Acclaimed author Maureen Jennings will take you behind the scenes of Murdoch Mysteries at the Algonquin Theatre on July 3 at 2 p.m. as part of Cameron Smillie’s Artist Life Stories series.
Jennings says, “Pre-covid, I did one of these with Cameron and it was such fun! He is a delightful interviewer and he made it such a happy satisfying experience for me and the audience that I jumped at the opportunity to do another one.”
Jennings laughs as she recalls, “We brought our Labradoodle Murdoch with us to that first performance; my husband kept him in the wings of the theatre. A few minutes in we hear an ‘awe’ gasp from the audience as Murdoch walked onstage.” She plans on bringing the aptly-named pooch along for the upcoming show too. He may or may not reprise his walk-on role.
The show is a must-see event. Jennings is an engaging conversationalist with a rich personal and professional history beyond Murdoch Mysteries; collaborator Smillie is an engaging interviewer. It’s a fun-filled intimate and interactive afternoon event. It includes two 45-minute interview sets and ends with a post-show meet and greet. Attendees will come away feeling that they’ve had a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the creator of the Murdoch Mysteries and the Canadian literary juggernaut it has become.
Jennings is described as “Canada’s premier author of historical mystery fiction.” She loves engaging with her readers. One thing that delights her is how often people share something of their own history relating to Jennings’ use of real events in Canada’s past in her writing. She comments, “For instance, someone might tell me about their grandfather who remembered Toronto’s notorious Christie Pits Riots of 1933.” The series fictionalizes historical personalities, such as Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Winston Churchill, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It also explores scientific and social developments of the Victorian era such as the telephone and women’s suffrage.
On YouTube, Jennings revels that Murdoch Mysteries had its beginning as a play set in Huntsville – though not performed here – about 25 years ago. She explains, “A friend knew that I was fascinated with mysteries and asked me if I’d consider writing a play in that genre to be part of a Lunchtime Theatre program.” She was intrigued and came up with a play in four parts that was performed over lunch for corporate employees. She chuckles, “I’m not sure how impressed the actors were hearing people rustling paper and opening drink containers during the performances, but it was an invaluable experience for me because the format was very much like television with each episode ending in something of a cliff-hanger.” She explains, “That was two years before my first novel came out in 1997. I’d come to the conclusion that it was hard to make a living as a playwright so I switched to novels, which turned out to be a wise decision.”
Jennings isn’t involved in the Murdoch Mysteries show’s daily production, but she acts as creative consultant and writes one episode per season. She puts the same research rigour into the show as she does her books. Shaftesbury Films founder and CEO Christina Jennings (not related) says, “She was the creator of Murdoch, and so it was very important to have her involved from day one.”
“I always wanted to be accurate with anything Murdoch invented,” Jennings shares. While the object or process may not have developed exactly as portrayed, they are all things that started in the past and then evolved over time to become part of our current technology. Fans love all of the witty nods to future technology that appear in the series.
Jennings was born and grew up in Birmingham, England emigrating to Canada when she was seventeen. She studied psychology and philosophy at the University of Windsor and earned an MA in English literature at the University of Toronto. She practised psychotherapy for over twenty years and says that it was truly invaluable in helping her understand that while people and their motivations may be different, underlying it all is the common denominator of a shared humanity.
She muses, “Part of a book’s attraction is in liking the characters. Even as a child I liked novels that seemed very real to me — so much so that I came to think of the characters as friends. When I finished a book and they were gone, it made me sad.” Thus, character development is a key component of her work.
Murdoch fans are very passionate. They have lots of questions and suggestions for the creator, and for the team that is now responsible for bringing the series to the small screen. “It kind of bugged me,” recalls Jennings, that the number one question was, “Will William Murdoch ever get a lady friend?” She knew that it was something that might develop and she was working on it but the curiosity was unrelenting. As fans now know, Detective Murdoch did get a romantic interest and that development continues to be explored and expanded.
Fans have favourite characters but Jennings is impressed by all of them for different reasons. She opines, “Jonny Harris, who plays Constable George Crabtree on Murdoch, is an incredibly talented comedian, who has come into his character over time.” She adds, “All the actors bring a little of themselves into the show as the show evolves. It’s been on for such a long time that it was bound to happen with such a good ensemble cast.”
Helene Joy, who plays Dr. Julia Ogden on the show, was quoted as saying, “We attract everyone across the board.” She seems to be right. Murdoch Mysteries has fans of all ages. Jennings isn’t positive about the reason, but she does say that the premise of the show is directly related to her childhood and her own desire to figure things out, which is applicable to adults and children.
As to how Jennings’ books and the Murdoch series that she created relate to each other, she pauses and then says, “They are different because of the medium. But they are somewhat like cousins – related but not exactly the same.”
To purchase tickets for the show, click here.
This event is sponsored by Huntsville Doppler.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!