Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Intervieiw with Elly Griffiths
Today is the publication day for Elly Griffiths' new Ruth Galloway Mystery, The Woman in Blue. Number 8 in this series, it is another outstanding book that already ardent fans will love and new fans will realize they must read the first seven, too. The Ruth Galloway series is one of my favorites, and I am including a review of The Woman in Blue below. But, first, Elly has given us an insightful and fascinating interview, a peek at her writing and her personal life. She is exceptional in both areas.
Interview with Elly Griffiths:
The Reading Room: First off, Elly Griffiths is your nom de plume, and so I will use it in this interview. However, with a lovely name such as Domenica de Rosa, which you also write under, why did you choose to use a pen name for the Ruth Galloway series? Was it your idea or an editor’s?
Elly: The funny thing is that my real name sounds made up! I actually did publish four books under my real name. They were classified as ‘women’s fiction’ but they did all have a mystery element to them. When I wrote ‘The Crossing Places’ I didn’t think it was so very different but my agent said, ‘This is crime. You need a crime name.’ I chose Elly Griffiths because it was my grandmother’s name.
The Reading Room: With your husband’s career in archaeology and your main character Ruth Galloway’s archaeological career, I naturally have to wonder if your husband’s connection played a part in your career for Ruth?
Elly: It certainly did. About ten years ago Andy gave up a city career to retrain as an archaeologist. This gave the whole family a new interest in archaeology but it did also mean that our lives had to change a lot. We couldn’t afford foreign holidays for one thing so we started to go back to where I had always holidayed as a child – Norfolk. One day we were walking across Titchwell Marsh in North Norfolk and Andy said that prehistoric people had seen marshland as sacred ground. Because it’s neither land nor sea, but something in between, they saw it as a bridge to the afterlife; neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. The entire plot of The Crossing Places came to me in that instant.
The Reading Room: For those of us who are ardent fans (not sure that even covers the degree to which I love this series) of the Ruth Galloway books, we are much invested in the relationship or non-relationship of Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson. I realize I’ve never asked you if you had planned a connection between the two when you started writing the first book. Had you?
Elly: Yes, I did want them to have a relationship. I was fascinated by the extent to which two people who seem very different (Ruth: university educated, liberal; Nelson: little formal schooling, tough Northerner) could be attracted to each other. I didn’t ever plan it to become quite as complicated though.
The Reading Room: The series has so many wonderful characters in it, and, of course, Cathbad, the Druid, is wildly popular with everyone. How did Cathbad come about in your imagining the series, and has his part grown larger than you planned?
Elly: Definitely. In the first book Cathbad was just another suspect but he has just grown and grown. Now he even has a complicated love life of his own. I live in Brighton, a town known for its alternative beliefs, and Cathbad is an amalgam of many of my friends here.
The Reading Room: I hesitate to ask this next question about the Ruth Galloway series, but here goes. Can we fans expect Ruth to continue for many more novels? Your writing for them is still so fresh, and there’s so much more of Ruth’s future we all want to see, I’m hoping the answer is a short, “there will be many more.” After all, The Woman in Blue is only #8.
Elly: Well, I have always said that there will be ten but now – as I’m writing Book 9 – I’m not sure that I am ready to say goodbye. I will definitely have a break after Book 10 though.
The Reading Room: Tuesday, May 3rd, brings those of us across the pond your 8th Ruth Galloway novel, The Woman in Blue, my review for which will be placed after this interview. You once again have produced a brilliant story with fascinating history of an English village in the Norfolk area of England and spectacular characters. In this book, as is often the case, Ruth’s atheism is confronted by the very setting of the story, the shrine village of Walsingham. How did you decide upon Ruth being atheist, and how important is it to the storyline of the series?
Elly: It’s interesting, because Ruth is an atheist people assume that I am too. Actually I’m a (slightly freelance) Catholic. Andy is an atheist though and some of the arguments between Ruth and Nelson echo our religious debates. I’m fascinated by belief in all its forms. In ‘The Woman in Blue’ I wanted to look at the way in which worship of a woman (the Virgin Mary) could co-exist with some darker feelings towards women, particularly women priests.
The Reading Room: The question about the longevity of the Ruth Galloway series was prompted by the appearance of your new amazing series, the Stephens and Mephisto books, featuring Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto. The first one, The Zig Zag Girl came out last year in the U.S., and #2, Smoke and Mirrors, comes out this year. How did this series come about, Elly?
Elly: I’ve always wanted to write about my grandfather who was a music hall comedian. Grandad appeared on the bill with a famous magician called Jasper Maskelyne, who had been involved with a wartime espionage group called The Magic Gang. This gave me the idea for a series which would combine magic, crime and vaudeville. I have really enjoyed writing these books and have just finished the third, The Blood Card.
The Reading Room: Elly, for those of us who aren’t writers, or authors of books, it’s always a curiosity as to how you go about your writing. Could you share some of your process, including researching, with us? What is a typical day, or is there a typical day, like for your writing?
