A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
My name is Ted Spark. I am 12 years and 281 days old. I have seven friends. Three months ago, I solved the mystery of how my cousin Salim disappeared from a pod on the London Eye. This is the story of my second mystery.
This summer, I went on holiday to New York, to visit Aunt Gloria and Salim. While I was there, a painting was stolen from the Guggenheim Museum, where Aunt Gloria works.
Everyone was very worried and upset. I did not see what the problem was. I do not see the point of paintings, even if they are worth £9.8 million. Perhaps that’s because of my very unusual brain, which works on a different operating system to everyone else’s.
But then Aunt Gloria was blamed for the theft – and Aunt Gloria is family. And I realised just how important it was to find the painting, and discover who really had taken it.
Lauren: I loved The Guggenheim Mystery so much. Robin, you’ve done an incredible job of continuing Siobhan’s story without simply mimicking it. You’ve really captured the voice of Ted, and Siobhan. How did you approach the task of continuing another author’s series? Did you try to make the series your own instead of imitating Siobhan?
Robin: I’m so glad you feel that way! I’ve always known that the book simply wouldn’t work unless I had Ted right, and so that was the thing I concentrated on the most. I read The London Eye Mystery again and again, as well as Siobhan’s other books, to make sure I understood how she wrote.
Siobhan puts together sentences differently to the way I do, and I tried to use a style that honoured and echoed hers but still had a bit of my own voice within it. It was a hard balance to get right, but it clicked for me early on in the first draft. I remember the moment: I was sitting on the tube in London, and I suddenly knew how Ted would experience the scene I was seeing. He truly felt like my character as well as Siobhan’s and I knew I could tell his story on her behalf.
Was writing in another author’s universe easier or harder than creating one from scratch?
I think it presented different challenges! I’m lucky that I grew up as a child of the internet, very influenced by fanfiction – so the idea of creating within an existing universe felt at least understandable. And Siobhan has created such a beautiful world with such rich, deep human beings that it wasn’t difficult at all to imagine a continuation to her story!
It still felt absolutely like a creative act, though – I had the characters, but I had to imagine how they might have changed (or not!) since the first book. That was the theme I was trying to work on in The Guggenheim Mystery: how people and things change, and what that change means.
What was your visit to the Guggenheim like? Did you plan the crime before you visited or was it based completely on the layout and architecture of the building when you saw it in person?
I visited the Guggenheim in September 2015, without any idea of the story I was going to tell. When I went in, the museum was changing over an exhibition, and the main rotunda wasn’t the peaceful white space I’d been expecting. It was noisy and chaotic, and I knew Ted would be very upset by it. I also looked around at the people working and knew exactly how the crime would happen!
I went home that evening and wrote a sample chapter (in the final book it’s Chapter Seven) which we sent to the Siobhan Dowd Trust. They approved that, and the project officially started!
Ted is such a distinctive and unique character. He notices things that other people miss. How is his method of solving crime different to Daisy and Hazel’s? What do you think would happen if they all teamed up together – who would find the murderer first?
Ted and Hazel are almost entirely opposite. Hazel is a vivid noticer of the world, but she sees everything as coloured by emotion and part of a story. Ted, on the other hand, is sharply focused on small details, and his thoughts are much more fragmented than Hazel’s. I think he’s closer to Daisy in terms of thought process, but he doesn’t have any of Daisy’s drama and flair for danger.
I imagine that if they all teamed up, Ted would act as a check on Hazel and Daisy’s thought processes. I think he’s more logical than both of them! I don’t know who would solve the crime first, though I have the suspicion that it might be Ted …
How big of an impact did the contemporary setting have on writing a mystery novel? Did technology effect the story in ways you hadn’t anticipated?
I curse the day that CCTV was invented! It’s harder to work with technology, since it makes it easier for more people to know more things. In Guggenheim, Ted, Salim and Kat are up against a police force who can look at traffic cameras, security cameras, internet searches … I’ve had to have some very lucky technical breakdowns and human errors! I’ve realised I like writing stories where the detectives have to rely on their wits, and (with the help of a switched-off phone) that’s still what I’ve managed to tell.
You’ve spoken a lot about the inspirations behind the Murder Most Unladylike series, such as Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. What writers or books in particular inspired this novel?
Siobhan, of course! It’s been an honour to work so closely with her book and her characters. But in terms of other writers, the one who stands out is E. L. Konigsburg. Her From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler is one of my top ten books of all time. It’s about two kids who run away to the Met in New York and solve a historical mystery, and I thought about it constantly while writing Guggenheim.
I never managed to get Ted into the Met in the final draft (he goes in the first draft, but we had to cut that scene), but there’s still an encounter Ted has with a woman on the subway who, in my head, is Mrs Basil E. herself.
You wrote this novel in a very short time – was this the quickest you’ve written a first draft? How did the short time limit change your writing process?
We squeezed it into my schedule – I think I wrote the first draft in two months! I had been planning it for almost a year before that, though, so I was able to put down words on the page quickly when I needed to. I had to be very unfussy with the words I got down, which I think was actually very helpful – if I’d had more time, I’d have had more time to doubt myself.
I think this might have been the book where I finally learned that first drafts are bad, and that’s fine, and the only thing you can do to fix them … is write a second draft. It all turned out OK in the end!
You’ve brought your own flair to the story, while adding even more depth to the brilliant characters of THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY. Ted has one of the most unique voices in fiction, and it’s a pleasure to see the world through his eyes. I hope there are many more in this series!
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. Continue reading…
Books: MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE | ARSENIC FOR TEA | FIRST CLASS MURDER | JOLLY FOUL PLAY
“Friendship, boarding school and a murder worthy of Agatha Christie.” — The Bookseller for Murder Most Unladylike
Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics.
She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.
The Next Together has been translated into five languages worldwide. It was described by The Bookseller as ‘funny, romantic and compulsively readable’. It was longlisted for the Branford Boase Award, a prize given to recognise an outstanding novel by a first time writer.
Her other novels include The Last Beginning, the epic conclusion to The Next Together which was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for kids and young adults by the Independent. A short story set in the world of The Next Together series, Another Together, is also available.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature scientists in prominent roles.
She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk.
BOOKS: THE NEXT TOGETHER | THE LAST BEGINNING | ANOTHER TOGETHER (e-novella) | THE LONELIEST GIRL IN THE UNIVERSE
“Funny, romantic and compulsively readable” – The Bookseller for The Next Together