An Indies Introduce Q&A With Robin Stevens
Robin Stevens is the author of Murder Is Bad Manners (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), a Spring 2015 Indies Introduce debut novel for middle grade readers.
Stevens was born in California, but grew up in Oxford, England. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College, an all-girls boarding school much like the one featured in her Wells & Wong series, and received her master’s in crime fiction from the University of Warwick. She currently works as an assistant editor at Egmont UK.
“When murder strikes a posh British boarding school, friends Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are on the case! The fact that no one believes them isn’t enough to stop these clever young ladies as they parse faculty drama, red herrings, and student strife,” said Maggie Tokuda-Hall, formerly of Books Inc. in San Francisco, California. “I loved this book for its utterly relatable characters, its enticing narrative voice, and pitch-perfect representation of an all-girls school social dynamic. The mystery kept me guessing, and I think it will keep the pages turning for young readers, too.”
How did the story’s 1930s English boarding school setting influence your creation of the characters of Hazel, who is newly arrived from Hong Kong, and the very British Daisy?
Robin Stevens: I always knew I wanted my protagonist to be Hong Kong Chinese. At first I was a bit worried about whether putting a Chinese girl in 1930s England would be realistic, but as soon as I started to research it, I realized that there wouldn’t be any problems at all. The first girl from the British Empire to attend my English boarding school (the model for Daisy and Hazel’s) arrived in 1901, and there had been significant groups of Chinese people in England since at least the middle of the 19th century. History is much more culturally broad than we assume it is, and so I’ve never felt that I couldn’t put non-white or LGBT characters into my stories. The sad thing is that, for all of the leaps forward we have made since then, a lot of the issues those characters have to face still feel very familiar today.
There are hints of classic murder mysteries in Murder Is Bad Manners. Who do you count among your literary influences? And what titles besides your own would you recommend to young readers looking for a good mystery?
RS: There were a lot of influences on Murder Is Bad Manners, from both children’s and adult writers. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Enid Blyton, Carolyn Keene, Donald J. Sobol, Josephine Tey … their stories were all floating around my brain, and I certainly couldn’t have written my book without reading them. In terms of children’s mysteries, I think that today’s kids are spoiled for choice. Besides the mysteries that I used to love — Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, the Famous Five — there are brilliant new books like The Wig in the Window by Kristin Kittscher, Greenglass House by Kate Milford, The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry. It’s a great time to be writing in the genre!
We are officially naming “bunbreaks,” alongside “elevenses” and “butterbeer,” as something every literary establishment should incorporate. What tasty treat do you recommend eating while reading Murder Is Bad Manners?
RS: I’m very pleased to be bringing bunbreaks to America! It’s a brilliant concept, and one that I heartily embrace in my day-to-day life. I’d say that you really can’t go wrong in your choice of bunbreak food — although my preference is always for cinnamon buns. Cookies or muffins also work well, I’ve found.
What can readers look forward to in the second Wells & Wong mystery, Poison Is Not Polite?
RS: Poison Is Not Polite takes place four months after the end of Murder Is Bad Manners, during the Easter holidays. The girls head back to Daisy’s posh English country mansion to celebrate her birthday — but things go terribly wrong when a guest her mother has invited takes ill at her birthday party.
I had a huge amount of fun properly introducing Daisy’s crazy family in the book — you finally get to meet the mysterious Uncle Felix, for example — and in writing more about Daisy and Hazel’s friendship. It felt great to go back to them and build up their characters and their world more. And I loved creating my own country house murder mystery, after being a fan of them for years!
You spent time as a bookseller at Blackwell Broad Street in Oxford. What do you miss most about bookselling? And what do you think is most important about bookstores?
RS: It’s still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It was so exciting to be able to sell a product that I totally believed in — I loved matching customers with the perfect book for them, and spreading the word about my favorites. Booksellers are the most important thing about bookstores: they have personal passion, and so they’re able to recommend books to their customers in a way that an Internet retailer’s algorithms never can. This is especially important in terms of children’s books, I think. Parents often don’t have any idea about what’s out there in the market, and so booksellers can help them look beyond the few titles they’ve heard of and discover hidden gems that will help their child fall in love with books. And as soon as a kid’s in love with books, they’ll be readers for life.
Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9781481422123) Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Learn more about Robin Stevens by visiting her at robin-stevens.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @redbreastedbird.
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