Sunday, November 22, 2020

Jane Willan on Miniatures and Murder


LUCY BURDETTE: I met Jane Willan at the Toronto Bouchercon a few years ago at a cocktail party where we had to shout to be heard over the din. She seemed so sweet, and when I heard she was a minister, my impression was confirmed. However, as you will learn from her post, she's as devious a mystery writer as they come. Welcome Jane!


JANE WILLANI love miniatures. Dollhouses, tiny tea sets, miniature horses (ok, those don't really count as miniatures, but there is no denying how cute they are). I especially love miniature books. And my love of miniature books is matched by my love of old books. So, when I discovered miniature incunabulum…well, you can imagine my excitement. 





Nothing like a fairy garden for sweet miniatures

An incunable is a book printed between 1450 and 1500. The name sounds strange, but in Latin, it means "baby clothes"; in other words, it was when printing was in its infancy. During this infancy period, printers not only produced a lot more books than ever before, but they also began to make books smaller and smaller; as small as one or two inches in length and diameter. One reason that printers made the tiny books was to show off their craftsmanship. The other reason though was that readers had started demanding books that they could carry around with them. 






A Miniature Book bound with tortoiseshell 

By Erik Lernestål - LSH 92297 (sm_dig8643), Public Domain

 

The most famous miniature incunable is The Book of Hours, printed by Nicholas Jenson in Venice in 1474. It is fully illustrated and contains entire prayers, gospel readings, and the liturgical office. The Book of Hours comes in at a whopping 3 inches by 2 inches. Perfect for any monk's pocket.





An excerpt from the Book of Hours. There were many editions of The Book of Hours. This one is a miniature from France. Attribution: Ghent University Library, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made to this image.


One day when I was reading up on miniature incunabula, I came across another interesting fact. The paint used to illustrate the little books was mixed with arsenic. Yes, I said arsenic. Are you thinking what I am thinking? I began to feverishly read about arsenic use in 16th-century books and discovered that the ink on the pages remains dangerous even today-- five hundred years later. 

Suddenly, I was plotting a new murder for Sister Agatha. What could be more perfect? An Anglican nun, a rare medieval manuscript so small it could be slipped into a pocket, and best of all, the presence of arsenic. Sometimes things are just handed to you. 

Read all about it Abide With Me, Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn (#3).





A Miniature Horse. Super cute, right? 





ABOUT ABIDE WITH ME: The season of Epiphany is in full swing at Gwenafwy Abbey when ten new nuns from a convent in Los Angeles join the community of Anglican sisters. They bring energy, youthful enthusiasm, and more electronic equipment than Sister Agatha could have imagined. The arrival of the new nuns brings something else to the Abbey—a bit of unexpected notoriety. Claire Pennoyer, an ambitious young reporter for The Church Times, interviews the new sisters for a feature story. Murder is the last thing on anyone’s mind when Claire is found dead on the beach, her mobile phone in the sand. A tragic death, says Constable Barnes. A selfie gone bad. Meanwhile, Sister Agatha is unconvinced and puts on her detective’s hat. Clues abound including the mysterious discovery of a missing key baked into the king’s cake for the feast of Epiphany. Her tangled list of suspects includes everyone from the new sisters to Reverend Mother to the beloved archbishop of Wales. Worst of all are her worries about the abbey's beloved Shetland pony, Bartimaeus who may be reaching the end of a noble life. Time is running out as Sister Agatha uncovers a shocking reality. Will she reveal the truth hidden in an ancient document before it is too late?   

Join old and new friends in Abide With Me, Jane Willan’s blend of cozy village, sparkling humor, and enough action to keep you turning pages, the third book in the Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn mystery series. 


ABOUT JANE: Reverend Jane Willan is the author of the Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn Mystery series. As the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Paxton, Massachusetts, Jane finds writing clerical mysteries second nature. At First Congregational, she preaches from a 300-year-old pulpit once occupied by Puritans, teaches bible study, attends lots of meetings, and never misses a potluck dinner. Jane now lives in the church parsonage with her husband Don and two rescue dogs, Moses and Magi. When not working at her church or writing novels, Jane likes to drink coffee at her favorite bookstore, binge-watch detective shows on Netflix, and embark on not-too-challenging hikes with her husband and canine companions.


46 comments:

  1. Miniature books, Jane? Who knew? But now I want to know what happens to Sister Agatha; I’m definitely adding “Abide with Me” to my stack of to-be-read books . . . .
    [And the horse is too cute!]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Miniatures are the best. And they are great for a cozy mystery! If you like horses, a Shetland pony is a main character....

      Delete
  2. Oh, this sounds like so much fun! There is a collection of miniature books at the University of North Texas rare book room, in Denton, Texas. They have some very early books, but also artisan-designed books from more modern eras. So interesting!

    When you mentioned arsenic in the ink, I thought of the Radium Girls, and wondered if the monks ever wetted their brushes by touching them to their lips. Or can you absorb arsenic through your skin, just by following along a line with your finger? So many possibilities. I'll have to check your series out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I understand it, you can definitely absorb arsenic through the skin just by touching it. Thanks for checking out the series!

      Delete
  3. Congrats on your book release.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Welcome again Jane! The cover is gorgeous--I know this is a new book adventure for you. Will you tell us about the artist?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He is amazing. Stanley Martucci. He's at "One by Two Studio Painting and Design" Awesome to work with. Not only did he do his best to make the cover look like the covers from the first two books of the series, he actually tracked down the typographer from the earlier books so that the font would be identical.

      Delete
  5. Congratulations on your new release!

    Arsenic was a component in green wallpaper in the 19th century. Great plot device!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. interesting! Amazing how much of it is around still.

      Delete
  6. Welcome Jane and congratulations on Abide with Me ! This seems to be a very appealing story and the cover is so cute.
    Your post reminded me that when I was young, we had miniature missals to go to church. I kept as souvenir the miniature white wedding missal of my mother.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a miniature bible. Of course, I can't find it.

      Delete
  7. I had heard about the popularity of reading soon after books began to be printed. Makes perfect sense that people would want a book they could easily carry with them. But I have to wonder how readable they were if the print was very tiny. I'd probably have a lot of trouble! In any case, I do look forward to reading your book, Jane.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wondered about that also. Personally, I like increasing the font when I get tired....

      Delete
  8. Congratulations on your new book, Jane. It sounds like there's a lot of mischief in the abbey that will make for fun reading!

    Please can you tell us how to pronounce Gwenafwy Abbey? When I read a story set in Wales I have to skip over most of the village/town/city names, as it is a language I cannot wrap my tongue around though my ears love its mellifluous sounds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welsh is not easy. The narrator for the audio of the first two books helped me. All I can tell you is that I am better at writing than pronouncing Welsh! check out the audio version of the first two books. The narrator is Welsh and really good.

      Delete
    2. thank you, Jane. I'll check out the audio versions.

      Delete
  9. Miniature books -- so fascinating! My husband is a serious book collector (I only wish the gazillions of books he's collected were miniature sized). Congratulations o the new book, Jane, and thanks for sharing your inspiration with us!

    On the book cover... is that a horse of pony on the cover? It reminds me of the small horses with gorgeous rock star manes we saw in Ireland. Do horses figure in the story?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a Shetland pony named Bartimaus. And he is definitely a part of the book. He is much loved by Sister Agatha. It is the only character based on a real person (real pony)--my pony from when I was a kid. I named him Theodore and he was the model for the one on the cover

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Jane--Abide by Me sounds like the book I've been looking for--can't wait to check out this series! And yes, miniature horses are darned cute--I've read of several being used as therapy animals and can definitely understand why.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Writing about the pony was really fun. He has a lot of personality-- like his owner, Sister Agatha.

      Delete
  12. Hi Jane! I do some volunteer work at a rescue farm and second only to the donkeys, my favorite animal there is a mini horse named Coma (pronounced like comma) so I really enjoyed reading about Bartimaus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that is such a great volunteer effort! I would love to do something like that.

      Delete
  13. What a wonderful premise. Looking forward to a great read. Congratulations on the latest release!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have a few miniature prayer books from my step father - his military prayer books and scripture readings... I may even have a book from Dr. Hall, my first parish priest, who was a Chaplin during WW2. Yes, just how did they read such little script back then, especially in those rooms lit by candle only, without losing their eyesight. The eye strain but have been horrific. Do you think arsenic was used in the ink because they didn't know the side effects, like lead paint? The half life of those normal everyday items, from back in the day, is frightening. (I think half life is the correct term, isn't it?) Since we are approaching the season of Advent, a book in the season of Epiphany sounds like it should be a good read right about now. I love the wreath around the pony's neck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of the miniatures that were 1450-1500 were prayer books. I don't know how they read them! They were perhaps more dedicated than we are! I am writing all the books along with the liturgical calendar, so the next one will be set in Lent. The wreath was the artist's idea. He was terrific.

      Delete
  15. I can hardly wait to see how Sister Agatha and the others get along with the new nuns. What gave you the idea to send Sisters from America to Wales?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read an article about younger nuns in the United States adopting more traditional habits, work, etc. It got me to thinking, what if an American convent went to the UK for a more traditional experience.

      Delete
  16. The astonishing part of those miniature books is the tiny writing! I have no idea how they managed to fit so much into them. Or how straining it must be to read them, as Deana said. There were no eyeglasses or magnifying glasses back in the day, and unless you could read in daylight there was likely onto be low light anywhere. The arsenic exposure would have been icing on the cake.

    We have a small Bible in German that was in the possession of one of my husband's relatives. It's not a true miniature, more of a handbook size, but the type is incredibly small. And not hand written.

    Rhys could tell us all how to pronounce the name of the Abbey!

    Congratulations, Jane.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the 16th century, the miniature books were given to apprentice printers so that they could improve their skills.

      Delete
  17. Reading your post left me wondering how I had missed the first two books in this series! I plan to remedy that oversight right away.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This series sounds wonderful, Jane! I'd be curious to see how the Anglicans in the U.K. handle things as opposed to the Episcopalians in the U.S. Arsenic seems to have been the all-purpose miracle additive way back when for beauty and cosmetics and to dye fabric. And of course poison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did a lot of study of the Church in Wales. That was one of the most interesting aspects of writing this series. https://www.churchinwales.org.uk/en/

      Delete
  19. Oh joy. I am a lifelong miniaturist, absorbed by lovely mini books (and scenes and dolls and houses and on and on) so of course my eyes perked up with the header Miniatures and Murder. These are a few of my favourite things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not even sure why I like miniatures so much-- I just do. Why do you like them?

      Delete
  20. Jane, your book sounds delightful, and perfect for the season. And I LOVE your cover! I don't know how I've missed your series, but am going to check it out immediately.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I have really loved writing it. The cover is based on my childhood pony, Theodore.

      Delete
  21. I am curious. Are you the Jane Willan who also wrote cookbooks ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. no! I am a pretty good cook but I could never write cookbooks....

      Delete
  22. Hi, Jane, We signed together a few years ago at the Poisoned Pen and I was completely taken by your fabulous series and your keen wit. You are simply delightful! Very excited to get my hands on Abide with Me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenn, so nice to hear from you. that was such a fun day at Poisoned Pen! Hope you are well!

      Delete