Jennifer Rowe, aka Emily Rodda, aka Mary-Anne Dickinson, has written Love, Honour and O’Brien (A&U), a ‘cast-of-quirky-characters mystery’ set in the Blue Mountains. She spoke to Jarrah Moore.
Love, Honour and O’Brien features a host of weird and wonderful characters, including, most memorably, an Elvis-impersonating hearse driver. Do you have a favourite character?
I really value eccentric characters in real life, and loved writing about the eccentrics in the book, but in fact I’d have to say that my favourite character is actually the one who seems the most ordinary—Holly Love, my beleaguered heroine. Like most people, Holly’s in fact not nearly as ‘normal’ as she seems, or as she thinks she is. I very much enjoyed getting to know her.
The Blue Mountains setting is integral to this story. Is an Australian setting important to you in your writing?
I like to write about a place I know very well—whether it be a fantasy world or a place where I’ve actually lived. I could have set the book in the inner city, where my family and I lived for a long time, and which is more of the sort of setting people expect in a ‘crime’ novel. But the Blue Mountains, where we have lived for many years now, seemed a perfect setting for Love, Honour and O’Brien. Not just because I felt at home writing about the area, but because here we have a small enough population to have a sense of community. If you complain to a friend in a cafe about the plumber who didn’t turn up, you’re just as likely to be sitting next to the plumber’s wife, who teaches your child in school. The Blue Mountains is a string of small villages, linked by a highway and a railway line, tiny dots in a vast expanse of National Park. It suffers all the usual problems of semi-rural communities. Its people are diverse—they all live outside the city for a reason, but all the reasons are different. There’s still room to be unselfconsciously eccentric, if you want to. It’s the perfect place to set a mystery.
What can we expect from Holly Love’s future adventures?
Well, Holly has friends in the Mountains now, and she still has very little money and nowhere else to go. I think she’ll stay exactly where she is, and use her newly found detective skills to eke out a living, with the help of Abigail the clairvoyant and Mrs Moss, the lady who keeps late hours in the flat opposite. They seem to have adopted her. Not to mention Martin, the blue-eyed landscaper, who is obviously interested. If I were Abigail, I’d say there are many more mysteries in store for Holly.
You’ve published successfully in both children’s and adult fiction. Which is your favourite to write?
The fact is, I love whatever I’m writing at the time.
How did you choose your pseudonyms?
Emily Rodda was my grandmother’s maiden name, and my greatgrandmother’s married name. I always liked the name, so decided to use it. Mary-Anne Dickinson, which I only used for the first publication of the ‘Fairy Realm’ books, was a sort of joke, a combination of Mary-Anne Evans (George Eliot’s real name), about whom I wrote my BA honours thesis, and Emily Dickinson, who was the subject of my MA thesis.
Love, Honour & O’Brien is published by Allen & Unwin in June. This interview first appeared in the May issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. See the review here.