Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Maureen Jennings

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Maureen Jennings

Award-winning author Maureen Jennings has made her mark as one of Canada's top mystery writers. Her Detective Murdoch series was adapted for a successful television series (with a recent cameo by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no less).

Her new series, which launched this month with Season of Darkness, moves from Murdoch's late 19th century Toronto setting to the Second World War in England, and delves into wartime details like internment camps and the so-called Land Girls.

Maureen Jennings talks to Open Book about her new book, her childhood in England and her experiences in the world of television.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Season of Darkness.

Maureen Jennings:

The book is set in Shropshire, England shortly after the disastrous defeat from Dunkirk. Several internment camps for so-called enemy aliens were set up across the country while the country was afraid of a German invasion.


What was it about the Second World War period in England that fascinated you as a literary subject and setting?


I grew up in England during the war and it permeated every part of my being. I knew that sooner or later I had to write a book about it.


What recurring themes or obsessions do you notice turning up in your writing?


I can see now that my characters are stuck in situations where their natural abilities and inclinations are not fulfilled. Detective William Murdoch is a Catholic in a Protestant society but he is intelligent and ambitious. The prejudice against the Catholics was deep seated. He wasn’t free to do what he wanted. This was something I experienced in class entrenched England. I also have a strong feeling for the marginalized and the victimized in society. This probably comes from the wartime experiences and all the great literature I was subject to.


How did you approach writing Season of Darkness, considering your plan to have it form part of a trilogy? Are there additional concerns when writing for a series?


I began with the story of the Land girls and the internment camp and especially the time period when everything was teetering in the balance. The second book simply moves forward a few months and is set in Birmingham, not too far from Shropshire but was the city where I grew up. The third book is back in Shropshire.

When writing for a series you have to be careful not to paint yourself into a corner. i.e. Don’t seriously injure or kill off your main character. With a police procedural, it is easier because the protagonist is doing his job solving crimes and that is open ended.


The television adaptations of your Detective Murdoch series have been very successful. How would you describe the experience of seeing your stories adapted for the screen?


It has been fantastic. TV medium is of course very different from a book and I have had to let go of control of my characters and let the script writers develop them. That has occasionally been difficult. This year I have myself written a script and it was addictive, also it takes far less time than writing a book.


Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?


Without a doubt, my first love was the Sherlock Holmes stories. I devoured the classic mysteries, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham et al. I suppose like all writers, I also draw on everybody I know or have known to create my characters. I was taught in a typical English grammar school and a love of the ‘great writers’ just was in the ether. I’m always quoting Shakespeare. (this is where William’s name comes from)


Is there a book you’ve read recently that you wished you had written?


A hard question. I’m reading all the time as research for my latest book. Not a lot of fiction these days. I don’t know if there are any books that I wished I had written but there are a lot of books that I greatly admire and hope I can do as well. Don’t ask me for a list, there are too many.


What are you working on now?


I’m still involved in the process of writing a script for the Murdoch series. That isn’t quite finished. I’m also involved with a new series that has come out of a concept my friend, Deb and I put together. It is called Bomb Girls and is starting into production for Global television. I am also beginning on book three of my trilogy. Never a dull moment.

Maureen Jennings was born in England, and emigrated to Canada as a young woman. Her first mystery series, set in Victorian-era Toronto, featured Detective William Murdoch.

Shaftesbury Films adapted the first three novels into movies of the week, which were then developed into a series called The Murdoch Mysteries, now going into its fifth season, and broadcast in over one hundred countries around the world.

Maureen’s new trilogy of mysteries set in World War II–era Shropshire, England, launched with Season of Darkness in August 2011. A new six-part television series entitled Bomb Girls, produced by Back Alley Films and Muse Entertainment for Global Television and inspired by the second book in the trilogy (Beware This Boy), will air in early 2012.

For more information about Season of Darkness please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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