For those of you who have gotten to know me in the virtual realm, you’re aware that some of my areas of interest revolve around nonhuman animals, fantastical creatures, ghosts, feminists (I’d add on strong women, but I think ALL women are strong!) . . . and eating (though not of any of the aforementioned subjects *laugh*). If not, you do now, anyway!
So, let’s enter the cobwebby halls of Emily-Jane Hills Orford’s Victorian mansion, and perhaps we’ll discover what’s lurking in shadowy corners and hidden alcoves.
Aside from us, that is!
Willow Croft: I see from your biography on your website that you were a music teacher, and you also had a book out at one point that featured your rescue dog named Duke who was a “howling” good accompaniment to his new musical family. So, among the music pieces and/or instruments that you play, which is Duke’s favourite(s), and why do you think he likes them so much?
Emily-Jane Hills Orford: Good question. I love your summary of Duke being a “howling good accompaniment to his new musical family.” For Duke, it would have to be a choice between piano and voice, the only two instruments (and yes, voice is considered an instrument; it’s actually the oldest musical instrument, not surprising) Duke has ever heard. Perhaps voice, as he likes to add his own voice to the mix. Piano? Not so much as he tends to exit the room whenever the piano is being played.
Willow Croft: I think I was hooked by the “haunted Victorian mansion” you grew up in (who wouldn’t be, right?) and I’d love to hear more. So, what was the most spooky and phenomenal paranormal occurrence that’s ever happened to you?
Emily-Jane Hills Orford: People really didn’t believe me. They still don’t. But she was real. The ghost was real. And I saw her. Often. It scared me. At first, anyway. But then she became such a unique part of my home, that I almost didn’t notice her shenanigans, like banging kitchen cupboard doors, turning on all the lights in the middle of the night and moving things around in my room. She also hovered over me. Especially when I was sick. As if she were taking care of me. The old Victorian mansion that we moved into in 1967 was haunted. Complete with bats that flew around our rooms at night. I hated that. I have to admit that I slept most nights with a blanket over my head. Small comfort. Gran said I had a vivid imagination. I’m not sure if she really believed in the ghost. At least she listened when I talked to her about my ghost sightings. My siblings teased me relentlessly. Being the youngest and easily scared, I was an easy target. But my vivid imagination, and my ghost, served me well.
The story begins in “Mrs. Murray’s Ghost,” Book 1 of the Piccadilly Street Series, with my memories of moving into this old Victorian mansion. I was ten, just like Mary in the story. And I was so overwhelmed with the fixtures, the wooden floors that creaked, the old 1920s telephones that connected to several rooms throughout the house, and, of course, the space. In my young eyes, the house seemed massive – like a castle. The first night in my new room was full of strange noises, creaking floorboards, banging cupboards in the kitchen, lights flickering on and off, and the shadows that lurked in every corner. I was terrified. But also fascinated. Until the bats appeared the next evening. My sister and I huddled together underneath a table or under the blankets of our beds, screaming as the bats swooped over our heads. Later, much later actually, Dad managed to seal the attic and the many chimneys that serviced the fireplaces that were found in most of the rooms. That slowed the influx of bats.
The next four books of the Piccadilly Street Series also combine actual memories, dreams and that vivid imagination that Gran always told me I had. Book 2, “Mrs. Murray’s Hidden Treasure”, explores the theory I shared with my siblings that, if the house was haunted, there must be a hidden treasure. We did find the odd old coin buried in the garden. Certainly not a fortune. Book 3, “Mrs. Murray’s Home”, challenges the ghost and the other characters to define what and where they believe their home is. This is something my Gran and I always discussed. For me, home was always that grand old house. For Gran, having left Scotland as a child, part of her thoughts of home remained in her childhood memories and a place across the ocean. Book 4, “Mr. Murray’s Gun”, takes the adventure even further with the discovery of a vintage World War I gun and ammunition in the attic. I remember when we found that gun. Mom was terrified that we would accidently set it off. Dad called the local police and had it taken away. My vivid imagination even as a child had the gun marked as a murder weapon. Still to come, Book 5, “Mrs. Murray Goes to High School,” explores my grandmother’s long held desire, and that of many women of the early twentieth century (including Mrs. Murray), to have further education. So many women from their era were not allowed to go to High School, let alone college or university, because their fathers believed it was a waste of time and money to educate women.
The house was such a big part of my life. As was the ghost. It was only a matter of time before the ghost became the subject of a big writing project.
Willow Croft: You published a fantasy book earlier in the year titled Beauty in the Beast. If you could magically transform yourself into a mythical creature, which would you choose?
Emily-Jane Hills Orford: I think Priya’s multiple mutations are fascinating. She’s my main character. I admire her courage and tenacity and her love of music. Surprisingly, though, I’m not sure how well I’d be as one of her mutations. With her owl gene, Priya can fly; with her dolphin gene, she swims like a fish (well, more accurately like a dolphin). I’m terrified of both flying and swimming, but perhaps her genetic mutations would give me the courage to overcome these fears.
Willow Croft: I always have a food question in these mini-interviews, so I was thrilled to see that you had published not one, but two, cookbooks. Which recipes remain your go-to choices for a fine feast?
Emily-Jane Hills Orford: Chicken and chocolate – all good dishes must have one of those two ingredients. I have a lemon chicken recipe that I make frequently, baking in the oven in the winter months and on the barbecue in the summer. For chocolate, well, chocolate chip cookies are a staple in my diet. All my recipes are made with soy-free, dairy-free ingredients to accommodate my two main allergies: soy and dairy.
Willow Croft: I’d be remiss without including a question about your books that capture the lives of, in your words, “Extra-Ordinary” women. I learned from the book’s description on Goodreads that F-Stop: A Life in Pictures is about your photographer mother, but among the cast of characters in Amazingly Extra-Ordinary Women, which would you most like to meet as you travel through space and time?
Emily-Jane Hills Orford: Some I’ve already met, like my mother, of course, whose story is “An Adequate Teacher,” my mother-in-law, whose story is “Christmas Joy on a Cart,” and Frances Hopkins, whose story is “Prisoner of War.” I also feel like I’ve met the others through my research, but to actually meet in person, I’d have to say, Rachel Carson, “Do Not Kill the Birds!” She really spearheaded the campaign against pesticide use and saving the planet. Her words have been quoted often by environmentalists since she first wrote them in the 1950s and 1960s. I think tea and a serious conversation with Miss Carson, while enjoying watching the birds, would be a great way to spend an afternoon.
I’d want to gatecrash that tea party, wouldn’t you? Since we can’t do that, feel free to “gatecrash” Emily-Jane Hills Orford’s website, and start up a conversation of your own (after you check out her books, of course!).
Author Website: http://emilyjanebooks.ca
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.ca/Emily-Jane-Hills-Orford/e/B002LUV0NS/
Where to purchase Beauty in the Beast: