A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Book Birthday Interview- First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
I’m chuffed to bits to be interviewing Robin Stevens today, author of the fabulous Wells and Wong mysteries. Not just because we get to chat books but because this is a BOOK BIRTHDAY interview.
Yes, the wait is over. First Class Murder is published today.Which means there’s a new Wells and Wong mystery to be solved. I confess I’ve already had a sneaky read. Fans of Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic For Tea, you are in for an absolute treat!
So, on with the questions…
Robin, before writing FCM had you decided on the victim and the murderer? Was this the case with your other books? Did it ever change during the writing process?
Yes! I always begin with a setting, then create a murder scenario – set up my victim and the method of their death – and then the murderer. Once I’ve done that, I can build the rest of my pool of suspects, but I never change the murderer – they’re in there from the outset, and it’s very important to me that I understand clearly what they did, and why. I’m really interested in why someone would murder someone else, and that’s what I’m exploring in each of my books.
One of many things I loved about the book was its colourful cast of characters- the Russian countess, the self-made man, the struggling crime writer, the secret agent. What do they tell us about the era (1930s) or are they circumstantial?
I’m a bit obsessed with the 1930s – the way it’s sandwiched between a past war that absolutely scarred everyone who lived through it and a future war that they have no idea is coming, but which will affect them even more deeply when it finally arrives. It’s a very dangerous time, but one that wasn’t really acknowledged as such openly, and so it’s brilliant to play with.
As always, the characters in my books are tributes to my favourite books set in, and written during, the period. The Countess Demidovskoy comes from one of my favourite Eva Ibbotson books, The Secret Countess – it’s full of once-glam, now slightly down-at-heel Russian emigres – and the medium Madame Melinda is a tribute to all of the brilliantly nutty charlatan mediums from Ngaio Marsh’s and Dorothy Sayers’s crime novels. I love a bit of magic with my murder, and I finally got to put some in in this book.
For me, First Class Murder is really a chance to explore what was going on at the time. This is Hazel and Daisy’s first truly international case, and the baggage the suspects are carrying (emotional and physical) could only come from 1935. Without giving anything away, the coming war matters a lot, to a lot of the people on the train…
In FCM, I sensed Hazel was growing up. Was this your intention? Has Daisy grown up too?
Absolutely! It’s a difficult balance, because Daisy & Hazel’s relationship is crucial to the book, so some aspects of it has to stay constant, but at the same time they’re at an age where people change a lot, very quickly, and I want to reflect that. Hazel is getting older, and braver, and she’s learning to stand up for herself and what she believes in. The two cases she’s been part of have changed her, and changed the way she sees the world. I also introduce Hazel’s father as a major character in this book – Arsenic for Tea was the book where I explored where Daisy comes from, and this is a book that’s much more about Hazel and her relationship with her family.
There are two more books in the series still to come, I understand. What’s next for Wells and Wong?
I’m writing book 4 at the moment! It’s going to be called Gunpowder, Murder & Plot, and it takes place at Deepdean, almost exactly one year after the events of Murder Most Unladylike. There’s a fireworks display, and there’s a dead body. But although it’s set in the same school, things are very different one year later, and Hazel and Daisy’s relationship has altered again…
If you weren’t writing detective stories what sort of book would you write?
I have loads of ideas for other books, quite different from Daisy & Hazel, but although they have very disparate plots, they always end up having something to do with murder. I just can’t seem to get away from it – I think death is a big question that my brain can’t get tired of wrestling with. It’s also a big plot point, which I love from a storytelling point of view. I like to have a lot happen in my books, and you can’t get bigger than murder.
Thanks Robin. Wishing you and First Class Murder a very Happy Book Birthday. (Pssst: read it- it’s superb!)
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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.
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Emma Carroll writes MG fiction. Her debut ‘Frost Hollow Hall’, a Victorian ghost story, won the North East Book Award 2013 and was longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’ has been nominated for the CILIP medal. Her latest book ‘In Darkling Wood’ is inspired by the Cottingley Fairies photographs, and publishes with Faber in July 2015. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers.
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.