Saturday, November 24, 2018

Jane Willan on Murderous Pastors



LUCY BURDETTE: At my publisher's (Crooked Lane Books) cocktail party in Toronto, I met debut author Jane Willan. She had laryngitis, so could hardly croak loudly enough to be heard over the music in the bar. But I could tell she was delightful--a pastor with a second career writing murder mysteries set in Wales--what's not to like? Today I'm delighted to introduce her to you...JANE WILLAN: The worship service had just ended, and I grabbed a much-needed cup of coffee in the church fellowship hall. Having just preached a rousing sermon, concluded the yearly pledge drive, and told turkey jokes to the Sunday School children, I was experiencing my usual post-worship-service-fatigue. As I stood contemplating the platters of homemade cookies spread out for the congregation’s social hour, a church member approached me. “Well, Pastor,” he said. “I’ve read both of your books now.”

I waited the prescribed ten seconds for a possible compliment, and when it didn’t arrive, I smiled and said, “Oh good. Did you enjoy them?”

“I did,” he said. “You made me feel as if I was right in Wales the whole time I was reading.”

I inwardly beamed. I had labored over my descriptions of the Welsh countryside where I have set my mystery series, and I am always glad to hear that I’ve done at least a decent job of depicting it.

“How long did you live in Wales?” he asked, selecting a cookie from the table.

“Oh, I’ve never lived in Wales,” I told him taking a cautious sip of coffee. Church coffee is characteristically lukewarm, weak, and in a paper cup. But after leading worship for an hour, it hits the spot.

“Never?”

“No. I wrote the whole book without ever having been there.” I have always thought my accomplishment was a great testimony to Google.

“Oh,” he said with a slight frown. “How disappointing.”

“It is? Why?” I suddenly really needed a cookie to go with my coffee. This discussion of my books seemed to be turning into a conversation that called for major carbs. With frosting.

“That means you made it all up,” he said and walked off.




Well, true! I did make it all up. I thought that was why we called it fiction. Perhaps my church member thought my books were going to be like my sermons—factual (at least for the most part). What I didn’t tell him is that I really enjoy the making-it-all-up part of the writing process. Every day when I sit at my keyboard, I enter my private world of Father Selwyn and Sister Agatha. I step through the doors of Gwenafwy Abbey built during the Norman Invasion and nestled in the rolling green hills of North Wales. I experience a place where a round of tea and cakes can solve everything—even murder. I loved building a world entirely of my choosing—in other words, making it all up. Maybe in the eyes of the congregation, pastors aren’t supposed to “make it all up.” But then I am a pastor who writes about murder. I have to make up at least some of it.

Sometimes people ask me, how can a pastor write about murder? The answer is an easy one-- there is no better place to set a mystery than in a church. Nor is there anyone more qualified to solve it, than a member of the clergy. Just ask Father Brown or Clare Ferguson or Brother Cadfael. Clergy are natural sleuths because we are always sifting through questions of right and wrong, order and chaos, good and evil. In the same way that a detective confronts the dark side of humanity, so does a pastor---although my clerical detectives seem to chase down good and evil much more effectively than I ever have in real life.

However, it isn't just good and evil that pastors confront. The melodrama within a church community can also be an excellent source of victims and suspects. I have a lot of experience with ecclesial drama (which can sometimes overtake an otherwise respectable congregation) and believe me—it is the perfect setting for murder.

Although there is not a lot of mystery and mayhem in my own parish, First Congregational Church of Paxton (at least not most days), my parishioners are extraordinarily supportive of my writing. The ladies of the church hosted a fabulous launch party for the release of each book. The book launch parties were complete with gouda cheese (the murder weapon in The Shadow of Death), Welsh cakes, and Welsh Brew tea which they served in quaint, antique-looking teapots and teacups. The centerpiece on each table was a diorama of a scene from the book. In the second book, The Hour of Death, Sister Agatha wears a red jumper and a blue wooly hat. The ladies in our church knitting circle made a replica sweater and hat! Not only is their involvement a lot of fun—it is a beautiful statement of their support for my writing.

A pastor who writes about murder? It makes perfect sense to me.

