MC Beaton Meet the Author


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MC Beaton

James Naughtie talks to writer MC Beaton about her latest murder mystery featuring the character Hamish Macbeth, Death of an Honest Man.


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LineFromTo

in some centres may come as a shock

to the millions who visited them.

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Now it's time for Meet the Author.

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This week on Meet the Author Jim

Naughtie talks with the writer MC

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Sergeant Hamish Macbeth lives

in a sleepy place, Lochdubh,

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in the Highlands where you might

think there's not much drama.

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But 33 books on, he's

investigating yet another murder

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in Death of an Honest Man.

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Yet, in MC Beaton's novels,

even when dastardly

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happenings are all around you,

the pace of life in Lochdubh,

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with its regular cast of characters

never seems to change.

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These are crime stories that

are written to be reassuring.

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Welcome.

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What do you think Hamish

Macbeth's secret is?

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I think...

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What fascinates people is he's

totally unambitious.

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And what I try to do, you see,

I think of myself more as an escape

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artist than a writer,

is give someone something

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to take their mind off the troubles

or a wet day or a journey.

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And it's based on a crofter that

I still know up near Buey,

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and he would say, "Just fed the hens

and I'm going to see my

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cousin in Hong Kong."

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And very laid-back.

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Fascinating.

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Yes, it is interesting.

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Of course, he doesn't

want to leave Lochdubh,

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which is a lovely place,

although terrible

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things keep happening.

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And he's terrified.

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Inspector Blair, who keeps

interfering with him

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and his activities, is always

a threat on the horizon

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but all he wants to do is stay

with his own folk in the village

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and that's a very reassuring thing

to readers, isn't it?

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Yes, it is.

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It observes the unity,

keeping it all in a small place,

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and justice seen to be done.

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I admit it's rather old-fashioned

because it can't be high-tech.

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The forensic lab's usually off

playing shinty or drunk.

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But it's reassuring to know that it

will all come all right in the end.

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I like stories with happy endings.

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You do, clearly.

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And there is also a great calm

in the way that you write.

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There's no sense of hurry

or frenzy, even when awful

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things are happening.

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There will be a moment of violence,

we're not going to give away

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the plot because that would be

a terrible thing to do,

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but there is a placid

quality to the whole thing.

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That's really what you're

aiming to do, isn't it?

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It is.

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Comfort reading.

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When I had a hip operation in Paris,

I sent my sister up to WHSmith

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on the Rue de Rivoli to buy as many

Agatha Christies as she

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could put her hands on.

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Because that is also...

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The between the wars detective

stories which I love,

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it portrays a world,

a small world, where

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there is always a squire,

and there's the strawberries

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and the tennis parties.

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It was a world of the very

small privileged few.

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Of course.

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But there's also something

about these stories that

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will remind some people,

I suppose, of something

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like the Father Brown stories,

where nothing much seems to happen.

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It's a very gentle, unfolding

of a story but it has a kind of...

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You know, simple elegance

to it, just as a tail.

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Thank you very much.

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People often think because it's very

easy to read, it must be easy

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to write but I only do one draft,

and I've a friend in Paris who said,

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"You've got a very good

literary background,

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"why don't you write something...

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"Different?"

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He meant better, you know?

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I said but that's the best I can do.

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You can't cheat the reader.

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It's the very best I can do.

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If it comes out frivolous...

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You have to check you don't use

the same word twice,

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and you lay it on layers.

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A lot of people do confuse good

writing, powerful writing,

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emotionally charged writing

with complexity, you

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you know, with invention,

with changes in form.

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You're saying, no, no,

you can do it like that if you want

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but you can also do it just

by writing good, old, plain English.

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Yes.

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Also, an editor way back wondered

why Agatha hadn't been published,

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for example, in this country.

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And I said they want the dark side,

and I don't too dark.

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You know, I don't do torture.

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And anything with children

being hurt, I run a mile.

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So, nobody gets electrodes and

the ghoulies in my books, you know.

