Thursday, September 24, 2015

D.E. Ireland--Going Off Script

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Check your compasses, folks! We are still across the Pond, but we've moved from freezing cold Yorkshire in the present day to London post 1912 and the fictional world of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. What could be more delightful?

Here are Meg Mims and Sharon  Pisacreta, writing as D.E. Ireland, to tell you about--


Basing a mystery series on real people or famous fictional characters has its advantages. Whether an author decides to make their protagonist Arthur Conan Doyle or his famous Baker Street detective, a lot of the groundwork has been done. And there’s a ready made audience comprised of readers who either are intrigued by this historical figure or love the books these characters were first seen in. Jane Austen is now sleuthing, along with her delightful heroine Elizabeth Darcy. Mozart, Jane Eyre, Beatrix Potter, and Dorothy Parker are the stars of their own mystery franchises, and Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’s housekeeper, has joined her clever employer in the crime solving game as well.

Since our series is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, we’ve reaped the benefit of fans who remember the play with fondness or – more likely – adored the 1964 musical My Fair Lady
starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. Shaw made it easy for us. He not only created such memorable characters as Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins, and the lively Alfred Doolittle, but he wrote a lengthy epilogue on what he envisioned for these characters after the curtain went down. However, his future plans for Eliza and Higgins didn’t include solving murders, so that required some tweaking on our part.
Sometimes more than tweaking is required and we have to go completely off script. For example, we introduced Eliza’s cousin, Jack Shaw, another East Ender who pulls himself out of the slums and is now a Scotland Yard detective. Having a relative in the Yard allows Eliza and Higgins access to police information they otherwise would never be privy to. We’ve also taken the liberty of adding suffragette Sybil Chase to the cast. As Jack’s fiancĂ©e, Sybil will become a “sister” to Eliza, initiating her into the fight for women’s rights. Principled and politically driven, Sybil reflects Shaw’s own version of a modern woman.

Although Colonel Pickering has an important supporting role in Pygmalion, we adore him as much as Eliza does and plan to expand his character in future books. Certainly he must have interesting stories to tell about the many years he spent in India. And if any My Fair Lady fans were curious about the woman Alfred Doolittle was preparing to wed when he sang ‘Get Me To The Church On Time’, wonder no more. The colorful Rose Cleary Doolittle will have a chance to shine – and argue with Eliza – throughout the series.

When it comes to Shaw’s original characters, Freddy Eynsford Hill and his younger sister Clara, we’ve gone completely off script. In the play, Freddy is a love-struck swain who does little more
than moon after Eliza. Shaw claims that he and Eliza eventually marry and run their own flower shop. When they run into financial difficulties, both of them are forced to take night classes in bookkeeping. Clara is a foolish and snobbish teenager in Pygmalion. Shaw stated that she later becomes a devotee of H.G Wells, and works in a furniture store with a fellow Wellsian. We couldn’t do much with either of those scenarios. So in our second book, Clara falls in love with a young baron, who luckily takes as great a fancy to her. Will wedding bells be ringing for these two in the next book? We certainly hope so.  A pretentious 18-year-old with a new title and loads of money should make for a few interesting adventures.
As for her brother, we decided our Freddy has “a need for speed”. In Move Your Blooming Corpse, he’s a proud member of the London Rowing Team at the Henley Regatta, and may end up racing automobiles! But don’t be surprised if a romantic rival for Eliza’s attention turns up in Book Three. Where Freddy is concerned, we generally side with Higgins. We have no wish to see the independent and feisty Eliza Doolittle become Mrs. Eynsford Hill and go back to selling flowers.

We definitely went off script when Eliza became a fellow elocution teacher with Higgins in our series. Shaw made it clear in his epilogue that neither Higgins nor Pickering thought Eliza was ready to be an instructor, and that Eliza would not go against their wishes. Our Eliza is even more stubborn than Shaw imagined, and she’s been teaching her own students how to speak the King’s English from the opening chapter of our first book. This also allows us to keep her and Higgins in close proximity, especially since they live together at 27A Wimpole Street… chaperoned by Colonel Pickering and housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, of course.

While we are endlessly grateful that Shaw created such colorful and engaging personalities, we believe taking creative license with his characters refreshes and livens up the series. We hope readers agree.

And Sharon and Meg have a copy of their new book to give away to THREE lucky commenters!

Writing under the pen name D.E. Ireland , longtime friends and award winning authors Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta teamed up in 2013 to create a series based on George Bernard Shaw’s celebrated characters Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins. The first book in the series, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, was a 2014 Agatha Award finalist for Best Historical Mystery.

In Move Your Blooming Corpse, Eliza and Higgins are off to the Ascot races when Alfred Doolittle becomes part owner of the Donegal Dancer, a champion racehorse. But the victory is spoiled when a man is trampled on the course and someone is found murdered in the stables. With time running out before the next race, Eliza and Higgins investigate jealous spouses, suffragettes, and the colorful co-owners of the Donegal Dancer. But can they outrace the killer, or will there be another blooming corpse at the finish line?