About The Hour of Death: As Yuletide settles upon Gwenafwy Abbey, the rural Welsh convent’s peace is shattered when Tiffany Reese, president of the Village Art Society, is found dead on the floor of the parish hall. Sister Agatha, whose interests lie more with reading and writing mystery stories than with making the abbey’s world-renowned organic gouda, is not shy about inserting herself into the case. With the not-entirely-eager assistance of Father Selwyn, she begins her investigation.

You can follow Jane on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for her newsletter here.






54 comments:

  1. Your books sound delightful, Jane, and I’m looking forward to meeting Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn.

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    1. thanks! I love Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn. When I am not writing, I actually miss them!

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  2. Can't wait to travel to Wales.

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    1. I did finally go to Wales last summer-- it is really lovely.

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    2. Wales is lovely and reminds me of Vermont. I loved my stay in Hay-on-Wye!

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  3. What a wonderful testament to your portrayal of Wales! Had your parishioner been to Wales? Or better yet, was he from Wales? I'm looking forward to visiting Wales through your (and Google's) eyes.

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    1. No he had not been to Wales! but maybe he will go now.

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  4. Congratulations on your books, and on the support of your parishioners, Jane! Wales is on my bucket list. When I was still in grade school, Lloyd Alexander's wonderful fantasy series, The Chronicles of Prydain--based loosely on Welsh mythology--caught my fancy, and as an adult I was enchanted by the gardens at Aberglasney--a rare example of a manor house with gardens that had not been functionally "modernized" since the seventeenth century. There's lots of magic lurking in those Welsh mountains. I would think you'd have to find time to go there sooner or later.

    And for those Reds and Readers who are keeping track, yes, I survived my Black Friday trip to the phone store.

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    1. I haven't read The Chronicles of Prydain. It is now on my list! thanks!

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    3. Congratulations Gigi on your mad survival skills. (salutes computer screen with coffee mug)

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  5. Great story! I'm sure church drama makes for great inspiration.

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    1. That's a wonderful way to view church drama!

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    2. Church drama needs a sense of humor...so yes, it is a great way to deal with it!

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  6. A church is the perfect setting for murder and mayhem! What a wonderful women's group you have! The idea to make settings and food found in your books was a brilliant idea for your book launches. And knitting those garments! I must find your books. Sadly, my library does not have them, so I will put in for them to be purchased.

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  7. What fun! Though I do hope a trip to wales is in your future as you write your next book. I hear it’s fabulous

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    1. I finally went to Wales last summer and loved it. Beautiful countryside and lovely people.

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  8. Congratulations! Murder in a Welsh church community is tantalizing.

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  9. How delightful that you’re here today! I recently saw your first book at the library, glanced through it, and decided that I must read it when I’m done with my current batch. Now I can’t wait!

    DebRo

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    1. Great! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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  10. Hurrah! A series in Wales! I have been longing to go back to Wales ever since I read the last of Rhys's Evan Evans books! And I am a huge fan of Brother Cadfael and Clare, so the convent setting is perfect! Congratulations on the new book and keep them coming, please.

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    1. thank you! convents, churches, monasteries are great places for murder..

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  11. IT'S FICTION!! I just laughed for five entire minutes, thank you. People are hilarious, which, of course, you well know. (ask if he's read The Martian, or The Hobbit. Or or or...) And don't you love it, in a conversation about your book, when you KNOW "here it comes..."' And I love that you miss your characters, that's so sweet. Such fun to read about your books today--they sound terrific. And the Crooked Lane community sounds amazing.

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    1. thank you! and so fun to have Hank Phillippi Ryan reading about my books...!!

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    2. Awwww..what a lovely thing to say! xoo

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  12. You certainly make a good case on pastors writing murder mysteries. I see that others have already used the word, "delightful," to describe the description of your book summary. But it seems the most apt. My husband and I met and married in London. We had a lovely couple of trips to Wales and enjoyed the area for hiking, the kind people and some hearty food. Will have to search out your books!

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    1. Another aspect of Wales that I love but haven't mentioned is the singing-- the Welsh have beautiful voices and everyone learns to sing.

