Friday, 4 November 2016

Middle Grade Murder - an interview with Robin Stevens.

As the fogs of autumn give way to the occasional crisp morning of frost, it’s time to settle down to a bit of seasonal mystery...
Robin Stevens, author of the bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series, has just launched another Murder Most Unladylike Mystery – the fabulously titled MISTLETOE AND MURDER. It’s getting fantastic reviews and already topping the charts (just shows the importance of Middle Grade, people) But Robin wasn’t always a bestselling novelist, she was once an 11-year-old and that was the person I wanted to find out about:

Here she is, aged 9, having a bunbreak. 

 The 11 year old Robin Stevens was, by all reports, a bit of a bookworm – where and what would we have found her reading? 

Absolutely anything and everything! I raided the library, second-hand bookshops (my father used to take me to Hay-on-Wye every year, and standing in the specialist mystery shop Murder and Mayhem was the highlight of my life), my friends' book collections and my parents' shelves. Nothing was safe from me! I'm very lucky that no one ever told me that books were too 'young' for me to read. I happily read everything from picture books to adult books - I was definitely already reading Sherlock Holmes by then, but also re-reading my Blytons. Some of my favourite books at the time included Swallows and Amazons, Bunnicula, The Secret of Platform 13, Guards! Guards! and (bizarrely) Dave Barry Turns 50. As I say, nothing was safe from me ...

What a fabulously diverse reading list - I'm especially taken by Dave Barry (had to look that one up) But what do you think you were looking for in a book? Palpitations? Escape? Brain testing mystery?

I wanted books that taught me something and made me think (that's why I've always been so interested in puzzles and mystery - and that's what the Dave Barry was, a way of learning about history that also made me laugh) but mostly I was looking for a book that I could dive into, that made me feel part of its world and connected to its characters. I was an only child, and didn't have many neighbours my age, so I found most of my friends in books!

As a matter of interest - do you do crosswords or sudoku?
I had a phase of being a big cryptic crossword fan. I used to be pretty good! That reminds me that I should probably pick it up again. I found it really fascinating to learn, like a special coded language. Sudoku I can do, but I'm not as interested, as it's numbers or symbols, and my brain prefers word play!

So what came next? Did you hit the great Hollywood gumshoes?
I discovered Agatha Christie aged about 12 and fell in love with her plots. I loved Dorothy Sayers, too, and Ngaio Marsh and (a bit later) Josephine Tey - funnily enough I was never a big Raymond Chandler fan. His books are more thrillers than puzzles, and I think that disappointed me a bit. In terms of books I've never really wanted crime that's gory or dangerous, though I was an enormous CSI fan as a teenager!

You’re not alone with the CSI thing -  what other TV shows did/do you like - Murder she wrote?
I watched Murder She Wrote and Diagnosis Murder, but my Big Loves were (and are) the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple with Geraldine McEwen and the Suchet Poirot. I love BBC's Sherlock too. I had a Silent Witness phase, and Criminal Minds, but that just got too scary. I'm a wuss! Then Veronica Mars, Supernatural, Jonathan Creek, Alias, Heroes, Firefly ... I love good stories with great characters, however they're presented. At this very moment my big obsessions are Westworld and Humans. Robots just want to be loved, guys.

I'm thinking that you're now writing the books that you couldn't find when you were 11? So what else is out there now that wasn't out there then that you would have liked? If that makes sense?

There are so many amazing stories that just hadn't been written yet - I would have loved Skulduggery Pleasant, Mortal Engines, Hunger Games and (in terms of crime) The London Eye Mystery and Katherine Woodfine's Clockwork Sparrow series. But I think that even since I was 11 (which was 1999, not so long ago really), there's been a massive expansion in what genres are available. I know I would have LOVED comics and graphic novels, but at the time I felt like Marvel and DC were only for Proper Fans and was too shy to pick them up. If anyone had given me Lumberjanes, or the Kamala Khan Ms Marvel, or Raina Telgemeier's books, I'd have been in heaven. And YA, too - I had Louise Rennison, but I wish I could have moved on to stuff like Nicola Yoon, Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Jennifer Niven. I'd have eaten them up.

And definitely the final question - the library is burning down - which book does the 11 year old Robin rescue?
Oh man! 11 year old Robin probably stands and cries in panic. But if my library burned down today, the book I would save is one I got when I was 15. Diana Wynne Jones came to speak at the Cheltenham Festival, and I went to see her. I got my copy of Dark Lord of Derkholm signed, and it was about one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love her books beyond all reason, and I loved seeing what a good person she clearly was at that event. If I could grow up to be any author, it would be her!

Here are Robin and her dad enjoying Christmas when she was 11 (p.s. She made the Christmas crackers)

Thank you Robin Stevens. Mistletoe and Murder is out now from Puffin books priced £6.99 and is available from all good bookshops. 

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