Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Q&A with Nancy Brown, author of "The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton"

Here's my interview with one of my favorite authors and a dear friend, Nancy Carpentier Brown.  I hope you enjoy this interview, and that you will consider entering the book giveaway of her newest, The Father Brown Reader II.   That giveaway will begin running through Monday, so be sure to enter.   You can enter one of two ways:  by leaving a comment either on this post or a giveaway-specific post tomorrow.  The deadline for this is Monday, December 13.  On Tuesday, I'll select a winner.   It's a great book and would make a great Christmas gift!

Tell me a little about your books and your most recent one, The Father Brown Reader II.

My books have all been to some degree or another about Chesterton, because I happen to love British author G. K. Chesterton.

My first adaptations of Father Brown stories for children were four mysteries that did not involved murder. The Blue Cross is Chesterton’s most famous Father Brown story, involving the stealing of a valuable jewel-encrusted cross. The Flying Stars is again about a jewel heist. The Strange Feet is about stealing some very interesting and valuable silver forks and knives, and the last story is The Absence of Mr. Glass, in which a person appears to be missing. The first book was so widely loved I got fan mail begging me to write more. The publisher was also overwhelmed with requests for another adaptation. And that is how this second collection came to be. Although this time, murders are included because Chesterton’s stories are mainly murder mysteries.

I’ve written two study guides to Chesterton books, which help readers delve more deeply into The Blue Cross and his biography of St. Francis of Assisi.

I’ve also written a highly controversial book titled The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide. I managed to introduce each chapter of that book with a quote from Chesterton.

What gave you the idea to adapt stories from GK Chesterton for young readers?

This particular book is an outcome of my desire to introduce, first of all, my own children to an author that I love. When I realized how difficult it was for young people to read the original Father Brown stories, I wanted to do something about it. I was in the library perusing in the children’s section and I came across a children’s adaptation of four Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I became very excited, and wanted to know if something like that had been done for Father Brown. When I discovered that no one had yet adapted them for children, I took it upon myself to do the work.

In this second adaptation, the four stories are The Invisible Man, where two men are involved in a jealous rivalry, The Mirror of the Magistrate, where a man is mistaken for another in a mirror, The Eye of Apollo, where a young lady is fooled into following a pagan god, and The Perishing of the Pendragons, where an old legend foretells the fortune of a sailor.

You made it look easy to adapt Chesterton with still keeping his essential language.  Was that hard to do?

Yes, it is quite difficult to make an effective adaptation, and I must give credit where it is due. Rose Decaen and Margot Davidson helped me tremendously with editing the text. Many discussions flew back and forth over which language to retain, and which to adapt. The easiest thing to retain is the dialog, which is pretty straightforward. But there was a lot of description and British slang and references to persons unknown to us today that could be removed without changing the essential story. It was definitely a collaborative effort. But we are often complimented on our faithfulness to the original, so I believe we’ve done well.

Why do you think it is important to introduce young readers to GK Chesterton?

My belief is that everyone today needs Chesterton. There is very little thinking for one’s self going on, despite the cultural plea to “think outside the box” and be “open minded.”  Hollywood and Big Media conspire to do our thinking for us and so what they often mean is “think over here inside my box” and “be open-minded to my ideas.”  Chesterton teaches us first of all how to think. Then he teaches us how to be truly open-minded; then how to clamp down on the ideas that are right.

I often wish I would have known about Chesterton earlier in my life; I believe he would have helped me in many situations where clear thinking was needed. In debates about religious beliefs, political beliefs, in family conversations with people who only listen to sound bites and spout them as if that’s thinking for oneself, Chesterton would have helped. These situations crop up regularly and one needs right thinking—the kind of thinking Chesterton helps one to do.

I don’t believe all children will “get” Chesterton. However, if they have a pleasant first experience with Chesterton, such as enjoying the Father Brown mysteries at a young age, I believe that lays the groundwork for reading Chesterton later on.

For grown-ups or older kids who might be interested in Chesterton after reading your book, what would you recommend as a good introduction to a full Chesterton work?

The best first book is American Chesterton Society President Dale Ahlquist’s Apostle of Common Sense. I think the best first novel is The Man Who Was Thursday; a book I often suspect is more relevant today than when Chesterton wrote it 100 years ago. I also love The Ball and the Cross, but you have to be persistent and get past the first chapter to get into it. If you love St. Francis, his biography is wonderful. If you love social issues, What’s Wrong With the World? is great.

Any new projects or books in the works?

I am currently working on a biography of Chesterton’s wife Frances. She was the woman behind the man, and although she’s been in the background, I believe I can bring her into the spotlight a little. She was an author, speaker, playwright and poet, although few know much about her. She was her husband’s rock; they relied heavily on each other for emotional and physical support.

She’s intrigued me ever since I first read about her, because as the wife of an artistic genius myself, I knew that she had to have played an important role in their partnership as a married couple, as well as an important role as a business partner for his writing business. I’ve been researching her for years and it seems like a book is the natural outcome of all this research. I’ve got an editor and a publisher, so all that’s needed now is the time to write.

Anything else you would like to add?

Read Chesterton!


  1. We enjoyed the first Father Brown book. What a terrific way to introduce children to read Chesterton! I hope that as the kids grow, we will read the 'bigger' books together.

  2. we too liked the first one by Nancy Brown! Yeah.

  3. Loved the first, though I'm way older than the intended audience. Great artwork, too.

  4. Grew up with the Father Brown stories. Delighted to see this!