Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Books that Made Daisy and Hazel

As some of you may know, I finished the latest draft of Murder Most Unladylike yesterday. This means that we're one stage closer to turning my brain's random firings into an actual, physical book.

In a few months, Daisy and Hazel aren't just going to be mine any more. They're going to belong to you, to every single person who reads about them, and some of you are not going to like them. It's a surprisingly scary thought.

Anyway, to stop myself worrying about that, I've come up with a list of books that I was thinking about when I wrote Murder Most Unladylike, a handy guide to what's in Daisy and Hazel's literary DNA. This is where the Wells and Wong Detective Society started . . . 

1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Of course this one was going to be in here! My father gave me a copy of A Study in Scarlet when I was eight (an interesting choice of childhood reading material, and one which may have been intended to make a passive-agressive point about the nuttiness of my mother's Mormon family members), and I've loved Holmes and Watson ever since.

There's a lot of the Great Detective in Daisy. He's a detective who's 's successful largely because of all the localised know-how he has. Take him out of London, or ask him to solve a crime that doesn't involve any of his specialised areas of knowledge and he's just not quite as brilliant. Daisy, likewise, is able to solve the murder because she's made an obsessive study of all the goings-on at Deepdean school. But she's also a bit anti-Holmes: when I was making up my detectives I wondered what would happen if someone as smart as Sherlock was actually interested in human emotions as well as footprints, and Daisy was the result.

Hazel, meanwhile, is a bit of a mixture. She's a tribute to Watson - not the dopey TV version, but Conan Doyle's smarter, cooler original who actually helped Holmes solve his cases - but she's also got Sherlock's three-pipe armchair brilliance. And that's very helpful, because all Daisy wants to do is shout, "THE GAME'S AFOOT!" and wrestle the murderer to the ground in triumph, but she couldn't get there without Hazel.

2. The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

When I was researching Murder Most Unladylike I realised with total horror that I couldn't have any of my characters actually reading an Enid Blyton book. The first Famous Five was published in 1942, eight years after the events in my book (process this, if you can: in the 1930s they had linoleum but no Enid Blyton). But of course, Daisy and Hazel wouldn't exist without Blyton's stories about Mallory Towers, St Clare's and the Famous Five.

The Famous Five are really the Famous Two and Three Complete Idiots. Timmy the Dog contributes more to any one mystery than Anne does to the entire series. In fact, all Anne does is cook and cry, and all Julian does is look after Anne, and all Dick does is chase after Julian looking adoring. They're rubbish. It's up to George, ably assisted by Timmy, to single-handedly protect the Cornish coast from smugglers, and I've always very much respected her as a detective heroine. Like George, Daisy and Hazel are extremely determined to solve their case, and they're also just as willing to take on grown-ups who they think are Up To No Good. Also, they like to eat cake and drink ginger beer while they do it. I hope Enid would approve.

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

This might seem a bit weird at first, but the Harry Potter series made me want to write detective novels. I remember reading Philosopher's Stone for the first time when I was eleven and realising with total excitement that J.K. Rowling had written a whodunit.

Think about it. In each of the Harry Potter books you have to work out who the bad guy is. Most of them actually feature a murder in some way or another. In fact, the whole series begins with the murders of Harry's parents, and it's largely about Harry's quest to bring their killer to justice. And then there's Hermione, superstar girl detective, who always solves the case. See what I mean? Harry Potter is just a mystery series with wizards. There's definitely a bit of Hogwarts in Deepdean, and a lot of Harry, Ron and Hermione's friendship in Daisy and Hazel's.

 4. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

I doubt you'll be surprised that I've got some Agatha Christie in this list. It's probably equally unsurprising that I've chosen her school spy story to feature here. Normally, Christie doesn't really write about children, and that's possibly because she's so awful at it. Her under-16s are basically just lumpy, pupal pre-adults, and when I first read her books (aged twelve) this really bothered me. I wanted to read a murder mystery with characters like me, and there just weren't any in Christie. Even the older teenage characters just ended up getting married, which was not a life path I could relate to. I think I wrote Murder Most Unladylike so that my twelve-year-old self could finally read about kids solving a Christie murder.

Anyway, Cat Among the Pigeons is an exception to Christie's general no-children rule, and I think it's quite great. It's got an exciting jewel heist, midnight shenanigans in the sports pavilion, lots of hockey and tennis and even more teacherly intrigue.

