A Night with Maureen Jennings

There are always going to be those nights when no matter how blustery the Canadian winter weather is, you are willing to brave it (wind, rain, or snow) to go out and visit an author whose work excites and inspires you.

This is how I felt last night travelling to a Toronto Public Library branch to hear / see Maureen Jennings speak about her career.

Before you say, "wow a person talking about themselves... great?" There is something different when an author stands behind a podium and weaves their life into a tale of adventure. I was awestruck listening for an hour - only it felt like a minute had gone by.

She opened her talk with a passage she had recently written for a new Murdoch TV companion book that is soon to be released in book stores:

"The darkness is real [...] the actors are soaked to the skin. The one take is successful (here alluding to Shipwrecked) [...] My own story dramatized in real life [...] who would have thought it?!"

Maureen Jennings, born and raised in England (and NOT in any way related to Christina Jennings, owner of Shaftesbury Films) is the author of the Murdoch mysteries series, Bomb Girls, Season of Darkness, and other Tom Tyler books to come. Maureen Jennings grew up in North York, where she started writing "poems and short stories." A friend of hers who was an actor invited her to write a mystery play for their theatre. Of course being a writer, one assumes that a writer is able to write ANY kind of work (plays - short stories - poems - novels - screenplays) ... However, this experience turned out to be a major turning point in her career because it helped her develop a keen interest in the mystery genre.

Being a passionate Victorian, she wanted to base her detective stories in the mid 1890s. Maureen held up an old image of the man she used as inspiration for Detective William Murdoch. He has "integrity and intelligence in his face" she said smiling, hoping to meet him one day. The moustached man in the photo of course does not look anything like our glorious Yannick Bisson, who plays Murdoch in the CBC series, but Maureen is thrilled to have been with Yannick these past eight years. 

An eagre person in the audience asked Maureen how it all began. "It was a funny story," one day my husband, who does things and only tells me when he knows something good will come of it, took one of my five books and brought it to Christina Jennings at Shaftesbury. We developed three movies out of my books. The blond-haired blue-eyed detective cast in the films was much closer to the personality I had written in my stories. TV, though, generally takes the characters and does away with the story. Although she did mention that she is grateful at how faithful "CBC was with the show and her original story." Then CTV picked up my show and it has been running on CBC now for eight consecutive seasons.

"One of the things you can do as a writer is you can steal everything," she said with mischief in her eyes. "There is extra fun with revenge crime, especially when you write someone in and have to decide how they live or die."

She had specifically written these books to take place in Toronto, and one of her earliest memories on the show was remembering how hilarious it was that, given the time for the show to be produced, the first few episodes were shot in WInnipeg. The irony...

Mauren co-wrote three episodes and recently released a solo episode, "Shipwrecked," which explores William Murdoch's childhood and how he came to have such particular habits.

Maureen is currently working on her Tom Tyler series, set in 1940 England during WWII. There are so many country secrets that need a good story telling. You could see glitter in her eyes as she recounted a few fond memories. Her first book, Season of Darkness, explores interned camps in the war.

In Ludlow, there were camps where men and women were interned in the war if they were suspected of being enemies. The camps were peaceful otherwise and many of the brightest minds lay wasting away until someone decided that they could give classes each day. Top scientists and musicians gave talks and lessons and worked with other camp members, mentoring them on their talents. Two such violinists went on to establish the Amadeus Quartet after they were released.

In Burmingham, Maureen developed her munitions factory stories that lead to Bomb Girls. She worked closely with someone she met on set whose great grandmother worked at a munitions factory during the war. Using real accounts from ladies in history, the two embarked on a short episodic series.

Book three in her Tom Tyler series takes place back in Ludlow in a small village where there is a hotel called St. Annes. "I saw this, and the hedges, and imagined it was a hospital. She later discovered the town secret during WWII. When Pilots returning from the war were greatly burned and disfigured, they were sent here for peace and tranquility. The townsfolk were to invite them in their homes and rehabilitate them into social life. A special rope was built that lead from the country to the town centre so the blind but independent pilots had a guide to hold onto.

I think the best thing I learned from this talk was that genre fiction is a great way to explore your passion for life during a specific era but it is also a way to slip in things that you wish to say. Not in any obtrusive manner though. It is the engine to discuss issues. Current issues, set in a different time period but also allowing the audience to connect in the present!

Thank you Maureen for sharing your wide spectrum of storytelling success. I am so inspired with how you turn quirky facts into something wonderful and great.

- Jenn