Robin Stevens is author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, homages to the golden age of detective fiction starring schoolgirl detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells. She is now working on a new mystery series, the Ministry of Unladylike Activity. Before starting her career as an author, she was a bookseller at Blackwell’s and an editor at Egmont (now Farshore).
Have you been to book fairs before, and, if so, what have you made of them?
I’ve been to Bologna Book Fair, quite a few years ago, and found it both exciting and overwhelming! It was wonderful to meet my international publishers, and quite humbling to see the scale of the worldwide publishing industry.
What are you looking forward to in your Author of the Day role?
I’m so excited to be given the opportunity to help promote children’s fiction on a world stage, and meet so many people passionate about children’s publishing. It’s also going to be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate almost a decade of Murder Most Unladylike with Puffin and my international publishers–I don’t usually get to speak face-to-face with the people who publish my books, so this will be a very special moment!
Since you began your Murder Most Unladylike series, mystery fiction has become one of the most popular children’s genres. Why do you think this is?
I think mystery is a perennial favorite for children, and I’m just delighted that my books arrived at the right moment to help relaunch the genre! Children love to be challenged, intrigued, and frightened within a safe framework, and they love to see characters who look and act like them have genuine power; a mystery story starring young detectives ticks both boxes.
You decided to conclude the series with Death Sets Sail. Has there been a lot of lobbying from fans to change your mind?
I’m lucky in that although I concluded the series, I didn’t say goodbye to the world–my new series, Ministry of Unladylike Activity, takes place a few years after the end of Death Sets Sail, and stars Hazel’s little sister May. And there are plenty of cameos from the detectives of Murder Most Unladylike! I hope it’ll allow a new generation of fans to enter the world while giving established fans some special moments with their favorites. But of course, I have had some people asking for more specifically Daisy and Hazel adventures. I don’t have any plans to do that at the moment. I love spending time with my new heroes May, Erica, and Nuala–but who knows what might happen in the future!
Your novels–in the Murder Most Unladylike series and now in the Ministry of Unladylike Activity–are in part pastiches of or homages to classic mysteries, but with what are today more acceptable attitudes. Do you enjoy combining these elements?
Absolutely! I adore golden-age crime novels of the kind written by Agatha Christie and her contemporaries, but I always noticed who wasn’t allowed to be in those stories, and who was ridiculed when they did appear. They are very closed worlds, in a number of ways, and in writing my books I’m trying to redress those exclusions as well as celebrate the kind of mystery plots they made popular. I think it’s really important to say that those attitudes have never been acceptable–we have all always been there, and we all deserve to see ourselves written about sensitively and knowledgeably.
Do you feel that children’s publishing has become more inclusive? How far does it have to go?
I do and I don’t! I think that the idea of inclusivity has become more widely understood, and I think that publishers are making efforts to publish more inclusively, but I also think that there is still a very hegemonic white, upper-middle-class, straight, cis, and able-bodied culture at the middle and top of publishing houses. This means that authors from underrepresented backgrounds are often not very well cared for through the publishing process, and books that star characters from the same underrepresented backgrounds are treated as tougher sells. I worry that a lot of the change is surface-level, and I really want to keep pushing publishing houses to both hire diversely, and support and promote their existing employees from underrepresented backgrounds.