Sunday, 13 July 2014

Murder Most Unladylike - Robin Stevens – Author Interview - 3D Review

Robin Stevens was born in California and grew up in an Oxford college, across the road from the house where Alice in Wonderland lived. She has been making up stories all her life.

When she was twelve, her father handed her a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and she realised that she wanted to be either Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie when she grew up. When it occurred to her that she was never going to be able to grow her own spectacular walrus moustache, she decided that Agatha Christie was the more achieveable option.

She spent her teenage years at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, reading a lot of murder mysteries and hoping that she’d get the chance to do some detecting herself (she didn’t). She then went to university, where she studied crime fiction, and now she works at a children’s publisher, which is pretty much the best day job she can imagine.

Robin now lives in Cambridge with her boyfriend and her pet bearded dragon, Watson.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

Either The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson or the Chrestomanci books by Diana Wynne Jones. I loved magic and adventure, but I hated it when they ended with the end of the book’s story. Both Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson show magic spilling over into ordinary life and changing it forever, and that’s what made their books so special for me.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

Still anything by Ibbotson and Wynne Jones! I think they’re timelessly perfect.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

Children’s books are so special because they are one of the ways a child first sees the world. They bring children into contact with ideas and stories for the very first time, and so they have incredible impact. Every adult – even the ones who don’t see themselves as readers any more – can instantly tell you about the children’s books that affected them, and that says a lot about kidlit’s power to shape people.

Why did you start writing for children?

I started writing as a child (actually, I ‘wrote’ my first story before I could read, because I didn’t understand how writing worked), and I just never stopped! These days, everything I write seems to end up being a middle-grade novel – I think because that was when I first read the books that really inspired me. Those are the readers I want to reach.

What made you want to write this book?

I went to an English boarding school, just like the one that Daisy and Hazel go to – but as an American, I wasn’t exactly the typical pupil. I was totally fascinated by boarding school life, and I couldn’t stop noticing how weird it was. It always seemed to me like the perfect setting for a detective novel. I’ve known since I was about fifteen that I was going to write a boarding school murder mystery one day!

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

When you’re a child, almost everything feels new and interesting – you’re constantly having experiences for the very first time, and that makes children fantastic characters to write about, and a great audience to write for. They’re also the most discerning readers around: they won’t tolerate writing that’s boring or slow, and if they don’t like a book they’ll just put it down and read something else. I think that’s a brilliant challenge – and I hope I’m up to it!

Murder Most Unladylike has a tightly knitted complex plot, have you any tips on how to plot (and not get you yarn in knots!)

It’s a huge relief to hear people saying that the plot works now! It took me a lot of discussion with my agent, and then more discussion with my editor, before I managed to sort out my ideas and my alibis into something vaguely coherent. What I’ve learnt is that it’s important not to overcomplicate things. When you’re constructing a mystery plot, you only need five red herrings at most – three is absolutely fine. I’ve also discovered spreadsheets. I ended up creating a gigantic Excel document for the evening of my murder, with the characters’ movements divided up in five minute slots. It let me make absolutely sure that everyone was doing the things they were supposed to for the story – and also let me check that I hadn’t written two characters into the same ‘empty’ room at the same time!

You yourself went to boarding school (although obviously not in the 1930’s). How different was your experience to Hazel and Daisy’s?

Hazel’s and Daisy’s school life absolutely isn’t mine. I never discovered a murder, I was never alive in the 1930s and (most importantly) I was never taught by the people who teach my detectives. But I did spend many depressing hours hanging around on wet sports fields, I learnt Latin, I went to San and I ate masses of bunbreak (and tea, and dinner, and after-dinner snacks . . . there was a lot of food involved in my school days). So Deepdean is a complete invention, but one that’s based on my memories.

Do Hazel and Daisy have any more mysteries to solve? If so can you give us some hints of what to expect?

They absolutely do! I’m delighted to say that there will be two more Wells & Wong Mysteries. In fact, I’m already working on the second draft of Wells & Wong 2, so I certainly know what’s next for the girls! The book will be called Arsenic for Tea, and it takes place in Daisy’s country mansion, Fallingford, during the Easter holidays after the events of Murder Most Unladylike. From the official Random House blurb:

Daisy's glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy's birthday, and Daisy's eccentric family are all invited. Then one of their party falls seriously, mysteriously ill - and everything points to poison.

With furious storms preventing anyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. No one at Fallingford is what they seem - and everyone has a secret or two. And when someone very close to Daisy looks suspicious, the Detective Society must do everything they can to reveal the truth . . . no matter the consequences. It’ll be released in early 2015, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it now!

Question From our Child Reviewer Isobel (aged 9): I would like to ask the author if she ever went to boarding school, and if so, what was the most exciting thing that occurred while she was there?

I certainly did go to boarding school - a girls' boarding school very like the one that Daisy and Hazel go to - but sadly, nothing really exciting ever happened to me while I was there. I was always hoping it would: I watched my teachers very carefully in case they did anything suspicious, but they never did. I actually once followed two of them around the supermarket to see if they had any shocking secrets, but all they did was buy cereal, like normal people. Actually, our teachers were just as interested in us as we were in them. They thought that we would try to run away - or even worse, run away with boys. There were always a few people who managed it every year, but the worst things my friends and I ever did was disguise ourselves as different people so we would be given second bunbreak. We also used to hide ourselves at the bottom of our wardrobes to get out of going to church on Sundays. If there had been a murder, though, I'm quite sure that we would have been on the case immediately

For a chance to win a copy of Murder Most Unladylike tweet us with the hash tag #MMU3DReview to @BookshelfSpace or e-mail us with MMU GIVEAWAY in the subject bar. Good Luck!

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