Spoiler alert! Do not read this until you have watched the “Mary Wept” episode of Murdoch Mysteries.
Murdoch Mysteries fans can thank Noelle Girard for that super-creepy visual of the Virgin Mary weeping tears of blood in the beginning moments of “Mary Wept.” The new member of the Season 11 writing room not only pitched the bloody tears but also planting a body inside the statue. That part of the story didn’t stick but the instalment was memorable nonetheless thanks to a dead infant, George Crabtree’s return and the engagement of Constable Higgins to socialite Ruth Newsome.
We spoke to Noelle Girard about “Mary Wept” and how she came to be on Murdoch Mysteries.
Before we get into this week’s episode, let’s start at the beginning: how did you get into writing for TV in the first place?
Noelle Girard: I never studied screenwriting. I have a degree in art history from the University of Toronto. But even then, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I was writing on my own and having various jobs. It was only when I started to write TV scripts, on my own, that it really felt right. And then I got an agent. Two years ago I was on Saving Hope and last year I was on Murdoch.
What were some of the scripts you wrote before you got a TV job?
I wrote a couple of original ones, all hour-long dramas. The one I think [showrunner] Pete [Mitchell] read was a pilot for a projected six-part murder mystery, so that was a good one for him to read. I also have written one about espionage in Antarctica.
How did Murdoch Mysteries come about?
I knew Mary Pedersen—we’ve been friends for a couple of years—but I think my agent just sent my work to Pete and we had an interview. I think he’s really good at making the writer’s room full of great people. We’re all friends and it’s a really fun atmosphere. He was so great letting me and Natalia come up with our own ideas and really run with our own scripts and guiding us very well.
What do you learn in a writer’s room peopled with folks like Peter and Paul Aitken?
Paul is great because he’s Mr. Murdoch. He’s been on the show since Day 1 and knows everything. Also, it’s such a skill to write a self-contained mystery. That was a very steep learning curve for me; just how to write a murder mystery where you don’t have a lot of dead ends, or cul-de-sacs as they call them, or false leads. You keep the mystery unfolding. That’s what I tried to do with my episode.
Has your art history degree come into play on Murdoch Mysteries?
[Laughs.] I love arcane, esoteric phenomenon. That’s why I came to the room and said, ‘What about a statue that cries blood? And there is a body inside!’ Pete and Paul both said, ‘I think we can do better than that.’ [Laughs.]
So that was your idea?
Yes, the initial kernel was my idea and then everyone else just ran with it and it became this big, complex mystery. It was really fun. I’ve been really lucky, first at Saving Hope and now on Murdoch, because both rooms have been so open and inclusive and with really smart people.
What type of writer are you? Are you able to write in a room full of people, do you prefer music playing when you write?
No, I don’t like music. I do have to go away sometimes because I do love a good chat and in the Murdoch room we can just chat the day away. [Laughs.] Sometimes I have to sequester myself. But I don’t like going away for a long time from the room because you still have to stay connected to the room. Things can always change. It was a lot of writing at night and bringing it in the next day.
Let’s get in your episode. Did you get a chance to meet the director, Megan Follows, and speak to her?
Yes, we had a script meeting before she started directing and we spent a couple of hours going through the scripts. She was amazing. I mean, she’s Megan Follows!
How did the idea for having a statue cry blood come about? Were you inspired by something in particular?
When we convened before Season 11 we all came to the room with ideas. One of the original pilots I had written was about nuns, so I guess that was still fresh in my mind. I pitched a church and a statue crying blood. I think Pete really likes ideas that give him a world and when I said that, he realized we hadn’t had an episode in awhile where we had Murdoch going to church. We all seized on these ideas of Murdoch’s faith coming up against science and how he would grapple with that.
Not only did you address William’s faith, but the faith of others.
Also, things come out during the writing and we decided to have some fun with Watts, who is kind of the philosopher of the bunch. It comes out that he’s quite interested in this phenomena.
Everyone was happy to see George back. It was fun to have him be a braggart, comparing everything to the way things were in Paris.
[Laughs.] That was mostly Pete. He was like, ‘Let’s have a little bit of fun with Crabtree being obnoxious.’
I was a little surprised that Higgins and Ruth really got engaged. I kept waiting for something to stop them … like Josephine being thrown out the window. How long has it been in the works that these two would be engaged?
Early on we were wondering about their relationship and where that would go. We thought it would be fun for one of our gang to either be engaged or be married. When I was pitching it, I said, ‘And he throws her from the bell tower!’ And somebody else said, ‘Where Higgins is proposing to Ruth!’ [Laughs.] That was a great collaborative moment where we all just died laughing.
It was pretty dark to have the infant’s skeleton buried in the garden.
Because I’m new to Murdoch, when we were working on the story I said a couple of times, ‘Can we do this?’ And everyone said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ It’s really a testament to Pete and how fresh he keeps it. He loves the show and wants to push the storylines while still keeping it in the Murdoch world. He always wants the best story.
Is there a particular character you like writing for?
I do love Brackenreid because my whole family is from Yorkshire, so I love sneaking in some Yorkshire sayings. And everything you give Siobhan Murphy, who plays Ruth, will knock it out of the park. I always love when Murdoch and Julia have a nice moment together, so I love writing those moments. I love seeing them having a giggle together or play around together.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.