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Maybe not, but they do get murdered.

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The title of this,

Death of an Honest Man,

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sort of gives it away.

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Somebody is killed in the village.

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It's always someone

who deserves to be killed.

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There's nothing worse than people

who tell it like it is.

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I speak as I find which means

they don't care about your feelings.

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When people say he tells it

like it is, they usually mean

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he tells it like it isn't.

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Yes, exactly!

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That's the truth, isn't it?

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Absolutely.

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You've got to get people to accept

the absurd promise a bit

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You've got to get people to accept

the absurd premise a bit

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like Midsomer Murders on television,

where you have a village, and,

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indeed Miss Marple's

village in Christie,

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you mentioned, where every other

day there is a murder.

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Now, we know this doesn't happen.

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It just doesn't.

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It's fantasy.

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It's complete fantasy.

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There's been one murder

in Sutherland the past 100 years.

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I make up for it.

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Yeah, you've certainly

made up for it.

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Now, what kind of guy

is Hamish Macbeth?

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He is, as you say, unambitious.

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There he is, with his shock

of ginger hair, he knows

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everybody in the village...

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Oh, not ginger.

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Red.

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Right, red hair.

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And he, obviously, knows

everybody in the village.

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What keeps him going?

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He loves the laid-back life.

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He is lazy.

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He's unambitious.

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He's intuitive.

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A lot of the highlanders have sort

of rudimentary telepath if.

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A lot of the highlanders have sort

of rudimentary telepathy.

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You have to be polite

inside as well as out.

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Well, people talk about having extra

powers and, you know,

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all the rest of it,

in the Highlands, and stories

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about these things.

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Do you believe there

is something lurking about?

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Instinctively they seem to know

what you're thinking.

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It's rather unnerving.

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He has that quality and also just

a general love of the land.

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Geography shapes people, you see.

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They said would I ever move

Agatha Raisin to the Highlands?

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No.

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The other series, yes.

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It wouldn't fit in.

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It would be ridiculous.

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You obviously love the Highlands.

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Yes, my mother was Highland.

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When we lived in

Glasgow, she used...

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She believed in fairies.

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She used to put a dish

of milk for fairies.

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In Glasgow?

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In Glasgow.

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And the hedgehog drank it

but we didn't like to

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destroy her illusions.

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Well, she knew it was an illusion,

presumably but just kept it going.

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Oh, no!

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Oh, no?

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No!

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No, there's nothing madder

than some type of Highlander!

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You're writing about a world that

you don't want to see go,

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and you don't want to destroy,

you don't want to...

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Have to experience

too much turbulence.

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You just want it to be described

understood and absorbed.

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Yes.

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And a bit of kindness.

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A little bit of decency underneath,

which is considered old fashioned,

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except Alexander McCall Smith has

brought it back into fashion.

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I read one of his Isabel Dalhousies

and I thought, this is...

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And then I got addicted to them.

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Yes, well, addiction seems to have

happened to Hamish Macbeth.

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Will he continue?

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Will there be more?

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Well, I'm contracted for two more.

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I'll try to retire.

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I said to my agent, I want fun.

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And I went on a Hebridean cruise,

you know, the very expensive one?

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What a waste of money.

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Everyone was so nice.

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There was no one I wanted to kill.

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Yeah.

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It would have been nicer

if there'd been a murder,

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then you could have...

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Not a murder, just

someone obnoxious.

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I mean, the Orient express

was marvellous for obnoxiousness

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but there was no one there.

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They were just

absolutely marvellous.

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Waste of space, so I decided

to go back to work.

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Back, more writing?

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More writing.

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MC Beaton, author of Death

of an Honest Man and 33 books

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featuring Sergeant Hamish Macbeth,

thank you very much.

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Thank you very much

indeed for asking me.

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James Naughtie talks to writer MC Beaton about her latest murder mystery featuring the character Hamish Macbeth, Death of an Honest Man.