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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Elly Griffiths


Lynne Patrick talks with Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths is best known for her series of murder mysteries featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, which now runs to seven titles. They have a little of everything a good book needs: a leading character the reader can warm to, and lots of interesting people in supporting roles; some stunning landscapes brought to vivid life; delicious twisty plots with plenty of tension and just enough high-octane action; an occasional smidgen of romance.

But that’s not all there is to Elly. Under her real name she wrote four novels which can broadly be described as romantic suspense; and last year in a departure from the big Norfolk skies Ruth Galloway loves so much, she brought out what is promising to be the first in another series, set in post-war Brighton, in the completely different world of theatre and variety.

Lynne:  Elly, there’s plenty that I’m sure readers would like to know about the Ruth Galloway books, and about you yourself, but first of all, I’m intrigued to know what triggered last year’s change in direction. Where did
The Zig Zag Girl come from?
Elly:  I’ve been wanting to write The Zig Zag Girl for some time. In fact, it’s not having the ideas that’s the problem – it’s getting the time to write down all the ideas I have (in my head at the moment I’ve got two YA series and a literary novel about Lourdes). The Zig Zag Girl was inspired by my grandfather who was a music hall comedian. Granddad was on the bill with a magician called Jasper Maskelyne who, in the Second world war, was part of a group of magicians hired by Churchill to use stage magic techniques against the enemy. They were the inspiration for The Magic Men in my book. I also wanted to write about the theatre and the last days of Variety – such a fascinating, sad, glamorous world.

Lynne:  The Zig Zag Girl is set in the 1950s: quite some time before you were even born, so you weren’t writing from memory – yet it all rings true. How did you go about making it real? Researching the different speech patterns, attitudes, habits – capturing the tone, if you like? Written records of that kind of thing are thin on the ground.
Elly:  The thing is – 1950 doesn’t seem that long ago to me! My dad was 50 when I was born, he was born in 1912. Max speaks with his voice, ‘old boy’ and so on. My grandfather fought in the First World War and was on the stage in the 50s. I’ve got all his old playbills and, if I ever need inspiration, I just look through them. Some of the acts sound wonderful: Petrova’s Performing Ponies,  Lou Lenny and her Unridable Mule, Raydini the Gay Deceiver…

Lynne:  Any plans to follow it up with another adventure for Edgar and Max?
Elly:  Yes. The sequel will be out in November. It’s called Smoke and Mirrors.

Lynne:  Born in London, settled in Brighton with your family – but the books you’re best known for are set in Norfolk? What drew you to that area? What is it about Norfolk that’s special?
Elly:  I spent a lot of time in Norfolk as a child and I think that always makes a place seem special. Norfolk seems very big and mysterious to me and I think that’s because I still see it with a child’s eye view. But Norfolk is perfect for the Ruth books because it’s absolutely full of archaeology. I don’t think I’m ever going to run out of plots…

Lynne:  What made you decide Ruth Galloway was going to be a forensic archaeologist, and not a policewoman?
Elly:  About ten years ago my husband Andy gave up his job in the city and retrained as an archaeologist. This got me interested in archaeology. Then Andy introduced me to a friend who was a forensic archaeologist and I was interested to learn how often she was consulted by the police. I was fascinated by the similarities – and differences – between police work and archaeology.

Lynne:  What people love about Ruth is that she’s so normal – she has a weight problem, she’s a bit awkward in company, she has a way of falling for the wrong men, and she’s such a likeable person. How did you go about creating her? Is she based on someone real?
Elly:  Not really, though she probably owes something to my aunt, my sisters and some of the other strong women in my life. But really Ruth just came walking towards me, fully formed, out of the Norfolk mist…

Lynne:  Norfolk isn’t exactly a crime-heavy place, yet there’s no shortage of present-day murders to keep Nelson busy, as well as ancient bodies which bring Ruth on the scene. Do you ever feel you’re stretching
realism a little too far?
Elly:  I do worry sometimes, but the truth is that Norfolk IS full of bodies. It’s just that sometimes they are hundreds, even thousands, of years old. And I really feel that any crime series requires a suspension of disbelief on behalf of the reader. Even a policeman would only get only really complex murder in a career, not one a year. Within these conventions, it’s up to the writer to make the books as convincing as possible.

Lynne:  If the series was ever picked up for TV, who would you like to see playing Ruth and Nelson? And maybe Cathbad?
Elly:  A TV company has an option but everything is moving extremely slowly, it’s even slower than archaeology. But, of course, I’ve thought about the casting. Ruth Jones or Eva Myles as Ruth. She would have to become Welsh but it would be worth it. I’ve always thought Richard Armitage for Nelson (I can dream can’t I?). Cathbad is the most difficult. Maybe David Tennant with long hair?

