We talked with author Robin Stevens about her new book, The Ministry of Unladylike Activity.
It seems like your brain is full of mysteries! From where do you get your inspiration? And how do you keep coming up with such amazing plot twists?
I read a lot of murder mysteries! I think that’s really important – I’m very inspired by the way other authors have structured their mystery stories. I also think it’s crucial to always be paying attention to the world around you. I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting people, places and things that could fit into my books. In a way, authors are a lot like detectives – we’re always looking for mysteries!
You studied crime fiction in university. What’s the most important thing you learned during your studies, and how has it shaped your writing?
I learned just how carefully structured each mystery story is, and how important that structure is. It taught me to always be clear about all of the elements of the crime (who did it, why, where, when, with what, and who else was there …) so that I don’t get confused as I write. I make a plan of my murder before I start writing each book, and that plan hardly ever changes – it’s really important to me that I know what exactly happened before I begin!
Do you have a regular writing routine/ practice?
When I’m working on a first draft I try to write 2,000 words a day – but I can only write fast because I’ve made a very careful plan of the story beforehand! Some days I don’t write at all, since a lot of the work is invisible thinking and plotting time to help the actual writing go more quickly.
What advice would you give young readers who hope to become authors one day?
The only foolproof advice I can give is to make sure you’re reading a lot and writing a lot. Reading will give you an understanding of how other authors put together their plots and create their characters, and writing will help you practice your own! Don’t worry about spelling or grammar while you write – just tell really exciting and fun stories, and you’ll get better and better.
Where did you get the idea for The Ministry of Unladylike Activity?
I knew I wanted to keep writing in the world of Murder Most Unladylike, but I also knew I wanted a new challenge. Hazel’s little sister May felt like the perfect way into a new generation of the Detective Society. She’s so fierce and brave and fun, and I realised that she would be 10 in 1940, making the new series a World War Two series as well as a murder mystery series. Then I heard about the real-life British spy organisation the SOE, which was nicknamed the ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ and it just seemed too perfect! I decided to invent a fictional ‘Ministry of Unladylike Activity’ and send some of my favourite characters from Murder Most Unladylike to staff it. May and her new friend Eric try to join, but they’re turned away, so they decide to prove their worth by sniffing out a German spy at an English country house. There they meet a girl called Fionnuala who May absolutely hates and vows never to work with … until the murder happens!
What is your favourite part of being a children’s author?
Obviously, my first love is writing books. Coming up with new puzzles and characters to solve them is just so much fun! But I also really love meeting my fans and being able to help inspire the next generation of authors. There’s something so special about being an author of children’s books – you’re part of the most formative years of a person’s life, and that’s a true honour. I still remember my favourite children’s books, and I think I always will!
Intrigued? Start reading chapter one.
In stores July 2021, until stocks run out.
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