Welcome to my Countdown to 5th June post! I am hugely excited to welcome Robin Stevens, the author of one of my favourite books of the year, Murder Most Unladylike!
1.Murder Most Unladylike is a fantastic combination of 1930s boarding school story and murder mystery…what was it about these two things that made you want to put them together?
I've had this idea for a book in my head for about ten years, for two very good reasons: first, I've been fascinated by murder mysteries ever since I can remember (seriously, if there was a nasty death involved I was on it. When I was seven I had a Ghost Society with my best friend and we’d try to contact ghosts to find out who killed them), and second, I went to boarding school! It’s such a perfect closed system – you can’t come in unless someone lets you, but once you’re in you can’t leave, so there will always be a finite number of suspects who know each other really well. Because you’re stuck with the same group of people every day, tiny arguments get blown up into something huge, and everyone knows everyone else’s nasty secrets. I realised that it was the ideal place to set a murder mystery – I was always a bit saddened one never happened in real life, so I decided to take the second-best option and make one up!
2.Who was your favourite character to write?
Absolutely Daisy. Hazel is far nicer, and if I met her in real life I’d get on with her a lot better, but Daisy is just so much fun. Her voice is a joy to write, because I can make her say such ridiculous, awful things. She actually makes me laugh out loud – which I figure is a good thing, even if it is a bit weird.
3.As a huge fan of boarding school stories (especially when set in the 30s!) I loved how Murder Most Unladylike was so reminiscent of the stories I adore…how much research did you need to do for the book?
For the murder mystery elements, none at all! I’m a massive detective fiction nerd – I actually did my university dissertation on it, so I could genuinely go on all day about the conventions of the genre (you probably don’t want me to do that, though). For the boarding school part, I did draw a lot on my own experiences of school life and all of my favourite boarding school stories – but I also tried to do research to make sure that I got the period detail right. The most useful non-fiction books were The Long Weekend by Robert Graves, A History of Cheltenham Ladies’ College 1853-1953 by A. Clarke, A Modern History of Hong Kong by Steve Tsang and The 1930s Scrapbook by Robert Opie. That last one is particularly brilliant – it’s just a massive glossy compendium of 1930s adverts, so much fun to ogle!
4.We have talked before about our mutual love for the Pongwiffy series by Kaye Umansky, what were some of your other favourite childhood reads?
My dad grew up in the 1930s and 40s (yes, really – even though I’m 26 my uncle fought in World War Two), and then passed on his favourite books to me – so I had all of Enid Blyton’s books, the Swallows and Amazons series, Sherlock Holmes – and Agatha Christie, of course. Apart from those, I was (and am still) obsessed with Diana Wynne Jones, Eva Ibbotson, Michelle Magorian, Terry Pratchett, Brian Jacques, J. K. Rowling and also (extremely oddly) a book called Dave Barry Turns 50, which is a non-fiction comedy memoir about a guy who grew up in America in the 1950s that I stole from my mother’s bookshelf. Seriously, I read everything.
5. What books would you recommend to fans of Murder Most Unladylike?
It depends on the fans! For awesome girl detectives, try Helen Moss’s Adventure Island series or Lauren St John’s Laura Marlin Mysteries. For the detectives who inspired Daisy and Hazel, read the Sherlock Holmes stories, or any Christie book starring Poirot or her lesser-known (but charming) duo Tommy & Tuppence. For an excellent boarding school mystery, read Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons or Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes (that one’s probably more for 14 and up). And for great, realistic-feeling portrayals of the 1930s and 1940s, read Michelle Magorian’s novels (again, many of these are for older readers).
6. Biscuits, cake and dessert in general do feature an awful lot in Murder Most Unladylike…what is your favourite sweet treat? (#bunbreak)
I've definitely got a sweet tooth, and I love to bake – Hazel’s obsession with food comes from my own. But although I've lived in England since I was three, I grew up on very American flavours (my mother is American, and spiritually she still lives in or around Chicago). So my ideal cookie is oatmeal raisin, and I love baked cheesecakes, cinnamon buns and pecan pie. My favourite British cake is coffee and walnut (this makes an appearance in the book), and my favourite biscuit-out-of-a-packet is a chocolate digestive. My mince pies are famous – but I’m still not sure I’ll ever understand fruitcake . . .
7.Can we expect more from Wells and Wong? (I hope so!)
Absolutely! In fact, I've just given the second draft of Wells & Wong 2 – which will be called Arsenic for Tea – to my editor. Murder Most Unladylike is a school murder mystery, Arsenic for Tea is a country house murder mystery and now I’m thinking about the initial plot for the (as yet untitled) Wells & Wong 3. I haven’t settled on anything yet, but I think I want to send Hazel and Daisy on a journey – with a murder attached, of course. But although the settings keep changing, Hazel and Daisy stay just the same as ever – and some of my favourite characters from Murder Most Unladylike will also return in the two sequels. I’m not going to spoil you by telling you which ones . . .
Thanks so much for these marvellous answers Robin!
About Robin Stevens
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 near London with her boyfriend and her pet bearded dragon, Watson