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  13. Good Morning Jane! I'm delighted to learn of your series. They are new to me and they sound like a great fun read. I've worked in the Sr. Pastor's office of two churches and I can attest to the abundance of material and character quirks. Hat's off to you for balancing both the church and the writing!

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    1. thanks! I love the Church-- with all its quirks and mayhem. It's still the best job out there.

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  14. Jane, I always tell people who express surprise that I set crime and catastrophe among a "nice church community" that a two-hour-long stewardship committee meeting will turn anyone's thoughts to murder.

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    1. And just try sitting on the pastor search committee! That’s how I came up with Preaching to the Corpse...

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    2. Preaching to the Corpse should be required reading for all Search Committees.

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    3. I don't mean to sound like a complete newbie, but the fact that Julia Spencer Fleming is reading my blog post is almost overwhelming-- Julia, your writing is so wonderful. and your books have always inspired me. thank you for writing them.

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  15. Oh, I'm very glad that Jane is here today sharing about her great series! I am happy to say that I have read both her books and they are so much fun. They are also deep in that there are several things to ponder and think about later - not surprising in noting Jane's profession. I met Jane at the last Malice and she is delightful to visit with. As to your church, Jane, such wonderful ladies! And the person who read the first book - bah humbug! Ha! Once upon a time, I was an administrative assistant at our church (actually I worked there twice) and so I know that there are many things that go on behind the scenes - some great and some not so great. People have no idea!

    So, run and don't walk to get Jane's books! Highly recommended. That Sister Agatha is something else - truly!

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    1. Kay, thank you for your kind words! so glad you enjoyed both books! I am writing the third one now which takes place during Epiphany. So there is more Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn coming.

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  16. Jane, your books sound delightful and I am going to look for them right away. My love for ecclesiastical mysteries started with Brother Cadfael, too! Have you read Kate Charles? If not, do look them up. Her first series set in the Church of England (the David and Lucy books) has been re-released, and the second is set in London, featuring Reverend Callie Anson. They're so good.

    Are your books set in North Wales or South Wales? I'm so glad you got to visit!

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    1. North Wales. I thought the more rural setting could be fun as well as the closeness to the English border. I haven't read Kate Charles. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  17. Jane, it's so good to have you here at the Reds today. I was the time keeper for a panel you were on at Bouchercon, and that's where I first heard about your series and knew I wanted to read it. I do have both books in my short stacks of TBR, and I have fingers crossed that I can get to the first one before the end of the year. Cathy Ace, also on that panel and actually from Wales originally, has gotten me so interested in Wales with her books and her posts about Wales. Of course, I do have to give much credit to Rhys here, too, as her reminisces about Wales and the Evan Evans series first fueled my Wales interest. I am hoping to get to England in the next couple of years, and I have had to add Wales to my list of places to see.

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    1. You will love Wales. Thanks for putting me on your TBR list!

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  18. Jane, your books sound delightful! I can't wait to dive into the Welsh countryside. As an author who set a series in Notting Hill before I'd ever been there, I, too, can attest to the power of the Internet. Well done!

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  19. Checking our excellent library for a copy. On Amazon, I downloaded a Jane Willan vegan cookbook...someone else???

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    1. ha! yes...different author. No one would want a cookbook from me.

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  20. Hi Jane ~ I can't wait to read your books. My great-great grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Wales, so I am interested in all things Welsh. I look forward to visiting there some day, but until then, I can enjoy it in your books! Thanks for being on Jungle Reds ~

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    1. you might like the audio-- the narrator is from wales and has a beautiful Welsh accent.

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  21. Jane, welcome to Jungle Reds! Your books sound delightful! Are your stories in this century or from another time in history?

    Diana

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    1. they are set in the present time. One theme is the juxtaposition of ancient traditions with contemporary culture.

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  22. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the Tarzan series without ever going to Africa. Of course, he also wrote the Mars, Venus, and Pluto series without going there either! The Tarzan series has to be read as a fictional and historical Africa but if the author does enough research like Jenn, nothing will jar the reader who has visited or lived in the area.

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