and sit at this table; I could do with a laugh.’ Our relative minders kept us apart and we sat through those endless, endless speeches, eye rolling each other, occasionally mouthing Glaswegian phrases that were less than complimentary to the speakers.

She was a great talent, a real wit and ferociously intellectual. She grew up as a reporter at a time when she was expected to climb in the windows of Glasgow tenements at the wake, to get the story on the deceased. I have many more stories, but right now I can’t recall a single one. She wrote over 160 books in her lifetime, starting as a buyer for a Glasgow bookshop before becoming a newspaper reporter and eventually, an editor. Latterly, she divided her time between houses in Paris and the Cotswolds.

I last saw her at Bloody Scotland; she was in the company of Ashley Jensen who plays Agatha Raisin. They had just finished filming a new series of the show. Marion looked a little frail, but we had a few words in the green room, she was still her sparky self.

She died on Hogmanay after a short illness.

More sadly, I had read one of her more recent books in November. It was as if it had been written by somebody else. Agatha’s character had gone from being an independent women who could take or leave men – mostly she wanted to leave them- keeping herself for her off on love interest for the historical writer who lived next door to her own cottage in the Cotswolds to a rather nasty man-eater, the plot didn’t quite gel, and it read as if it had not been edited properly.  It irked me so I looked up a few reviews, and yes, there was a general agreement that something was ‘off’ about the book.  

I do wonder why that was, and why it happened? A publisher under pressure to get something out there. Marion was such a professional, it really annoyed me that, maybe, she had become a victim if her own success.

It saddened me, so I am going to forget that book and watch Ashley Jensen strutting herself as the wonderful Agatha Raisin. The Quiche Of Death is my personal favourite so as a tribute to Marion, I am going to sit and watch it again tonight while drinking Irn Bru and eating chips (salt and vinegar not salt and sauce - no need to be getting above ourselves!).

Somethings are too good to change.

 Caro Ramsay

03 01 2020

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to a class act, written by another class act--albeit both from the ghetto. :)

    God rest her soul.