jan mcgiffin

Eleven years it took me to write the four books of the Empress Irini series for Scotland Street Press and I enjoyed every minute, from when I got interested in the Dark Ages of Byzantine history while I was living in Greece, then to Oxford for six months of real research, then on to New York where I taught business English at Berlitz and spent my evenings at the New York Research library writing and re-writing about Irini of Athens.

She’s a fascinating woman, that Irini. She was an orphan brought up in her wealthy and powerful uncle’s home in Athens, then her beauty caught the eye of Emperor Constantine  and he brought her to Constantinople as the bride for his son. Within ten years, Emperor Constantine had suddenly and mysteriously died and so had his son—even more suddenly and mysteriously—leaving Irini seated on the throne as Empress and Regent for her nine year old son. Did she do away with them? Of course she did; that was no mystery to me—I had written mystery novels before published by Fawcett Books in NY and I was reading about her with the eyes of a mystery writer. I decided to figure out how she did it. What happened was a book that got longer and longer until it became four.

Now that I’m deeply into Byzantine history, I plan to return to writing mysteries set in the Dark Ages of Byzantium. And of course, I will spend more time in Greece. 

I do a lot of hiking and bicycling in the US and the UK, and I spend a lot of time weeding and re-designing my tiny garden. Equally enjoyable for me is my apartment in Manhattan and having movies, theatre, and good food within a walk or a subway ride. I’m a member of a Proust re-readers group and we meet on Zoom or in person twice a month to read Proust. For me, writing light fiction, I need to be reminded of what is good literature.

Prior to the Princess Irini Series, my previous book was Date Rape New York. Grazia Conti, a tough Italian lawyer on vacation in New York who goes out for a drink with friends and wakes up the next morning realizing she has been drugged and assaulted. She vows to recover her memory and exact revenge.

I’ve also written three mystery novels for Fawcett First Edition: Emergency Murder, Prescription for Death, and Elective Murder. They feature Dr. Maxene St. Clair, an Emergency Room doctor at Mercy Hospital in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who teams up with Detective Joseph Grabowski to find the facts behind three mysterious deaths.

I wrote two Graded Readers for the Cambridge University Press English as a second language book series. They are adapted from my previous books: Emergency Murder (Level Five – Cambridge English Readers), and Murder by Art (Level Five – Upper Intermediate Cambridge English Readers). Reviews for these readers, as well as all of my other books, can be found on Goodreads.

I spent eleven years living in Greece, writing grant proposals for small non-profit women’s organizations in other countries around the Mediterranean like Albania and Morocco. Most of this time I lived in Athens, where I first became intrigued by the Byzantine world that the Princess Irini Series is set in. I co-wrote a humor column for The Athens News with Adrian Vrettos, a very funny field archeologist. Adrian knew a lot how the customs of modern Greeks have their origins in ancient Greece. I did a lot of hiking in the Greek mountains, and I wrote numerous hiking articles for Matt Barrett’s travel Guides.