Sunday, 15 February 2015

[UKYAExtravaganza Blog Tour] Robin Stevens: Writing and Baking

I was lucky enough, after the announcement of the mega-epic UKYAExtravaganza event taking place at Waterstones Birmingham High Street on the 28th February, to be asked by participating author and event co-organiser, Kerry Drewery, to take part in the official event blog tour. Of course, this was an opportunity not to be missed, and so I readily accepted Kerry's invitation. As a Birmingham-based blogger, I am always ready to promote author events in the city, especially when it's a YA event. This particular event is going to be epic – with 35 UKYA authors attending, it'll be one of the British literary events of the year!

Each blogger on the blog tour has been partnered up with one of the event authors, and I was super-lucky to be partnered with the fabulous Robin Stevens, author of Murder Most Unladylike, and the latest instalment, Arsenic For Tea, which is now available in stores! 
If you've never heard of Robin or the Wells & Wong series, these books have been received incredibly well since Murder Most Unladylike was released last year by Corgi Children's, and this has now been shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize. Waterstones has also chosen Arsenic For Tea as their children's book of the month for February! Both of these are great achievements and speak volumes for the books and their talented author.

So without any more from me, I'd like to introduce you to the talented Robin Stevens, who has been kind enough to write a piece especially for us on the joys of her two great passions – writing and baking!

Two of my favourite things in life are writing and baking. This becomes pretty obvious as soon as you read my books, Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea – my detective heroines, Hazel and Daisy, are as fond of eating bunbreak as they are hunting down criminals, and last week I launched my second book, Arsenic for Tea, by holding a real afternoon tea. Writing is a comfort for me, and so is baking – I love that there are safe rules to follow, but once you’ve followed them there’s still scope for putting your own stamp on the recipe.

Actually, I think that I could say the same thing about the mysteries I write: I create them by following a basic murder mystery recipe and then tweaking it exactly how I want. Just like the flour, butter, sugar and eggs that I have to add when I bake, there are certain ingredients that I have to add to make my books work as mysteries. So, how do they compare? And what is my perfect murder mystery recipe?

  • Prepare the area. Before you bake, you need to choose a recipe, set out your pans and bowls, find a surface to work on . . . and the same is true for mystery writing. For me, setting comes first, and I always need to know everything about it before I start typing – I draw maps, I do my historical research and I make an enormous spreadsheet of exactly how my murder will take place, plotted down to five minute intervals.
  • Assemble your ingredients. You can’t start cooking until you have everything you need laid out in front of you, and you can’t start writing your story until you know the people you’re writing about. I note down a lot of information about each of my characters – their name, age, appearance, backstory and possible motive for the murder. Then I send the list my editor (making sure that I don’t let her know which one of them is the killer – she likes to be surprised when she reads the first draft) and make sure she thinks I’ve created a balanced group of people.
  • Mix well. Every recipe involves beating your ingredients together – and you wouldn’t have much of a mystery if you didn’t let your suspects stir each other up. I start writing my first draft, and I finally let the people I’ve made up interact in my setting until they’re whipped into a delicious, scandalous mix of emotions.
  • Season and add spice. Your cake will be dull if you don’t season it – and no murder mystery would be worth its salt without a good spicy murder added in Chapter 3.
  • Add special ingredients like fruit, nuts and chocolate. Extra ingredients make the texture of your cake more interesting, and its flavour far more exciting – and all of the best mysteries need the flourishes of clues and red herrings to interest the reader. I love weaving them in as I write, hiding clues in plain sight and dazzling readers with misdirections to try to trick them into guessing the wrong murderer.
  • Pour into moulds and bake. Cake batter is delicious, but cakes do need structure, and every cake needs to be baked. Once I’ve written my first draft, my publishers and I work together to shape the story, with several rounds of structural edits, then copyedits and the final proofread. What I’ve learned is that the first version of a story can always be improved on!
  • Decorate and arrange on your tea table. Cakes need to be dressed up to entice people to eat them – and in exactly the same way, a book needs a great cover and good marketing and PR to help it sell. I’ve discovered that there’s a lot more to being an author than writing a book. I write blogs, I give interviews and I hold signings, school visits and author events like the UKYA Extravaganza. I’ve discovered that I absolutely love doing them – they really are the icing on the cake, especially when I get to bake . . .

Find out more about Robin's books:

Murder Most Unladylike
Series: Wells & Wong #1
Pages: 324
Publisher: Corgi Children's Books
Release date: 5th June 2014

Add to Goodreads
Arsenic For Tea

Goodreads synopsis:
Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?


Wenni Donna said...

Thanks for this great post!! Well dear I am also going to attend a food event at some domestic LA venues in the next week. It is an international wine and dine event and I am attending such event for the first time. Feeling so excited!

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