Elly: I have two children and they leave from school at about 7.30am. Then I make a pot of strong coffee and start writing. I always write until midday. I used to go to see my mother at lunchtime but sadly she passed away last year. I still have the same routine though. Now at midday I might go for a walk by the sea. Then I’ll do the shopping and whatever housework needs doing. When the kids come home at 4pm that means no more writing. I try to write every day unless I am teaching (I teach creative writing at West Dean College).
The Reading Room: It never ceases to amaze me that authors make time to read other books than their own, but it is always interesting to me to know what they are reading. So, Elly, what’s on your nightstand these days?
Elly: I love reading and am never without a book. I reread a lot too (I read The Moonstone every year, for example). At the moment I’m reading a brilliant debut novel by Anna Mazzola called ‘The Unseeing’. It’s a historical mystery based on a real murder case.
The Reading Room: And now, for one of my favorite questions I ask authors. What would you like your readers to know about you that isn’t in your bio information? Besides your obvious writing talent, any special interests or talents, quirky or not, you’d like to share?
Elly: I love swimming in the sea and try to swim from April to October. My mum used to swim all year round and my ambition is to do this too but it is very cold in the English Channel! I’m also a keen horse-rider.
Review of The Woman in Blue
The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes, I think that the hardest reviews to write are for the books you most love. Trying to do justice to a favorite read, a favorite author, a favorite character and series is a tall order in a short space. So it is with the latest entry into the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Of course, I haven't read anything by Elly Griffiths that I haven't loved, and Ruth Galloway is such a special character to me, one in which I'm so emotionally invested. The Woman in Blue took my emotions to a whole new level, as it is a pivotal book in Ruth facing her own emotions and truths. I felt like both Ruth and I were wrung out by the end, except Ruth is always more composed than I.
The action, and there is plenty of that along with the emotion, gets underway when a beautiful young woman is discovered strangled and left in a ditch outside of Walsingham, a Norfolk village known as "England's Nazareth" because of its shrines, medieval religious ruins, and pilgrimage site. Its connection to and sightings of the Virgin Mary enhance its Nazareth moniker, and it is the incomparable character of Cathbad, Druid friend of Ruth's, that mistakes this murdered woman as a possible vision of the Holy Mother the night before her body is found. House-sitting for a friend in Walsingham, Cathbad sees a woman in a white gown with a blue coat-like attire in the graveyard next to where he is staying, but she slips away before he can discover who or what she is. So, a bit of the other-wordly atmosphere is set up in a place where religious history and myth are the bones of the community. DCI Harry Nelson is called into investigate, and the woman is identified as a somewhat famous model who was in residence at a local drug rehabilitation center called The Sanctuary.
Ruth is on a parallel course to Walsingham, as an old college friend named Hilary Smithson emails Ruth about meeting in Walsingham. Hilary, who is now an Anglican priest, is attending a course for female priests on becoming bishops. Not everyone is thrilled about Hilary and her fellow female priests being in the priesthood, and Hilary confides in Ruth about nasty, threatening letters received from an anonymous source. Religion is not Ruth's passion by any means, but she is interested in the archaeological history of Walsingham and the welfare of her friend, so Ruth agrees to read the letters. She then encourages her friend to contact the police, and, thus Nelson, the father of Ruth's five-year-old daughter becomes involved in Hilary's problem. When one of the female priests who is attending the course with Hilary is also found murdered, Nelson has to consider the possibility that the letters and the two murders are related. Ruth and Nelson find themselves once more in the thick of a case that brings them together trying to solve murder and trying to figure out their place in one another's lives.
Elly Griffiths does so many things well that there's always the risk of leaving something out when talking about why her Ruth Galloway series is so special. The characters are always at the top of the list when readers praise the series. Ruth and Nelson, with their complicated relationship (after all Nelson is married and seems to want to stay that way, but does he?) is one of my favorite parts of every book. I was delighted that The Lady in Blue had both characters doing some real soul searching and some affirmation of repressed truths. Ruth's witty conversation, both to herself and others, tells us so much about this dear friend. Cathbad is just a gem of a character, and he definitely puts the cool in Druid. All the supporting cast and the newly introduced characters for this particular story have such attention to detail and development that I truly want to meet them all. Setting is another area in which Elly excels, and readers get to become ensconced in the village of Little Walsingham, as well as still enjoy the beautiful geography of Ruth's marshlands. There is something oddly peaceful about the wilds of Norfolk. Elly Griffiths seems to have a bond with the land and sea of this area that transfers beautifully to the written page. Of course, the stories in which these wonderful characters and settings exist are always suspenseful and thrilling, and as in most first-rate mysteries, time is always ticking on the page and in the reader's mind.
I received an ARC of The Woman in Blue, which was greatly appreciated, as the book doesn't come out in the U.S. until May 3rd. It is, however, already published in the UK if readers can't wait, and so many fans of this series just can't. I have loved all the books in the Ruth Galloway series, but I will have to admit that this new one is a favorite amongst favorites. It checked all the boxes for me. Thank you Elly Griffiths for once again providing such great writing for all to read.