Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Reply to comment


On Writing, with Steve Burrows

Steve Burrows

Steve Burrows has travelled the world to pursue his twin passions of birdwatching and journalism. Now that he's settled in Oshawa, he's preparing for the release of his debut novel, the murder mystery A Siege of Bitterns (Dundurn Press). Inspector Domenic Jejeune is the Canadian detective abroad at the heart of this new series — an enigmatic man, his skill as a detective is matched by his love of birdwatching, and the two pursuits don't always align. In today's On Writing interview, Steve introduces us to JeJeune and explains how birders and writers are driven by a similar quest, one that must be guided by a particular set of goals and rules. Watch for the publication of A Siege of Bitterns this coming spring.

Open Book:

Tell us about your forthcoming book, A Siege of Bitterns.

Steve Burrows:

It is a murder mystery that tries to take some liberties with the conventions of the genre. Set in a picturesque English seaside town, it introduces Domenic Jejeune, a young Canadian detective who has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of the British police service. His obvious talent and the unqualified support of senior officers and high-ranking politicians would seem to guarantee him a bright future in policing. The problem is, detective work holds no appeal for Jejeune whatsoever.

What he really wants to do is spend his days watching birds, but he feels trapped by his success into a career that brings him no satisfaction at all. Newly promoted to a posting in the heart of Britain?s premier birding country, Jejeune is called upon to investigate the murder of a prominent local birder. The case brings his career and his hobby into direct conflict and forces him to reconsider his priorities, his relationships and the direction his life his taking him.

Open Book:

How long has the idea of a beginning a Birder Mystery series been percolating for?


The idea of an environmentally-themed murder mystery series dates back to my days as a writer for Asian Geographic. I spent a lot of time developing characters I thought might provide interesting conflicts and interactions. But I gradually came to realize they needed a clearly defined arena in which to operate. Writers are encouraged to write what they know, so if I had to focus on one specific aspect of the environment, the world of birding seemed like the obvious choice. When I visited north Norfolk on a birding holiday a couple of years ago, I knew I had found the setting for my series, and all the pieces were finally in place.

Open Book:

How would you describe Inspector Domenic Jejeune? What is it about him that lets you know you can spend a lot more time (and many more books) following him?


Because of his foreign roots and his enigmatic personality, Jejeune himself remains something of a mystery at this point, both to the other characters in the story and to the readers. With each new book, further facets of Jejeune?s character and background will be revealed, so readers will be able to gradually piece together a more complete picture of the man and his motivations; in effect solving the mystery that is Domenic Jejeune.

Even in these early days, though, I think readers will identify with Jejeune?s predicament. To some extent, we all have dreams that our day to day lives prevent us from pursuing, so I think there will be a certain empathy for Jejeune?s continuing reluctance to accept the hand that life has dealt him, even if most people would consider it to be a very favourable hand indeed.

Open Book:

Would you say there are similarities between the personalities of birdwatchers and writers? How do the two pursuits complement each other?


To conduct careful scrutiny, of either birds or human nature, requires patience and an eye for detail. But such observations are often best conducted in solitude, so both pursuits tend to isolate participants from the rest of society a little. Both birders and writers also need to observe a fairly strict set of internal rules; a personal honour system, if you will, if their activity is to be meaningful. In birding, only you can decide if a fleeting glance meets your own criteria for a valid sighting.

In a similar way, while a murder mystery is a contest between a writer and a reader, it is the writers who must hold themselves accountable for providing enough clues and internal logic to the story give the readers a sporting chance, and allow the contest to be a fair one.

Open Book:

What is your ideal writing environment?


One that is close to hand when I wake up. I find my best ideas come first thing in the morning, so I like to write as soon as I get up. I am very focused when I write, so as long as my writing environment offers absolute quiet and plenty of space to spread out my notes and reference books, my actual surroundings become irrelevant.

Open Book:

What is your ideal birdwatching environment?


One with plenty of bird activity, regardless of the species. I enjoy watching birds, whether it is the comings and goings of a family of sparrows at a feeder, or a mixed flock of waders feeding on a mudflat, so as long as I am seeing good numbers of birds when I am out, I am happy. Of course, if I only saw one bird and it was a lifer, I would consider that to be a great day?s birding, too.

Open Book:

What are you working on now?


I am trying to finish book two of the Birder Murder series, A Pitying of Doves, before A Siege of Bitterns is published in April. As an unpublished novelist, I could write my first book free of any external influences or expectations, and I would like to complete this new book under those same conditions. As soon as Siege comes out, any comments it receives will inevitably be in the back of my mind as I sit down to write. I don?t know what impact this will have on my future writing, but I am sure it will have some.

Steve Burrows has pursued his birdwatching hobby on five continents, while researching articles on a wide range of environmental issues. He has a degree in English from York University and is a past editor of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Magazine. After travelling the world together, Steve and his family now live near Toronto.

For more information about A Siege of Bitterns, please visit the Dundurn Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore, online from the publisher or at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.


  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Advanced Search