I met today’s guest online and was captivated by her varied and beautiful posts. Jennifer Girardin is the author of the Moriston House British Mystery Series, and many of her posts reflect that life.
Your posts are often of stately British homes but more often, charming country homes and cottages. What gave you the idea to write about this way of life, this time in the past?
My fascination for British mysteries started early in childhood when I was introduced to the novels of Agatha Christie, whose influential style continues to captivate modern mystery readers. I was born in San Francisco and attended St. Philip’s Catholic school in Noe Valley, a quaint district (almost) untouched by the roaring bustle of metropolitan life. Rows of colorful Victorian and Edwardian homes line the lively streets, where surrounding hills provide breathtaking views over the city landscape and small parks dot the diverse community. I used to love visiting the local libraries, and enjoyed the simple and quiet atmosphere of the reading rooms. Libraries offer a wonderful opportunity for exploration and self expression—I can still remember the smell of old books and the peaceful sense of silence. Our local library also had a small garden, and it was a wonderful addition to the community.
How have you learned about this time period?
My novels are set in modern times, but they are situated in the English countryside to anchor a sense of tradition and echo of simpler times. I find inspiration in the architecture and history of the English countryside, and in the inherent inquisitiveness of village life. I have always been fascinated by country life, rambling gardens, and tea in the afternoon. I also felt compelled to provide a reason why these armchair sleuths are compelled to solve local mysteries. This came to me in the form another key character, Jane Holden, a seemingly simple village widow whose despicable son is the editor in chief of the village newspaper. Curious, nosy, and at times meddlesome, the village sleuths intrepidly report the facts and solve mysteries at teatime. I also readily employ the use of strong female characters in the novels, including an eleven-year-old aspiring journalist, Elizabeth Branell-Markson, who writes for the village newspaper under the pseudonym of Miranda Jones.
Is there something from this time period that you have made part of your life?
Some of the aspects of the novels which echo my life are the links to art and the interior descriptions of the cottages in the stories. I have a small collection of antiques, vintage items, and family heirlooms, and they often provide inspiration for the stories. I also do a tremendous amount of research, and combine this into something new and interesting in portraying the simplicity and essence of village life.
Jennifer, you have created quite a number of books in the Morrison House series. Do you find yourself checking to see if themes have been repeated? Do you write a manuscript through, beginning to end?
In writing eleven mystery novels, themes do tend to repeat, but with variations in the details and nuances to keep the storyline flowing. One of the most incredible and rewarding things about writing is the learning process, and the journey which continues to grow as the series evolves. Two themes which have played in the novels are science and art. Some of my novels have taken a “scientific approach” — in particular, this has played out in the denouement to offer a concise explanation of a technical aspect or a detailed forensic analysis to support the case. The protagonist of the stories, Lord Hugo Anstead, is a fictional science professor at Kentworth University by day and avid criminologist by night. This provides a door into science, and a reasonable explanation to support the mystery while avoiding the heavy style of police procedurals. One of my other favorite themes is art, and this has played a key role in several stories, either in the form of clues, or to enrich the background of the novel. Among many considerations on novel writing, details matter, and the surroundings, characters, and plot are enhanced through an artistic approach to description. I write each of my manuscripts through from the beginning to the end, maintain a reasonable timeline, conduct a rigorous professional editorial, formatting and proofreading process, keep fastidious notes as to the sequence and veracity of events, characters, and plot development . . . and then I read it again to see if everything makes sense! I complete one novel at a time, but I do keep a rambling list of potential names for future novels under a file that I call ‘Novel Names,’ which provides ongoing inspiration on wet days!
Do you find threads that don’t fit into your WIP popping to mind? Do you save those for future Moriston House books?
Some ideas can be weaved into a work in progress, while others can add color to a future storyline. I have saved numerous ideas for future novels, especially in the form of dialogue. I also have a working list of character names and cottage names, which greatly assists in the descriptive process and development of characters. I need to “see” a character in my mind in order to understand their actions and what motivates them. A character may begin with a mere name and simple description, but evolve into a more complex personality given their situation and focus in the plot. In spite of the formality of the process, I also try to maintain a thread of spontaneity, which I feel is essential for the mystery genre. But the writing process isn’t a cut-and-dried procedure, and I love to add a splash of British humor to my stories whenever possible to break up the tension and bring something unexpected to the storyline.
Do you write in any other genre?
At present, I only write British mysteries, although I have also written and illustrated one children’s book with a 1920s theme, If the Sun was the Moon.
Peaceful English gardens show up regularly on your page. Do you have a typical English country garden in your home in Oregon? I know that you had to evacuate during the wildfires this Summer; how did it affect you? [My oldest son usually goes out to wildfires in the season and this year, he went to Oregon. He could only stay a month and was disappointed to only be on ‘watch’. This was one of the rare times that he admitted to being worried though, as it was so dry where they had him with his crew, if a fire had started he was afraid that they would not be able to contain it-T]
We have a small garden here in Sandy, Oregon, with seasonal herbs and flowers. I love lavender, rosemary, and lemon thyme, and collect roses and hydrangeas from the garden to make wreaths and potpourri. We were utterly stunned by the events of the year—from the stock market crash, the pandemic, the riots, the wildfires—2020 has been an incredibly worrisome and daunting year for so much of the nation and the world. But getting back to the wildfires, the sheer destruction and devastation is mortifying. We were fortunate that our town and our home were spared—not everyone was as lucky. Thank you again to your son and all the brave firefighters and volunteers who worked diligently in the disasters.
