Writer's Love of Murder Mysteries Inspired by Sherlock; Best-Selling Author Maureen Jennings Talks to Roz Laws about Turning Her Birmingham Childhood into Bestselling Novels
Byline: Roz Laws
IT took Maureen Jennings half a century to become an overnight success.
Once she put her mind to it, she became a bestselling author. But her first novel was not published until she was 58.
Now 74, the Birmingham-born writer is still going strong with 11 novels behind her and two TV dramas based on her creations.
She is the woman behind the Murdoch Mysteries and has written two books set in the Midlands during the Second World War.
Maureen emigrated to Canada as a teenager but she returns to her homeland every summer to look up old friends. Last August she was also guest of honour at an event thrown for her in Birmingham by Murdoch fans.
Her father Bert, a carpenter, died in the war when she was four. He was a sapper killed during the Italian Campaign at Anzio Beachhead in 1944. Maureen's mother Betty worked as a cook to support the family while Maureen was a pupil at Saltley Grammar School.
Maureen now has a strong Canadian accent, but she didn't always talk like that and can lapse back into her native Brummie.
"There was a concentrated effort at school to iron out our accents," she remembers.
"My older brother Mick went to a local technical college and ended up speaking entirely differently from me. He left at 14, virtually illiterate.
"We had elocution lessons, saying 'how now brown cow?'. I think that was unnecessary, but the education was good and very focused on reading. We studied Shakespeare until it was coming out of our ears.
"The world of books and words permeated my entire being, but no-one said 'I want to be a writer'. It wasn't anything anyone thought of doing as a job. We all came from working class families and if you showed some academic promise, they told you to be a teacher. My mother valued education but we had no books in the house."
Maureen, who has also written two contemporary novels about crime profiler Christine Morris, found herself researching the Second World War when she started writing the Detective Inspector Tom Tyler mysteries.
The first novel, Season of Darkness, was published in 2011 and is set in Shropshire. Tyler is the only detective inspector in Whitchurch in 1940, a village next to an internment camp for enemy aliens. He has to investigate when a Land Girl is found dead on a deserted country road.
In the second book in the series, Beware This Boy, Tyler investigates a fatal explosion in a Birmingham munitions factory.
Maureen has just finished the third book, No Known Grave, which will be out this year and is set in Ludlow.
"I was very keen to write about the war because of my childhood," she says. "It really stays with you, although I had to do a lot of research too.
"I have snapshot memories of the war. I remember the bombs falling and huddling in a shelter in the backyard.
"I was so young, but I remember it vividly. Mom didn't want to evacuate us, thank goodness. Those who did had good intentions but it was so hard for the kids."
Maureen's research into a munitions factory led to her creating the TV drama Bomb Girls, set in Canada, the second series of which was recently screened on ITV3.
Maureen left school at 17 and moved to Canada with her mother.
"Mom was desperate to join her older sister there. She was a young and vivacious widow and thought it would be a bright, shining life in Canada. She thought that's where all the excitement and food was, as we had none.
"But it was ghastly, really terrible! We went to a place called Windsor in Ontario. It was a town totally dependent on the automobile industry, which was in a severe depression.
"I enjoyed going to university, though. It was run by fabulous priests and I studied psychology and philosophy.
"I moved to Toronto and became a teacher and then a psychotherapist.
"I worked for a while with people with terminal cancer. …