DEBS: It's been years since I saw the movie, and  I did NOT remember that Jeremy Brett played Freddie! How fabulous!  I'm going to have to watch it again. And I can't wait to read Move Your Blooming Corpse.

REDS and readers, do you enjoy seeing fictional or historical characters in a new incarnation? Tell us and be eligible for one of three copies of Move Your Blooming Corpse.


  1. This series sounds absolutely delightful and, yes, it's fun to see the fictional/historical characters as we expect them to be and, at the same time, involved in exciting, new adventures that move them in a different direction.
    I definitely need to add these books to my teetering tower of to-be-read books . . . .

  2. How fun. I had no idea Shaw wrote something like that. But of course you have the freedom to make the characters go and be what YOU want them to.

    John Greenleaf Whittier is a supporting character in my historicals. I wrote him in as loving children, but I wasn't sure if that was true. To my delight I later found a section to that effect in his biography, but I wouldn't have taken mine out if I hadn't. That said, there are a LOT of Whittier fans in my town who have studied his life closely, so I have to be a little bit careful.

  3. I like to believe that the epilogue Shaw wrote was to give an ending to those who wanted or needed one. Not us!! We love that the story is continued, and having Eliza "go off script" is perfect, she is changing and growing and becoming, and this is the heart of her and her story.

  4. I love My Fair Lady, but certainly never knew about the epilogue! I have never added a historical figure to a book, though I've started with real live people and enlarged their characters. Are the characters in the public domain? So no one to object about the direction you take them in?


  5. When I was VERY little I saw Julie Andrews in the stage version of MFL. (Also Mary Martin in South Pacific... never went on a single "family" vacation but did get taken to the theater.) And endlessly played our album of the songs so I know every one of them by 'eart. I think it's terrific to take beloved stories and their characters run them off the rails, as long as you do it well and retain fidelity to their essence. Memorable example for me: Michael Thomas Ford’s campy tale with Jane Austen as a vampire, “Jane Bites Back,’ a few years back.

  6. I think this is such a darling idea--as you know, I have been a fan from moment one. Marry Freddy? No no no. I could never believe that. Although it IS more--realistic.

    I love the idea of fictional charters taken a new direction. And I wonder, as Lucy does, what are the rules?

  7. Jeremy Brett played Freddy? I had no idea. Must go watch the movie.

    My mentor in college adored Shaw - and constantly referred to My Fair Lady as "that cute little musical." He was especially affronted that Eliza goes back to Higgins, where in the play she marries Freddy.

    I'm with Hank and Lucy - what are the rules for working with fictional characters in a new direction?

  8. Meg and Sharon, you know I can't resist the rowing hook:-) Freddy in the Henley Regatta!

    I'm curious about how you research your books, to get the feel and the history of the era. And do you spend time in London? So much has changed, but there are pockets were you can imagine it just as it was in Eliza's day.

  9. Lots of questions to answer! First, YES - Shaw's play is in the public domain. We use that exclusively in our plotting, which is why in Book 1 Nepommuck is the name of the scurrilous Hungarian. (In My Fair Lady, his name was changed.) So we have to stick to whatever Shaw envisioned - which is great fun, and neither of us liked the film ending anyway. Eliza has too much spunk to be fetching slippers!

    Secondly, rules? RULES? Dearest Hank and Mary - we all know rules are meant to be broken. ;-D But we've never come across rules, except our own in sticking to the spirit of GB Shaw. And one reviewer believed he would definitely be pleased with our version.

    As for research, we are bloodhounds. We are very careful (as you can read in the suffragette chapters) to make post-Edwardian London come alive. We have shelves of books, have checked old maps, web articles and blogs, etc. for every detail. That's also great fun.

    We also try to keep the dialogue "inherent" to the characters - Higgins, Pickering, Eliza - first and foremost. It's not easy, but we do love writing together. And I believe we talked about that before! Being friends since college, our process is "whole"-istic: we both brainstorm, plot, write chapters, revise, and then read each chapter aloud to "nail down" every word. And we've always gotten our manuscripts in on time, if not early. Sorry to sound so priggish, but that's in the spirit of Higgins. ;-D He would approve punctuality.

  10. I found the ending of My Fair Lady so intensely annoying (with her dutifully picking up his slippers for him) that I have been disinclined towards anything to do with the story.

    You give me hope that Eliza may be redeemable.

  11. I agree that I've always had mixed feelings about the ending of MFL. But ai think Eliza had too much spunk and would eventually have Higgins under her thumb. And this series has such a yummy cast of characters to work with.
    But Jeremy Brett? Really? Didn't he sing?

  12. Whether I like historical or fictional characters in a new incarnation depends on the skill of the writer. But my real question (to myself) is how I managed to miss this delightful-sounding series. I'm off to find Wouldn’t It Be Deadly.

  13. I knew about the epilogue and always loved that Shaw envisioned Eliza continuing to grow and learn and tear down class boundaries. And yes, she married Freddy and they are quite happy - in part because GBS notes in that relationship, Freddy will be fetching the slippers for her!

