Author on the Orient Express

October 5, 2014

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Being the author of a series means constantly living in the future of your books (which, for me, still happens to be the past – I’m very temporally confused). The next Wells & Wong Mystery that you’ll read is Arsenic for Tea, out in the UK and Ireland on 29th January 2015 and available for pre-order now. For me, though, Arsenic for Tea has already happened, and the book I’m currently working on is Daisy and Hazel’s third adventure, First Class Murder.

Murder Most Unladylike is a boarding school murder mystery, Arsenic for Tea is a country house murder mystery, and First Class Murder is a train murder mystery . . . and not just any train. It takes place on a certain rather famous 1930s train, the Orient Express. And that’s the reason why yesterday I took the world’s best author research trip.

No, I didn’t go to Venice. But what I did do is take a five-hour tour of the Kent countryside, departing and arriving from Victoria Station, in Pullman dining carriages that have been restored to their original ridiculous 1930s beauty as part of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The Orient Express itself would have been blue and cream rather than brown and cream, with three dining carriages to 11 Wagons Lit (sleeping cars), but what we saw was otherwise pretty much what my characters would have experienced. I’m enormously grateful to train manager Jeff Monk, who very kindly responded to my bonkers author questions (‘But would there have been ice cream?’), and to the train staff, who let me take hundreds of photos of window locks and curtains and their uniforms.

The train arrives!
The train arrives!
I prepare to board
I prepare to board our coach, Minerva.
Minerva was originally built in the 1920s and ran throughout the 1930s. Perfect!
Minerva was originally built in the 1920s and ran throughout the 1930s. Perfect!
Our table. The chairs were real, moveable armchairs.
Our table. The chairs were real, moveable armchairs.
Minerva carriage
Minerva carriage
The marquetry. Oh, the marquetry. And an instruction about what to do in case of an unexpected emergency...
The marquetry. Oh, the marquetry. And an instruction about what to do in case of an unexpected emergency…
Off we go!
Off we go!
The beautiful place setting. The crest was always at the top, and the knives and forks and crystal glasses were ALWAYS rattling as the train moved. Pouring a drink was a difficult activity!
The beautiful place setting. The crest was always at the top, and the knives and forks and crystal glasses were ALWAYS rattling as the train moved. Pouring a drink was a difficult activity!
Serving soup. Everything came in large tureens, and nothing was spilled, which was amazing.
Serving soup. Everything came in large tureens, and nothing was spilled, which was amazing.
Oh, the food. This was a creamy apple and blackberry pudding. The Orient Express would have had a chiller, but not a freezer - no ices for Daisy and Hazel!
Oh, the food. This was a creamy apple and blackberry pudding. The Orient Express would have had a chiller, but not a freezer – no ices for Daisy and Hazel!
Exploring - the rather fancy bathroom!
Exploring – the rather fancy bathroom!
The BEAUTIFUL Deco lighting in carriage Audrey.
The BEAUTIFUL Art Deco lighting in carriage Audrey.
More marquetry, and a window.
More marquetry, and a window.
Very tight squeeze in the corridors.
Very tight squeeze in the corridors.
The door outside. So secure . . .
The door outside. So secure . . .
Dancing to the band
Dancing to the band
Authoring (this may have been posed. But I did take lots of notes).
Authoring
A peaceful afternoon photo.
A peaceful afternoon photo.

We had a completely brilliant time, and I have learned some very important things, such as: 1930s trains have weird suspensions. They bounce. They are also very loud, and when you move through them you have to constantly re-adjust the way you’re standing so that you don’t fall over. I’m now going to go back to my manuscript and add in a lot of people staggering about and not being able to hear each other. Authoring really is an enormous amount of fun.

More posts to explore

Exciting news, Detectives: the numbers are in, and Death Sets Sail is floating at the very top of the charts! It’s the NUMBER ONE paperback in the UK, it’s NUMBER FOUR overall in the UK children’s and YA chart (in the week that we got a new Stephenie Meyer and a new Jeff Kinney) and it’s NUMBER TWELVE of all books sold in the UK. That’s ALL books, not just kids!
Death Sets Sail is out now – and my publisher Puffin thought you might want to celebrate that fact! They’ve put together a (socially distanced) party pack to help you and your friends wave goodbye to the series in style.
‘the story unfolds neatly and is satisfyingly twisty. It has a strong sense of place … and two budding romances, and explores the powerful bonds of friendship as girls grow up.’
At the end of a series, you want a big finish. Something to make the series go out with a bang. Well, Robin Stevens did just that with Death Sets Sail. Packed with suspense throughout, and unimaginable twists and turns, Death Sets Sail was without a doubt the best book in the Murder Most Unladylike series.
I have another event coming up next week – a live Q&A and reading in partnership with the Arvon Foundation’s Arvon at Home programme on Tuesday 11th August at 4pm. You can book tickets NOW – they’re £3 per screen – and I hope as many of you as possible will log on!
Because it’s publication day, I’m sharing a video of me reading from the first chapter of Death Sets Sail. But beware … the first chapter contains the first SPOILER! So watch … if you dare!

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