Author Maureen Jennings is best known for her Murdoch Mysteries series of books, which have been adapted for television, and her new book series, Season of Darkness. She shares with Chatelaine her thoughts on writing historical fiction and her favourite books, some of which no doubt have inspired her work. (The new season of Murdoch Mysteries premieres June 6 on Citytv.)
I enjoy writing books set in a different era: Victorian Toronto for the Murdoch Mysteries series; WWII for Season of Darkness. Getting the facts right is easy, getting the attitudes right is more challenging. Our modern sensibilities would be offended by many of those same attitudes so I tread a tight rope sometimes. I want to avoid anachronism of attitude but not turn off my readers. I’m often asked if I think society has changed since Victorian times. It’s depressing and sometimes funny to come across things that haven’t changed in 100 years – a chief constable complaining about the bad behaviour of bicyclists, for instance – but also a relief to see how far we have come in terms of our consciousness. That’s what important to me, not the phenomenal advances in technology
Regarding my favourite books, probably everyone says, “Only five?” There are so many marvelous books I’ve had the pleasure to read over the years. I decided to choose the ones that I know have influenced me a great deal.
1. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell, $19.
What a book and what a great deal of good it did to raise consciousness about the plight of cab horses in England. If you meet somebody who has read and loved the book, all you have to do is say, ”The death of Ginger,” and you will weep together, strangers or not.
2. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, $10.
This book has been adapted to film or television so many times, but there is nothing like going back to the book, which is utterly gripping. We don’t usually consider it a mystery, but it is. What is going on in the attic? And Mr. Rochester is on a par with Mr. Darcy for romantic appeal.
3. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, $6.
Much trimmer than later books, this one is eternally moving. I read it regularly.
4. The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, $16.
Actually any of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Love, love, love them. They stand the test of time. They had a huge influence on me.
5. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carré, $19.
A perfect book. Le Carré is one of my favourite writers and also influenced me a lot.