    I suspect the penchant to envision Eliza and Higgins together is mostly because he was played by "Sexy Rexy" Harrison. If he had looked like Henry Sweet, the real-life language professor said to have inspired Shaw,( ) we probably wouldn't be rooting for them to get together so much...

    In short, I am a big fan of Pygmalion and am very much looking forward to starting Meg and Sharon's series!

  14. I never liked Eliza and Higgins as a couple. That's my biggest complaint with My Fair Lady, in fact. I must prefer her with Freddy, although the Freddy in these books has some growing up to do before they wed.

    However, I love what this duo has done with these characters. They feel true to the original vision and yet they have made them their own. If you haven't read them yet, fix that today. I hope this series goes for a long, long time.

    (And don't enter me in the drawing. I had the privilege of getting an ARC, so I've already read the book.)

  15. Julia, I have to agree about Higgins and Eliza in MFL--Rex Harrison was such a superbly talented actor! I always felt that Eliza fetched those slippers with a twinkle in her eye--way too much spirit to ever be reduced to a spineless fetcher for the rest of her life ;-) And Higgins darn well knew it.

    And I definitely agree with Meg and Sharon--what rules? That's the beauty of taking off with characters like this! Oh the places they'll go!! One of the earliest attempts at this that I can recall was by Barbara Hambly. Has anyone else ever read her Star Trek novel: Ishmael? Picture this: Spock meets Here Come the Brides! And it worked--inspired madness!

  16. Yes, we want Eliza to give Higgins a run for the money - and we do! As for Jeremy Brett, while I prefer him as Sherlock Holmes, he was a delightful young Freddy. Alas, both Jeremy and Audrey had their singing "nixed" with other singers taking over. I really would have loved to hear him singing. Even Audrey wasn't too bad in her partial singing of "Just You Wait."

    Spock meets Brides?? how fun! Toodling off to discover that one...

  17. How did I ever miss this series? I am a My Fair Lady fanatic! I've watched the movie so many times and never grow tired of it. I even went to the play when Richard Chamberlain played Henry Higgins. Dr. Kildare certainly went off script. Excited about this series!

  18. My favorites in MFL were the secondary characters, especially Alfie and Mrs. Pierce. They added so much color and made it clear how isolated Higgins was from their reality. I'll definitely look for this series and I'm interested to see what you've done with them.

  19. Meg and Sharon, I am so intrigued by your creative expansions on these much loved characters. Reading through the description of what you have already done and plan to do with the cast of original characters kept prompting me to say, "wow!" You two have so many well thought-out enriching ideas that I felt as if your minds were spinning in a constant forward movement. Then, the addition of new, exciting characters continues to make it your own, but within the parameters of plausibility. Kudos to you both for such an imaginative series. I love the idea of Eliza solving murder mysteries. Now, I have got to add these books to my new series reading list.

    Debs, I do enjoy seeing fictional or historical characters take on new or enriched lives. As a fan of "what if," I welcome the alternate or enlarged paths in their worlds. Of course, I think it's important to keep the essence of a character in play while changes or extensions are made. I would want the indomitable spirit of Eliza to be present, and it sounds like Meg and Sharon have absolutely accomplished that.

  20. My Favorite in MFL was Eliza Doolittle this series is going to be wonderful with her solving mysteries. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

  21. Yes, I'm a fan of novels with famous real or fictional characters in new situations. I think the first such series I read was Elliott Roosevelt's, whose mystery series featuring his mother Eleanor as sleuth. I am eager to read about Eliza as a sleuth.

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series and am anxious to read more. I do enjoy historical/fictitious figures in mysteries starting with Eleanor Roosevelt and including Jane Austen, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy,and others.

  23. Thanks for all your kind words about our series! And yes, Kathy, it all started with me driving across the state (Michigan) to brainstorm my latest western historical with Sharon, listening to the soundtrack of My Fair Lady, and POP! "What if Eliza and Higgins..." Don't you love those moments?

    Since I was (at the time) more versed in American history, and Sharon was expert in English history, we had to write the series together. It's been great fun!

  24. Thanks so much for all the lovely comments about our series! Meg and I work quite hard at being true to the spirit of Shaw's play, while also taking the characters in new directions. Oh the things we have planned in future books for Eliza and Higgins! It should be great fun. Meg didn't mention that our partnership works so well because we have been each other's critique partner for years while we were writing books separately. By the time the Eliza and Higgins mystery series came along, we already had a good working relationship. It made things much easier. Thanks again for all the wonderful comments!

  25. And Deborah, we couldn't resist having a scene occur at the Henley Regatta. If it serves the story, we like to include events from the 1913 London Season, such as Ascot and the Henley Regatta. The rowing subplot also allowed us to make Freddy a bit more interesting. There was only so much we could do with a doting swain with no outside interests aside from Eliza. At least now we can involve Freddy not only in rowing, but motorcar racing as well. Stay tuned. He may even take to the skies one day.