"We've completed two novels without killing each other"--an interview with mystery writer D.E. Ireland
Given that My Fair Lady is one of my favorite musicals, I was quite intrigued when I learned that D.E. Ireland had transformed the unlikely uncouple--the curmudgeonly linguistics professor Henry Higgins and the charming but inarticulate Covent Garden flower-girl--into a crime-solving duo. Loverly!
I am thrilled that the two authors who comprise D.E. Ireland were able to waltz their way over to my blog today, and answer some questions about their debut novel and the writing process.
From the official blurb: Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck.
After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect...
SC: I know that the two of you became friends when you were undergraduates, but how did you become “D.E. Ireland?” Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided on the name? Does it mean something?
DEI: We are longtime friends and critique partners and have been looking for an idea to collaborate on for years. And voila, while singing to the My Fair Lady soundtrack on her way to visit Sharon a few years back, Meg stumbled on putting Eliza and Higgins together as amateur sleuths. We plotted, outlined, then wrote the first book in the series.
Since we're both published authors under our own names, we needed to choose a pseudonym. We finally agreed upon ‘Ireland’ in honor of George Bernard Shaw who was born in Dublin. And ‘D.E.’ is Eliza Doolittle backwards!
SC: Your mystery features the unlikely yet beloved couple from stage and screen, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (later adapted as My Fair Lady.) What was it about these characters—a guttersnipe from the dredges of London, and a professor of linguistics—that appealed to you as amateur crime-solvers?
DEI: We are both huge fans of the play and the movies. Since Shaw's Pygmalion is in the public domain, we used his play and the delightful banter between Eliza and Higgins as the models for our own series' characters. However we had to flesh out their backgrounds along with that of the other characters such as Pickering, Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Higgins and the Eynsford Hill family. In the play, Eliza worked hard to win Higgins's bet, yet she hadn't truly earned – and kept! – his respect until our series. We want to keep alive the witty exchanges these two whip at each other, and continue to expand on their friendship as they turn their collective talents to sleuthing. That should be great fun.
SC: The book offers a great deal of detail about life in Edwardian London (1913). How did you conduct your research into this era? What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned while conducting your research?
DEI: We are both research hounds; Sharon wrote several historical romances set in the Old West and Victorian England, while Meg has written American western mysteries. Sharon was also a college history instructor so the opportunity to research Edwardian England seemed like great fun. We eagerly started digging into the era immediately following the death of King Edward VII. We love the two PBS series Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge, and both shows serve as inspiration.
But we rely heavily on our "Edwardian Bible" which we have compiled that includes London shops, streets, parks, neighborhoods, food, social behavior, etc. And of course, we always refer to Shaw's Pygmalion, along with his appendices and notes of the play which include descriptions of Higgins' phonetics lab and his mother's Chelsea flat. Book 2 required that we expand our research to include horse racing, Ascot, the Henley Regatta, along with the suffragette movement.
The most interesting or surprising thing? Hmm. Since electricity, autos, the telephone, and the cinema had shown up by the 1900s, perhaps it was our realization at how similar life was then to our times now -- except for fashion and manners of course.
SC: Do you foresee Henry Higgins developing over time? Will he be out petitioning for votes for women in future novels?
DEI: Oh, we think Higgins is the one who will be clinging to his fencepost, kicking and screaming for the old days. Eliza is the changeling of the pair and will tug and pull him into the 20th century!
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.