It is the summer holiday and Joe Robinson and his cousins are staying with their granny in Muddlemoor village. The problem is . . .

Muddlemoor is a hotspot for crime.

When Granny’s precious cake recipe goes missing days before the Great Village Bake Off, Joe, Tom and Pip are FLABBERGASTED. They KNOW that one of the neighbours has stolen it but the question is, WHO?

Baking a mystery by Ruth Quayle

I’m never 100 per cent sure how my books will turn out. Take Peril at the Bake Off for instance. It’s the first in a series of three Muddlemoor Mysteries but I didn’t set out to write a detective story. It just turned out this way.

In some ways writing books is a bit like baking – except you have to do it all on your own, without a recipe! As a result, no book (or bake!) turns out quite how you think it will. At least mine don’t.

With every book, I start with a few ingredients. I throw in a couple of characters and half a chapter of waffle. I might even have a first sentence I don’t hate. I begin to think I’m on to something. It feels great! But soon I realise that I have nowhere near enough ingredients to make a whole book. That’s when I start adding things to the pot – a dollop of suspense, a sprinkle of memories, some book references, a plot twist or two. At this point everything starts to change and before I know it I’m writing a completely different type of book.

This is EXACTLY what happened with the Muddlemoor Mysteries series. The starting point was not mystery but cousins. My sisters and I have nine children between us so we often take different combinations of cousins to stay with Granny and Poppy during the school holidays. This gave me the idea of sending Joe and his cousins, Tom and Pip, to stay with their Granny in Muddlemoor. But I was also influenced by memories of my own Granny – Dana. She and Grandpa lived in North Wales at the bottom of a mountain and I loved staying with them in the school holidays. They had a sprinkler in their garden and they always bought us those mini cereal boxes as a treat – just like Joe’s Granny does. In other words, Joe, Tom and Pip are a combination of many children I know but they probably have a bit of me in them too.

The mystery side of things started to evolve once I had the main characters firmly fixed. It helped that some of my favourite books as a child were mysteries and I couldn’t help noticing that many of them, eg Harriet the Spy or The Famous Five, were set in ‘safe’ neighbourhoods, which of course made it possible for children to run around unsupervised.

With this in mind, I knew I had to give Joe, Tom and Pip a safe (or seemingly safe) environment to do their detective work in. Luckily I had recently moved out of London to a small village near Oxford so I had a ready-made ‘Muddlemoor’ on my own doorstep. It was very helpful.

At this point the mystery side of things really took off. The tricky bit was striking the right balance between truth and imagination. I had fun setting the children against Granny’s innocent-looking neighbours but I wanted to make sure the reader could guess some of the plot while leaving a few twists. Seeing the children jump to the wrong conclusions was hilarious and I loved watching the book change shape as I added all the different ingredients.

I may not have set out to create a mystery book but that’s OK because I think surprises are a good thing – in books AND baking.

Ruth Quayle grew up surrounded by sisters (she’s the middle of three). She spent a lot of her childhood writing to the tooth fairy, pretending she had a pet rabbit of her own and stomping up to her room to read books – vital training for a children’s author! She writes picture books and young fiction and many of her books have been nominated for awards. She lives in a small village near Oxford with her husband and three children.

Marta Kissi (Illustrator) is a London based illustrator originally from Warsaw. She studied BA Illustration & Animation at Kingston University and MA Communication Art & Design at the Royal College of Art. Her favourite part of being an illustrator is bringing stories to life by designing charming characters and the wonderful worlds they live in. She shares a studio in London with her boyfriend and their pet plant Trevor.

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