Lynne:  Do you remember the moment when your advance copies of your first-ever book arrived – a real book, not just a computer file or a pile of manuscript? Did it feel familiar – or completely different from the work you initially sent out? Did you re-read it?
Elly:  My first book was written under my real name, Domenica de Rosa. It was called The Italian Quarter and was loosely based on my father’s life as an Italian immigrant before the war.  I found the experience almost too personal and have never reread the book.

Lynne:  Who do you write for? Is there a reader in your mind when you write a new novel?
Elly:  I write for myself really. I love writing and I tell the sort of stories I enjoy reading.

Lynne:  What is your working strategy? Are you highly organized, plotting it all out in methodical detail, with timelines and spider diagrams? Or do you just plunge in and trust that the characters know what they’re doing?
And how does a new book start in your mind?
Elly:  I do plot my books from beginning to end, just a sentence per chapter, and the basic plot rarely changes. But, having said that, the characters do unexpected things sometimes, for example Cathbad in The House at Sea’s End. That was just not meant to happen! The Ruth books nearly always start with the place – the marshes in The Crossing Places, an old house in The Janus Stone, the abandoned airfields in the latest book, The Ghost Fields.

Lynne:  Your books aren’t heavy on big sex scenes, and any graphic violence has usually already happened before the protagonist gets there. Are you uncomfortable with the modern trend towards gory descriptions?
Elly:  As I say, I write the sort of books I would like to read and I don’t like reading about graphic sex or violence. However, I wouldn’t criticise books that take a different approach. There are some books that are hard to read but all the more powerful for that. I have a weakness for happy endings which I think can make my books a bit self-indulgent.

Lynne:  And finally – what made you adopt a pen-name? Domenica de Rosa is such a pretty name, and
unusual enough to stand out in the large crowd of crime writers; what made you decide to change it? And where did Elly Griffiths come from?
Elly:  Thank you! I think the problem is that it’s too romantic and – ironically – too much like a pen name. I did write four books under my real name but when I wrote The Crossing Places my agent told me that I needed a ‘crime name’. Ellen Griffiths was my grandmother’s name. She died when I was five but she was a highly intelligent woman, very well-read, who’d had to leave school at thirteen to go into service. I thought that she would have liked a book written under her name.

The Elly Griffith Series
The Crossing Places The Janus Stone
The House at Seas End
A Roomful of Bones
Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead
The Ghost Fields 

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

‘The Girl on the Pier’ by Paul Tomkins

Published by Matador,
28 January 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-78462-104-9

The Girl on The Pier is a well written captivating story about Patrick’s life flicking between three different decades it builds a picture of his childhood, college days and present day. It’s very cleverly done, you as the reader know within the first sentence of each new part which era you’ve been transported too.

You’re shown Patrick’s story through Patrick’s eyes and how he perceives situations as he’s abandoned time and again by those he holds dear.  Now as a forensic sculptor he helps identify the unclaimed and missing. But he can’t leave behind a remarkable summer night in 1993, spent on Brighton’s derelict west pier with Black, a beautiful photography graduate. No sooner does he get to know her than she disappears.

Decades on Patrick is tasked with reconstructing the skull of an unclaimed girl found on the pier in the 1970’s, a crime he remembers from his turmoil childhood.


The final few chapter have such a dynamic conclusion, a brilliant read.
Reviewer: Nicky Cooper Brown

Paul Tomkins formerly a London-based designer, Paul has been writing full-time for over a decade. To date he has written eleven football books, some of which have topped the sports chart, as well as making the overall top 40. Dynasty spent a full year in the FourFourTwo/ football top 10.
Paul has also written for a number of prominent football websites, including five years as a weekly columnist for the official Liverpool FC site, and also runs the highly-acclaimed subscription-based The Tomkins Times (, for which thousands of dedicated readers pay a monthly fee.
The Girl on the Pier is his first novel.

Nicky Cooper Brown came late to this game we call writing. Growing up, up North, she was always praised for her talents with her hands, rather than her mind, she harboured an artistic flair often drawing and painting into the night. It wasn't until she moved south to the Beautiful picturesque New Forest that she took pen to paper so to speak. Now Nicky enjoys writing short stories and articles and has a funny and light hearted style, but when it comes to her novels she displays a darker side and a taste for psychological thrillers.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

‘A Study in Murder’ by Robert Ryan

Published by Simon & Schuster,
15 January 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-3506-4

At the start of the First World War, Dr John Watson re-enlisted to act as an army doctor in the trenches. Now a Major and a prisoner-of-war, Watson's age means that he should be released into a neutral country for the duration of the war. However, an old enemy of Holmes and Watson uses his power in the German army to block Watson's release and send him to one of the harshest prisoner-of-war camps deep in German territory.
Back in Britain, Watson's 'friend' Mrs Gregson is working tirelessly behind the scenes of the Secret Service to enable Watson's release and, of course, in the background, there is the shadowy figure of Sherlock Holmes, who is never quite as retired as he appears to be.

