Rachel McMillan as our spotlight author. Rachel lives in Toronto and is a keen history enthusiast and lifelong Bibliophile. She loves to travel, go to the theatre and watch BBC miniseries. She works in Educational Publishing by day and scribbles by night. She decided she wanted to be a writer when she read Vienna Prelude by Bodie Thoene in grade 6.
Welcome to Novel PASTimes, Rachel! Congratulations on the release of your e-novella, A Singular and Whimsical Problem! Let’s start by learning a bit about the storyline.
Christmas, 1910. Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts would be enjoying the season a lot more if they weren’t forced to do their own laundry and cooking. Just as they are adapting to their trusty housekeeper’s ill-timed vacation, they are confronted by the strangest mystery they’ve encountered since they started their private investigation firm.
What begins as the search for a missing cat leads to a rabble-rousing suffragette and the disappearance of several young women from St. Jerome’s Reformatory for Incorrigible Females. From the women’s courts of City Hall to Toronto’s seedy docks and into the cold heart of the underground shipping industry, this will be the most exciting Christmas the girls have had yet…if they can stay alive long enough to enjoy it.
Jem Watts and Merinda Herringford are two Edwardian ladies with good breeding who just happen to be more interested in solving murders than learning how to bake, sew and perfect the domestic arts so valued of women of their time period.
I love Merinda’s unconventional smarts, her loyalty and her sense of humour. I love Jem’s penchant for seeing life romantically. I think every woman has a bit of Jem and Merinda in them.
How did the idea for the book come together?
I had a straight historical romance out on submission and it wasn’t getting a lot of attention from editors. My agent came back from meetings with editors with the idea of romantic suspense. She skyped me and said that, knowing I was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (I don’t hide this well !) I should try a female Sherlock. The rest is history.
And good history it is! You share on your website that you studied English Literature with an emphasis on the Victorian period. How does that come into play with your novel writing?
I think the only way to develop as a writer is to read. I read voraciously. I read eccentrically. I read everything and I have since I was a kid. I have never taken a writing course or attended a writing craft seminar, but I have read thousands of books. My love for the Victorian period—and my subsequent study of it—was borne of the books I read as a kid. Sherlock Holmes and his gaslit London adventures at the height of the Victorian period being one of them. I was also influenced by the strong female voices of the Victorian writers like Bronte and Eliot. Dickens taught me that books can be used to change the way we think and feel and how we approach life.
We all have certain things we do with family and friends to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. How would your characters celebrate these times during a “normal” holiday instead of the one they experience during the book?
One of the traditions Jem and Merinda have (and this is mentioned in A Singular and Whimsical Problem) is to read The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle aloud. While some read A Christmas Carol or The Night Before Christmas, this seasonal Sherlock Holmes story is their favourite (fun fact: the names for my three Herringford and Watts novella-sized adventures are all taken from Sherlock Holmes stories which relate to the case the girls are solving at the time. A Singular and Whimsical Problem is from a line in The Blue Carbuncle).
Jem and Merinda also love the traditional goose dinner—with all the fixings. Merinda gets a Christmas allowance every year from her well-to-do father and I know some of it goes toward a magnificent feast commissioned and prepared by the girls’ housekeeper Mrs. Malone.
What’s the most interesting (or unusual) thing you’ve done in the name of research for one of your projects?
I like to travel to the places I write about. Luckily, setting the Herringford and Watts series in Toronto, that has been quite easy. Although, I am familiar with modern day Toronto and despite the historical structures and buildings still surrounding me, I feel I have to excavate the past and peel back the modern streets and skyscrapers to see the city as it would have been in Jem and Merinda’s time. Deciding early on that I wanted to send them State-side in a few adventures, I visited Chicago and Boston, as well as Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House with them in mind.
As far as unusual, I once walked across the city at a certain pace using a 1910 map to see how one of the characters would get from point A to point B and how long that would take.
When you start a new book, do you tend to begin with a character and find her story, or do you have a story idea and discover who lives it out?
Visitors, come back tomorrow to learn Rachel’s answer to this and other questions – including how her books came to have such wonderful titles. In the meantime, you can enter our drawing to win not one, but two, books from Rachel – an e-book now of A Singular and Whimsical Problem and a paperback copy of The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder upon its release in March 2016. What a great prize! Enter by clicking the Rafflecopter form below. The winner will be announced on Friday.