Monday, January 17, 2011


How to make a difference in the world of writing

This week marks the eighth anniversary of the death of our very good friend, mentor and leader, Audrey Jessup. It seems like yesterday that Audrey was the sparkling presence at our critique group gatherings where she was a fearless grammarian and punctuation arbiter (Needs a few commas here!) as well as a person with great insight into story structure, human nature and how to get things ‘right’. She was also the most gracious hostess and every critique meeting chez Audrey came with delicious food served (seemingly effortlessly) on Royal Worchester china as we all roared with laughter around her dining room table overlooking the Ottawa River. Have I mentioned she always looked fabulous?

Even in hospital having a heart procedure weeks before she died, Audrey was heard to say from her hospital bed: “We mustn’t cancel the party!” And of course, the party went on.

Audrey’s endearing fictional detective, Xan, who reminded me of her creator, never made it into a novel, although I believe that would have happened, if there had just been a bit more time. But Audrey left something more lasting: the sense that every day counts and one must have fun and enjoy friends and life. Despite a rough ride with rheumatoid arthritis (that would have stopped a lesser woman), Audrey lived life to the fullest, including many trips to Russia and the Hermitage which she loved, all with her Max at her side. She enjoyed food, conversation, adventure and her many friends. She was a tremendous short story writer and her intricate and wicked stories live on in the first three Ladies’ Killing Circle anthologies. She was a founding member and guiding light of that group of dangerous dames and a woman who could carry off a boa with style.

So how to make a difference à la Audrey? Live life to the fullest, write what you enjoy with passion, leave good stories behind you, love and support your friends, help others to become better writers and find opportunities, have the courage of your convictions, be generous and open-hearted, give parties and keep an eye on the grammar (we need that!). When life knocks you down, get up again and make sure you look gorgeous.

One of Audrey’s legacies is the Audrey Jessup Award for short stories (known as The Audrey) an annual contest sponsored by Capital Crime Writers in memory of Audrey who was a founding member. Check for details at

The first time I met Audrey she was twinkling at a Capital Crime Writers meeting, and I handed her a cheque within seconds. We all did. She had that effect on a person and she was the treasurer.

The last time I saw her, she had returned the manuscript of Lament for A Lounge Lizard to me with her (very astute) comments. Of course, it also needed some commas as well as some tweaking. The comments were made with a firm, but gentle and collegial hand. She handed over the manuscript, hopped back into her car (with just a flash of her lime-green lining of her sheered black mink) and fishtailed down the street into the swirling snow. I stood in the snow and watched her drive away. My husband stood beside me. He was in the snow wearing his slippers as he’d rushed out of the house to make sure he didn’t miss her. It was January 4th, 2003. A week later she was gone. But she is still with me whenever I edit a piece that I am working on. I hear her voice, competent, amused, encouragingly, but firm. I make sure I go to parties and see my friends too. I wouldn’t want to disappoint her.

What a gift! I will never forget her and I am not alone.

Do you have a special memory of Audrey? Or of a friend who has left a writing legacy? I’d sure like it if you shared that today.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three, soon to be three and a half, mystery series. You can check them out at


  1. What a wonderful blog, MJ!Audrey was a truly amazing person and we were so blessed to have her as part of our writing group and as a friend. She was always up for any adventure. And, could be found playing hooky at mystery conferences, leading the charge through local shopping venues. Need I mention Filene's?

  2. Oh, Mary Jane! What a lovely tribute for a truly lovely woman! I can hardly see the screen through my tears. I've found a couple of my old short story manuscripts with her pithy comments written in the margins. I treasure them.

  3. I was sad never to meet Audrey. I met with her accountant (hiring him to be mine) several years ago. He said that beside the definition of a lady in the Dictionary, you would find Audrey's picture. Lovely tribute, Mary Jane.

  4. And speaking of ladies, Brenda, It was Audrey who thought up the title for our first anthology, The Ladies' Killing Circle - which quickly became the name of our writing group.

  5. Hi all,

    Fine piece, Mary Jane.

    I had the privilege of meeting Audrey at your fourth anthology launch in 2001... then attending her memorial service in 2003. It was at this latter event that Laura Paquet introduced me as "our local connector", from the Malcolm Gladwell book "The Tipping Point". The moniker has stuck.

    Coincidentally today, I came across the pictures I took at the launch, as well as a few from the service. I have burned them on a CD for the close LKC friends to share.

    Patrick Meikle
    "The Connector"

  6. Thank you, Patrick. Glad to see you here. We do like it when a connector drops in. I think we will be thrilled to see that CD.

  7. Lovely tribute, Mary Jane. Lucky lady, to have such good friends.

  8. Lovely to think about Audrey and all she meant to the Ladies' Killing Circle and to Ottawa writers. We had such fun with her when we went to Washington and Philadelphia. She was inspirational not only because she was vivacious and caring but because she did live every day to the fullest. Thank you for a lovely blog.

  9. Ahhhhudrey!

    The twinkle in the eye. Somehow its mischieviousness extended beyond the traditional definition that comes to my mind with the term 'lady'.

    I remember the warmth of her welcome at my first CCW meeting, the elegant upswept hair, the fierce intelligence and the unerring kindness.

    How delightful to learn that we have a love of commas in common. It was a blessing to have kknown her.