The wildfires were the second natural disaster that I have witnessed. I was living in San Francisco when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck, and it was an event I will never forget! Fortunately, my parent’s home suffered no damage, but it was a scary incident. As children in San Francisco, we learned the safety drills from an early age, and I had experienced many small earthquakes in the Bay Area, but the 1989 quake was unforgettable in terms of its magnitude and destruction.
Where do you find the incredible pictures of the British homes, bridges, gardens and nature which you post?
Many of my pictures are shared posts from Facebook pages like The Queen’s English, Victoria Magazine, Cottages and Villages, and English Country Shabby, Country Cottage Charm. Other images are sourced from Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and public domain photos. I try to post positive images to reflect my love of British architecture, gardens, and the tradition of teatime, which was introduced to me by my late grandmother, who was from Ireland. I also do artistic photos to promote my books, or to display some of my vintage items. I enjoy mixing things up in unexpected ways, while experimenting with lighting, filters, and effects.
Your lovely photos of china, tea services, linens and tea-time offerings gladden my heart! Do you collect fine tableware?
Thank you! People often contact me to say how much they enjoy my social media posts, and that the images bring a sense of tranquility and happiness to their busy days. I have a considerable collection of vintage linens and English teapots, porcelain, and antique silver. Some of these items are family heirlooms, while others have been collected over the years. I love the exquisite details and beauty of vintage linens, doilies, and tray cloths. Some of my loveliest pieces come from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. I have wonderful monogrammed linens, Broderie Anglais, tatted doilies, Coronation Cord Doilies, pulled-thread work, Point de Beauvais and Madeira linens. I have a glorious collection of English tableware, including red and blue transfer ware, Staffordshire pottery, and vintage English teapots from Sadler and Johnson Brothers.
Do you have teas? Do you make spreads like those you post? You often share pictures of your great cooking/baking, such as your recent beautiful Homemade Pizza, perfect braid of Milk and Honey Bread and artistic Chocolate Cream Pie. I assume that you also love to bake and cook; do you do so regularly?
I drink tea every day, but usually in an informal setting. For holidays or special occasions, I will set a tea table, and love to add flowers to give it a special touch. I do quite a bit of cooking and baking, which I learned at an early age. I have perfected my recipes over time and enjoy creating simple and healthy food made from everyday ingredients. I do braided bread frequently, breadsticks, pizza, Irish Soda bread, buns, scones, biscuits, cookies, cakes, tarts . . . we really enjoy homemade goodies, and Flora loves her little pinch of bread! I also do candy making, including truffles, nut brittles, and artisan chocolates. There is something wonderfully creative about the process, and I enjoy bringing new traditions to the table for family and friends.
Speaking of ‘artistic’, you also posts wonderful paintings on your page. Do you paint? I know that you are artistic with crafts, as you also share on your page crafts and ideas for every holiday and season. How do you find your ideas?
I don’t paint, but I do sketch occasionally. Inspiration comes from many sources, including my small collection of vintage fashion newspapers from the 1920s called Le Petit Echo de la Mode. My Mom, Carmel, was wonderfully creative and had a talent for interior decorating and design. My sister and I both inherited her love for details, tradition, and creativity. I enjoy doing crafts, embroidery, and flower arranging. My Mom was an artist with flowers, and I remember watching her create exquisite floral displays that captured the seasons and brought beauty to our home. There is something intensely beautiful in handmade objects, which lends insight into the personality of the artist and conveys a sense of originality and imagination upon the viewers.
Those of us who are your FB followers also see your beautiful collie, Flora, who is obviously a major part of your life. Tell us more about her,
[and your life, if you would like].
Greetings from Flora, our two-year-old Collie! She is a sweet and spirited girl, with a big personality! My husband, Jacques and I have had one other Collie and two Shelties, and love the companionship and loyalty that they bring to our lives. We also have two sweet little parakeets, Geoffrey and George, who bring happiness to the day! My novels have regularly featured Butterfield the dog, a wiry Fox Terrier whose snappy loyalty to the village sleuths provides a humorous backdrop to their investigations and puts the fear of God into some of their less cooperative suspects.
Thank you, Jennifer Girardin, for your time today. Is there any more that you would like to say to our readers?
Coming soon from Moriston House British mystery books in Collectible Hardcover and Paperback from Barnes & Noble Press: Tea for Two, a cozy teatime mystery set in the rambling English countryside. And currently in production: Dinner at Eight, a traditional whodunit where the village sleuths go undercover at a 1920s style dinner party!
As I mentioned earlier, I’m from San Francisco, and my husband Jacques and I moved to the Portland, Oregon area ten years ago for his work. We both share a love for antiques and vintage items, and he is currently in the process of restoring our beautiful 1961 Jaguar MK II. It is a gem, and the same car that was featured in the Inspector Morse mysteries. However, the color of our car is not burgundy, but English Cream! It will be a royal EVENT when it takes to the road!
Thanks Tonette for taking the time to connect, and wishing you a wonderful day and a happy and safe holiday season!
Here is how you can learn more about Jennifer and her works: