Interview with Rosalind Stopps – Author of A Beginner’s Guide to Murder
Ceecee: Rosalind, your book ‘A Beginners Guide to Murder’ is a compelling story that is a fantastic thriller and much more. I would like to congratulate you on writing it and I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview. Many thanks for making the time available.
Ceecee: What inspired you to write this book, and which came first – the storyline for Nina, or for Meg, Grace and Daphne’?
Rosalind: Definitely my older women came first. They needed an adventure and I wanted them to feel that they had to kill someone very bad, a real baddie so that readers didn’t feel too sorry for him. I’m a similar age to the women and so are lots of my friends so I knew that one thing we all feel strongly about is protecting young people, probably because we are aware that our generation has made such a mess of things. So I gave them a young girl to rescue!
Ceecee: One of the characters reminded me of a fantastic lady I used to work with. What was the inspiration for the fabulous characters in the upper age profile?
Rosalind: There are little bits of lots of people I know and have known in my characters, and little bits of me as well. As we get older we often become quite invisible, so l loved the chance to make the oldies shine and show what they can do. I hope they remind everyone of someone they know!
Ceecee: Henry looms large in judgement even though he is dead. Was he designed to show that Meg is the exact opposite of his pronouncements?
Rosalind: I didn’t think of that! I write more from instinct, and I’ve seen men behave in a Henryish fashion quite often. I wanted Meg to realise that she was a strong and capable woman.
Ceecee: The character of Bilbo isn’t featured in the book for long but he moved me to tears. Who is your favourite character and why?
Rosalind: Actually I love Bilbo too. I worked for years with families with young children with disabilities, and Bilbo is drawn from those days. My favourite is Gordon though, the ex ringmaster who makes an appearance near the end of the book. I love his old fashioned courtesy and his unusual approach. Wouldn’t he be a great love interest for Meg one day? 😉
Ceecee: Is it important to you to include humour in your stories?
Rosalind: The humour seems to come by accident. It always used to happen in my writing group, I would write something I felt was poignant and tragic and the others would fall about laughing. I think humour is like that though, if you have to force it then it doesn’t really work. I have no idea why people think I’m funny.
Ceecee: Do you use story boarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling? Would you therefore describe yourself as a plotter, pantser or plantser?
Rosalind: I am a terrible plotter! I absolutely go with the flow and then edit like crazy so that it makes sense. My outline for a whole book is usually less than a page of notes. So a pantser for sure!
Ceecee: Have you ever experienced writers block, how disruptive is it, and do you have any tips for addressing the problem?
Rosalind: My problem when I was younger was always finding time to write, so I never had the luxury of writers block! Now I’m retired I have time, and somehow if I sit at my desk the words are very kind and keep coming. My husband was very ill last autumn and in hospital for a long time and I didn’t write then, but it wasn’t really a block, I was just too sad to write. My advice to anyone who is stuck would be, give yourself a really small word count and try to fill it each day, even if you think what you are writing is dreadful. If the story has legs it’ll be there to edit later and if it doesn’t, good job for having a practice run.
Ceecee: Do you use software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Rosalind: Aargh! I have no idea what they are! I write directly onto an iPad screen without an extra keyboard. It’s portable and I’ve got so used to it that I’m very happy. If it breaks I’ve got a spare mini iPad, and if that breaks too I’m fine with pen and paper (as long as the paper is lined.)
Ceecee: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Rosalind: Be prepared to keep going. I wrote five books that will never see the light of day (thank goodness). It’s really not worth writing unless you like the actual process for its own sake, but everyone needs feedback so find yourself a writing group, either in real life or online. Learn your craft, it’s not instinctive unless you’re really lucky and/or smart – most of us need classes and groups and practice. There are a few people who open their computers and write like a dream (I’m thinking of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and Zadie Smith here, both of whom wrote fantastic books when they were very young indeed) but for most of us it’s a hard slog. It’s worth persevering, not least because it’s such a fabulous gift, to be able to have a whole other world in your head as you wash up or go round the supermarket!
Ceecee: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Rosalind: I haven’t done very much promoting at all, mainly because of lockdown. I’m very lucky to have a great team to do that for me, although I’d love to do more. I write more or less every day, and I’ve found that when I skip a day I’m really not happy.
Ceecee: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on your writing?
Rosalind: I’m a voracious reader and I always have been. I think everything I read goes into an internal computer in my brain and does a little bit towards shaping what I write. I would most like to write like Ann Tyler or Elizabeth Strout, and I hope there’s always a little bit of Stephen King in my writing! I also adore Kazuo Ishiguro and would love to be able to write as simply and as sparsely as he does, without losing any of the emotional punch.
Ceecee: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months? What one book jumps to your mind, as you think of your top 10 books of all time?
Rosalind: I’m going to have to be annoying and choose two I’ve read recently. ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro made me cry when I was two per cent through it, which is some feat. I’m still thinking about it. Also though, my reading group just read, ‘Our Spoons Came From Woolworths’ by Barbara Comyns and I couldn’t believe I’d never read her before. A masterclass in using simple language to convey complex emotions, and an unflinching depiction of suffering with a light touch. Marvellous stuff, I’m going through her other books now.
Ceecee: If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 personalities from any period in history who would they be and why?
Rosalind: I’m not so keen on dead people so I’m going to choose three live ones. That way it might happen some day! I’m going to invite Michael Rosen, so that I can give him a treat after the appalling time he had during the pandemic. Also I love his writing, and he is always interesting and smart. He was in ICU just before my husband was and I took such comfort from stories of his long road to recovery. I think we would have a lot to talk about. I’ll also invite Jacinda Arden, so that I can ask her how on earth she has managed to govern her country so well despite the pandemic, the terrorist attack on the Christchurch mosque and a new baby. I would wear a hat so that I could take it off to her. The third guest would be Marcus Rashford, so that I can thank him for showing the rest of us the way, and being so wise at such a young age. And I’d also fill the party with my friends, so that they could do the talking when I’m too awestruck to speak!
Ceecee: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Rosalind: I’ve nearly finished a book set in the first lockdown in a small seaside town. There’s a whole new cast of characters, including two young brothers and a homeless man who is living under the bridge in a mini golf course when the novel opens. It’s about ordinary people living in extraordinary times, their relationships and their friendship. After that I’d love to give my three women some more adventures, I’m sure there are lots more people who need ‘sorting out’!
Ceecee: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Rosalind: I’ve been asked to write some articles about personal things in various publications. I’m going to be writing about getting married when you have a combined age of a hundred and twenty nine, and then coping with my newish husband’s unexpected and prolonged time in hospital. I’ll post them somewhere but I’m not so great at the social media side of things so my information pages are a little bare. This may be a job for my granddaughters!
Ceecee: Rosalind, I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. If there are other snippets of information you wish to provide, please feel free. I would like to congratulate you on this wonderful book and I wish you massive success for the future.
Rosalind: CeeCee, thank you so much for asking me such interesting questions!