Today we travel to North Gower, part of the greater Ottawa area in Canada, to chat with Emily-Jane Hills Orford about how country life, an antique spinet desk, playing the piano, needle-art, journal writing, Barbie dolls, being a dreamer, haunted houses, and ghosts come together to haunt Emily-Jane’s past and present life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a retired music and creative writing teacher. Ten years ago, my better half and my muse (my dog, Duke) moved to the country in a little town called North Gower. It’s actually part of the greater Ottawa area (Ottawa being the capital city of Canada). I love country life. I have an antique spinet desk sitting in front of a large picture window that looks out onto our wooded front yard and my birdfeeders. I enjoy watching the wildlife while I sit at my writing desk, feeling a little like Jane Austen (although Jane Austen wouldn’t have used a laptop, even if she did write on a spinet desk like I do). In the spring, summer and fall, after my daily writing ritual, you’ll find me outside, walking Duke or having Duke help me putter around the yard, taking care of my gardens. I’m always involved in something creative, whether it’s writing, playing the piano or composing music or working on my needleart and collage paintings. When I’m not writing, however, I’m thinking about writing, plotting new stories in my head.
In which genre do you write?
Several genres, actually. I started my writing career writing creative nonfiction and memoir and I still enjoy writing a few short memoir stories. More recently, I’ve written raw, real-people drama (“Gerlinda”), historical fiction/fantasy (“Queen Mary’s Daughter” winner of the 2019 N.N. Light Book Award) and “King Henry’s Choice”), cozy mysteries (“Spring”, “Summer”, “Autumn”, and “Winter”), and Middle Grade fantasy (The Piccadilly Street Series: “Mrs. Murray’s Ghost” (finalist in the 2019 N.N. Light Book Awards), “Mrs. Murray’s Hidden Treasure” and “Mrs. Murray’s Home”), which not surprisingly includes a lot of memoir and creative nonfiction narrative.
How many published books do you have?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
As soon as I could hold a pencil in hand and write a few words. I come from a long line of storytellers, but as the youngest, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So, I wrote.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
I have a lovely antique spinet desk that I’ve positioned in front of a large picture window overlooking our forested front yard. I feel a little like Jane Austen when I sit at the desk to write, the only difference being Jane Austen would have used a quill and ink at her spinet desk, while I use a laptop.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading John Grisham’s “The Guardians” – I love his masterful storytelling narratives and I’ve started reading Tricia Mingerink’s “Midnight’s Curse” – a charming fantasy re-writing the fairy tales of old.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
“The Piccadilly Street Series” is part memoir (memories of growing up in a haunted house) and part fantasy (dreams and imaginings of a young girl). I have fond memories of a certain old Victorian mansion and the ghost that continues to haunt it. As a ten-year-old girl, moving into a haunted house was terrifying at first, and then fascinating, as the ghost turned out to be quite friendly.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
In the spring, summer and fall, I’m in my garden, in the winter I’m writing about my garden. I also enjoy walking my dog, reading, playing the piano or composing music and working on various needle-art projects. I always have something on the go.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary?
Yes, I journal. Every morning, first thing, before life gets complicated, I sit at my antique spinet desk and write (cursive, long hand in a quaint little book with its own title on the spine: Diary) what happened the previous day, who I saw, what thoughts I have on various current topics in my life or in the news. I’ve chosen first thing in the morning to journal because if I leave it till the end of the day, I usually make the excuse of being too tired to write anything.
What do you miss about being a kid?
I miss my childhood home and the time I could spend creating my own little fantasies and acting them out with my Barbie dolls. My Piccadilly Street Series has the main character, Mary (who was really me as a child) frequently playing with her Barbie dolls. It may surprise some people today, but in the 1960s when I was 10 (and the setting era of this series) girls played with Barbie dolls until they went to High School – I know I did. It was tragic to pack away my dolls that last summer before starting High School. Today, it seems, girls give up playing with dolls about the age of 8.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
Mary, the main character in the Piccadilly Street Series. She was, after all, me as a child. So, to become Mary would be like stepping back into my own childhood and living again in the grand old Victorian house with its bats and the ghost and my many dreams and fantasies.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
Definitely. I believe ghosts visit me for a reason. The ghost of my childhood connected with me, but not the others in the family. Whenever a loved one passed away, they always visited me at least once more before moving on. It’s sometimes scary, but also reassuring. After Dad passed away, he came to me in a dream and gave me a smile and a wave before walking into a large building. He was reassuring me that all was well. When my heart dog, Misty, passed away, he came back one night when I was asleep, I could hear him sniffing around the bed as he always did. He was just reassuring me that he was okay and he was still with me.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I’m a dreamer with what my grandmother always described as a vivid imagination. It’s those dreams and the imagination to go with it that has helped me pursue my writing.
What are you currently working on?
A cozy mystery set in the prairies, following the mystery of an unrecorded piece of music in the original hand of none other than Johann Sebastian Bach.
Tell us about your most recent book.
The Piccadilly Street Series consists of 4 books: 2 have been published; book 3 is set to be released February 2020, all loosely based on my experiences growing up in a haunted house with a real ghost and a lot of dreams accompanied by a vivid imagination.
It was incredibly interesting learning more about you, your writing style, and the story behind The Piccadilly Street Series. Wishing you much success, Emily-Jane! Thank you for being a part of MTA! –Camilla
Mrs. Murray’s Ghost: The Piccadilly Street Series Book 1 –
Mary’s family has moved into a huge Victorian mansion. She loves her gigantic new house, especially her room. But then she begins to meet the house’s other residents. Mrs. Murray was murdered in Mary’s new house. At first she tries to scare the new residents away, but there seems to be a force connecting the ghost to Mary. Even the stranded Brownies, the little people who live between the walls, feel that connection. When Mary becomes deathly ill, the Brownies and the ghost team up to try to rescue her, only to encounter a witch and her evil minions. Time is running out. They must rescue Mary from a fever-induced dream world before she is trapped there forever. As well as being a fun read for young readers, the story gives an historical perspective to childhood, as it dates to the 1960s. It also deals with some very current issues, specifically bullying.
Mrs. Murray’s Hidden Treasure: The Piccadilly Street Series Book 2 –
There is a hidden treasure in the grand old mansion on Piccadilly Street, in a place called London, but not the real London of English fame. There’s also a lot of mystery and a murder that’s been unsolved for decades. But it’s the treasure that captures Mary’s interest. Mary lives in this house along with her family, her Brownie friends and a ghost. When the ghost reveals her secret about the hidden treasure, there’s no stopping Mary, her Brownie friends, or her enemies from searching for this treasure. Why the intrigue? Apparently there’s a little bit of magic connected to this treasure. And so the adventure begins. Who will find the treasure first?
Mrs. Murray’s Home: The Piccadilly Street Series Book 3 –
Home is where the heart is, or so they say. It’s also been said that a home is a person’s castle. But home is also with family and friends. Mrs. Murray longs for home, the family home, a castle an ocean away. The Brownies also crave for home, the same castle Mrs. Murray considers home. And Granny? Mary’s Granny hasn’t been home since she was Mary’s age. It’s time to visit the homeland, Scotland. Mary’s excited to tag along with Granny, Mrs. Murray and the Brownies. And then there’s the witch. The one they thought they’d killed. And the treasure. The one they had found. And it all ties together, for better or for worse. Join the adventure in book 3 of the popular “Piccadilly Street Series”.
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