It also features a non-white pupil, Princess Shaista. I admit, said princess is an utterly rubbish stock character, but the fact that she's there is really interesting. It made me want to write a non-white, non-English character who was actually a human being, and thinking that was one step on the way to creating Hazel. 

5. Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie

Another Agatha Christie! Everyone knows about Poirot and Miss Marple, but she also wrote other detectives, and my favourite of those are Tommy and Tuppence. They are adorably immature adults (weirdly enough, I think Christie wrote her best child characters when she wrote about grown-ups), and they solve crime by pretending to be their favourite fictional detectives.

What's delightful is how silly Tommy and Tuppence are about really serious things, and how much fun they have with the detection process. That's the kind of detective novel I like to read. I love books that turn the crime into a puzzle to be solved, something that's awful but essentially fixible. And I love making jokes about serious things. Agatha Christie is the queen of all of that.

6. Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley

The cool thing about Sherlock Holmes is that he's always right. When you read a Holmes story you almost don't have to bother working things out for yourself (not that you even can, most of the time, unless you know 800 types of tobacco or the precise footprint tread depth left by a man carrying a body) because he's on the case. But it's also pretty cool to realise that sometimes, even detectives can be wrong.

Trent's Last Case introduced me to the concept of the fallible detective. Trent gets called in to solve a murder and completely screws his investigation up. He accuses the wrong person and awful things happen as a result. To me this was a total revelation. I suddenly realised that the reader could be allowed to be a better detective than the one the author's written. You could beat the professionals!

Daisy and Hazel may think they're pro detectives, but in true Trent style they go horribly wrong in the course of the investigation. They get there in the end (otherwise it wouldn't be much of a detective novel, would it?), but . . . well, all I'm going to say is that they get there in the end.

7. Raffles the Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung

I like my detectives to be a bit bad. Even Miss Marple, for all her kittenish old lady-ness, has a naughty side. A good detective needs to be able to break the rules (and to quite enjoy doing it), and so I think that this series, about a gentleman thief called Raffles and his adoring and spectacularly stupid sidekick Bunny, is pretty wonderful. The author, Hornung, was actually related to Conan Doyle (he was his brother in law), and these books were essentially fanfiction - Hornung wanted to write a version of Holmes where he was against the law rather than on its side.

So Raffles and Bunny go on daring night-time jewel heists, and steal priceless paintings from the Queen's collection, and it's all completely amazing and totally ridiculous. But the important thing about Raffles is that, even though he spends his evenings robbing people, by day he is the quintessential English cricket-playing gentleman. That's very similar to what's going on with Daisy. She seems like the perfect English young lady, but secretly she's a super-cool super-smart detective who will stop at nothing to solve a case. And she, like Raffles, is not above breaking the law - although when she does steal things she always makes sure to give them back afterwards.

8. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

This is it. This is the one. I have read a lot of detective novels in my life, but if I had to pick just one to take to a desert island it would be Miss Pym Disposes. It's a murder mystery set in a girls' boarding school, in which someone is found dead in the Gym - basically, Murder Most Unladylike is an adoring tribute to this book. Miss Pym is a fantastically fallible detective (she gets it horribly wrong on numerous occasions), there's a non-white pupil (although she's another stereotype, sadly), and there's a twist at the end so twistingly twisty that your brain will melt with the horrible amazement of it.

Can you tell that I love this book? Tey is a really fabulous writer, and a very clever plotter, and she really deserves to be known much more widely than she is. Don't worry, the person whodunit in Miss Pym Disposes isn't at all the person whodunit in Murder Most Unladylike, so one will not spoil you for the other, but there is a lot of Ley's Physical Training College in Deepdean, and a lot of Miss Pym in Daisy and Hazel.

And that's your lot! Of course, there's an awful lot more where that came from. I'm a bit of a detective novel fan. Let's just hope that Nat likes what I've done to Murder Most Unladylike . . . and that, in eight months or so, you like it too.


  1. I love the sound of Daisy and Hazel. I first discovered them through G. Cooper on twitter and then read your blog. Then just now I heard you being mentioned by Gemma Cooper (again!) on an Undiscovered Voices video.I was wading through the bad acoustics wondering if I should enter my MG manuscript. Do let your faithful readers know if there are any ARCs to be read! And congrats on finishing revisons.

    1. Hello and than you! I'm so glad you like the sound of them. ARCs are definitely happening soon - hopefully I'll be given a few to give away here!

      And I hope you entered your MS! Good luck if so.