HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN? Do you recognize this woman? She’s Emmeline Pankhurst. leader of the British suffragette movement. I hear Meryl Streep is playing her in an upcoming film! And I had to think--mightn't she make a great character in an historical mystery?
I love when Jungle Red weeks take on themes–themes that weren’t planned. (I once heard David McCullough speak, and someone asked him—do you have themes in your books? And he said yes, and I write the books to discover what they are.)
This week is turning out to be about imagination, and history, and time. About turning characters from one place onto characters from another. You’ll see as this week’s blogs unfold.
So as I was reading D. E. Ireland’s new book (more about “her” in a minute), I was not only humming “I could have read all night” and loving the brilliant idea of having Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as sleuths (whoa) I also thought about the imaginations of the two friends (Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta) who make up the moniker DE Ireland.
How did their brains work? And it turns out they get inspiration—from the past—the real past, and the fictional past. They’re making history come alive. (Kind of like—Pygmalion.)
Which, of course, is loverly.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
SHARON: It was the era as much as the characters that intrigued us in our series based on Shaw’s Pygmalion. The years between the official end of the Edwardian era in 1910 and the outbreak of WWI, served as a bridge to our modern world.
Violent protests by suffragettes, the popularity of the cinema and motorcar, and the growing emergence of middle-class women in the workplace helped usher in the 20th century.
Eliza Doolittle might not have had such an easy time of it had she tried to transform herself from a Cockney flower seller to an elocution teacher during the reign of Queen Victoria.
MEG: So for Jungle Red, we challenged each other to think of a stand-out historical mystery book or series that also prompted us to write our own.
I chose Kate Ross’s series set in Regency England. All are marvelously complex mysteries that mesmerized me and whetted my dream of writing my own mystery one day.
Even though I’m not a true fan of the Regency period, I was intrigued by Ross’s unusual amateur sleuth, Julian Kestrel--a new style Sherlock Holmes.
He has a keen intelligence, an uncanny ability to assess others, and varied skills in weapons and stealth that served him well in investigations. His valet is a former cutpurse, loyal unto death, and the dandified Kestrel wears his clothing and manners like a cloak to hide his real persona.
In Ross’s books, all the lush period details I loved in historical fiction came in spades; the witty dialogue, the cultural and class distinctions between ladies and gentlemen versus servants.
SHARON: I love historical mysteries that shed new light on an old era. My favorite example is Margaret Lawrence’s superb Hannah Trevor mystery series set in the aftermath of America’s Revolutionary War. Her rendering is historically accurate and all the more eye-opening because of it. Lawrence’s books don’t feature any cheery fife and drum corps, or stirring patriotic speeches by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Instead we are introduced to a burgeoning nation mired in debt, and struggling to recover from the Loyalist and Patriot divisions that tore communities and families apart.
In Hearts and Bones, one of the best-written debut books in the genre, midwife Hannah Trevor is abandoned in 1786 Maine after her Loyalist husband flees to Canada. When a townswoman is murdered, Hannah learns the victim had also been raped by men in the Rufford Patriot Division. Lawrence’s post-American Revolution world is filled with despair, uncertainty and poverty. In such a time, fear and suspicion run high which often lead to events spiraling out of control. In other words, a perfect setting for a mystery series.
MEG: Like Hannah in 1786 Maine, Kestrel in 1820 and Eliza Doolittle in 1913 London, historical characters need to find themselves in the era best suited for them.
SHARON: Twenty – or even ten – years earlier or later can make an enormous difference to both the novel’s characters and storyline. As in life, so it is in literature. Timing is everything.
HANK: Of course, My Fair Lady is based on Pygmalion, but it’s impossible not to envision Audrey Hepburn, right? Let’s think of other musicals that might contain good amateur sleuths. Oliver? Annie? (Oh, I am laughing now…)
What do you think, Reds?
And Meg and Sharon have a copy of their new book to give away to TWO lucky commenters!
D.E. Ireland is a team of award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. Long time friends, they decided to collaborate on this unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s wonderfully witty play, Pygmalion, and flesh out their own version of events post-Pygmalion.
WOULDN'T IT BE DEADLY -- Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck. After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect. Eliza realizes the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to discover which of Nepommuck’s many enemies is the real killer.