The Allied blockade has led to severe food shortages and when a new prisoner-of-war is murdered it is assumed that he was killed for his Red Cross parcel. However Watson has been Sherlock Holmes' companion for a long while and his instincts tell him that the true motive for the murder is very different and much more sinister. Watson decides to investigate, even though this involves grave risk to his own life.
Study in Murder is the third in the series of Dr Watson thrillers. It brings to vivid life the privations of life in a German prisoner-of-war camp, mixed with scenes of life and dangers in London in 1917.  Watson is shown as a strong and honourable man, capable of conducting an investigation in his own right. The story is complex and might be easier to follow if one had read the two preceding Dr Watson books (Dead Man's Land and The Dead Can Wait.) However A Study in Murder is an interesting and involving book in its own right.
Reviewer:  by Carol Westron
Robert Ryan was born in Liverpool and moved south to attend university. He graduated from Brunel with a M.Sc. in Environmental Pollution Science, intending to go into teaching. Instead, he spent two years as a mechanic for a Hot Rod team, racing highly tuned Fords (“the fag-end of motorsport”, as Bernie Ecclestone calls it) where he became addicted to the smell of Castrol R. Weaning himself off that, he became a lecturer in Natural Sciences in Kent, while dabbling in journalism. His articles on comic (or graphic novels as they were just becoming known) gurus Alan Moore and Frank Miller found their way into Nick Logan’s The Face magazine, which led to work for the American edition of GQ, The Guardian, Sunday Times, Telegraph and Arena. Eventually he took a position on staff at The Sunday Times as Deputy Travel Editor. It was while on assignment in Seattle that he came across the setting for his first novel, Underdogs – the ‘lost’ city beneath the sidewalks of downtown – that was called ‘Alice in Wonderland meets Assault on Precinct 13’ by Esquire.
He continues to contribute to The Sunday Times. He lives in North London with his wife, three children, a dog and a deaf cat.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

‘Unravelling Oliver’ by Liz Nugent

Published by Penguin,
29 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-241-96564-1 (PB)

If I might be allowed to paraphrase Shakespeare – some are born sociopathic, some achieve sociopathic tendencies, and some have sociopathy thrust upon them.

Oliver Ryan, the black heart of Liz Nugent’s powerful debut psychological thriller, reveals himself as a sociopath in the first chapter – possibly even the explosive first line – and elements of all three become evident as the narrative progresses.

Oliver is locked up in a secure psychiatric unit, having beaten Alice, his wife of many years, into a coma. That’s not a spoiler; it’s where the book begins. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks recounted from several points of view, all in the first person, and each voice and character distinct, including Alice’s mentally handicapped brother, whose chapter almost reduced me to tears. Alice herself is unconscious throughout, and therefore gets no say, but she nevertheless has a presence and a personality.

The true extent of the corrupt – or corrupted – soul which lies under Oliver’s sophisticated charm is revealed a little at a time, as each person adds his or her own account of an incidence of cruelty or abuse to the developing jigsaw of his past and Oliver himself seeks to justify his behaviour. That no one quite knows what goes on in someone else’s relationship is something of a truism; here the axiom is not only illustrated, but extended to show that sometimes not even the people in the relationship quite know what’s going on.

The action moves between Ireland and France, and one of Liz Nugent’s skills is the creation of subtle differences in atmosphere and tone which underlie the physical descriptions. A dour boarding school, seedy bedsits, wealthy and less rich homes all contribute to a vividly realized background, along with a chateau and vineyard, each with its own ambience.

Another of Nugent’s talents is the deft way she makes the apparently disconnected pieces of the story fit together in a way which ultimately create a complete and satisfying explanation of how the events in that attention-seizing opening chapter came about. It’s an explanation with its share of twists; and it’s not an excuse – there can be no excuse for the behaviour which emerges, either that night or in the years before. But the critic quoted on the cover who called it ‘a compelling whydunnit’ has hit the nail on the head.

A lot of good writing has come out of Ireland, and Liz Nugent is another name to add to that growing list of authors. Unravelling Oliver cannot be other than a standalone, but I look forward to whatever she does next.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Liz Nugent was born in Dublin in 1967. Liz has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel.                             

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.