The last blog post of our Top Ten shortlisted titles in the Children’s Book Awards is by Robin Stevens, shortlisted for her title Mistletoe and Murder in the Books for Older Readers category.
I have been asked some amazing questions during school visits (including: What is your favourite sort of cake? Why do you have a bearded dragon as a pet? Have you ever murdered anyone, and how would you do it?), but there are two that I always know I’m going to hear. Why do you write about murder? And where do you get your inspiration?
The first one is easy. I write about murder because it’s the thing that interests me most in the world. That doesn’t mean that I actually like murder. I’m horrified by it. I can’t understand why anyone would want to kill someone else, and when I don’t understand something I have two responses: I read as many books about it as I can, and then I sit down and write my own stories about it.
I first started to read murder mysteries when I was about twelve, and I was lucky that I began with Agatha Christie. She wrote her most famous books in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, but they’re still popular today because they are just so good. Each one isn’t just a crime, it’s a puzzle – the dead body doesn’t matter as much as the logic problem it gives the detective and the reader, and when that problem is solved everyone in the book (apart from the murderer and their victim) gets to be safe again. It’s so much tidier and more comforting than real life.
So when I started writing my own murder mysteries, I knew I wanted them to be like Agatha Christie’s, but with a twist. There aren’t nearly enough kids in Agatha Christie books, so I thought I’d put some in. My two detectives, Daisy and Hazel, appeared in my head one day about eight years ago, and they haven’t gone away since.
Which leads me to the inspiration bit. Daisy and Hazel are definitely based on my own memories of being thirteen (my friends and I went to boarding school, just like they do), but (my questioners always look so disappointed when I tell them this) that’s where the similarities end. I have never been anywhere near a murder, and the horrible crimes that Hazel and Daisy face come straight out of my head and out of the books (fiction and non-fiction) that I’ve read. However, the places Daisy and Hazel visit always mean a lot to me. It’s very important that the scene of the crime feels real, and so I always use locations that I know well.
When I was a child, my father worked as the Master of Pembroke College in Oxford (which is like being a headteacher, only for a university, not a school). I have lots of memories of sneaking around there, spying on the students and generally being where I shouldn’t. Then, as a grown-up, I lived in Cambridge for two years – a city that’s both very cosy (full of tea shops, including my favourite Fitzbillies) and very creepy (misty and quiet at night, full of old, odd-looking buildings …).
Because of those two experiences, I decided to send Hazel and Daisy to Cambridge – and to make the college they visit, Maudlin, be exactly like the Pembroke that I remembered from my own childhood. Then I added in some nasty student pranks, a cast of very odd characters, horrible murder and one of my very favourite times of year, Christmas, and that was the start of Mistletoe and Murder. It was one of my very favourite books to write, a perfect mix of doom and festive cheer (with plenty of delicious bunbreaks). I am so proud of it, and I hope that you’ll choose to vote for it in the Children’s Book Award this year!
Oh and by the way, the answers to the three questions at the beginning of this blog are: carrot cake; because bearded dragons are surprisingly cute; no, and I’m not going to tell you …
(Robin, pictured in Cambridge’s famous Fitzbillies tea room, having a bun break with a fan).
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite. You must have read all the books in a category in order to vote for them. Click here to submit your vote. Voting closes on the 12th May.