Guest Post: Elly Griffiths on New Ideas

Earlier in the week we said all manner of good things about The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths. Scroll down to read that review, or if your mouse finger hurts, click here.

After writing seven books in her Ruth Galloway series, Elly has, er, zig-zagged in another creative direction with her novel about a copper and a magician solving a series of gruesome murders in post-war Brighton. And the good news is, Elly told Crime Thriller Fella on Twitter only this week that she’s writing a sequel, tentatively called The Demon King, set in the world of pantomime!

Oh yes she is.

So, we’re delighted to say that Elly has written a guest post about how she came to put her hugely-popular heroine aside for a bit to write The Zig Zag Girl. It’s essential reading for anybody who wants to know how successful authors get those fragments of ideas out of their clever heads and onto the page. Enjoy!

Elly Griffiths

Photo: Jerry Bauer

I’m often asked if I’m afraid of writer’s block. I always answer, ‘No, touch wood, ha ha, hasn’t happened yet’ (you have to be there really) but, in fact, what I fear is the opposite. I worry that I’ll never be able to get all my book ideas down on paper. Over the last seven years I’ve written seven books in the Ruth Galloway series. When I wrote The Crossing Places I never thought that it would become a series. If I had I wouldn’t have broken the cardinal series rule (No 1: don’t let the protagonists have sex) in the first book. But I’ve been delighted and humbled that so many people have liked Ruth and Nelson and wanted to read more about them. It also makes me panic slightly (but only in a good way) when, after reading the latest book, people say, ‘When’s the next one coming?’

Because seven books in seven years doesn’t leave much space for anything else. And, in my head at the moment and in no particular order, I have:

  1. A children’s series about the Norse Gods
  2. A serious book about Lourdes
  3. A crime series about an old lady who has ideas for crime novels
  4. A book based on my grandfather’s music hall experiences.

Last year no. 4 became too insistent to bear and I sat down and wrote The Zig Zag Girl. It’s party based on my grandfather’s life as a music hall comedian: a different town every week, questionable digs run by questionable landladies, a succession of chorus line girlfriends. In my granddad’s case this life was all the more remarkable because he had a young daughter in tow (my mother). In my book one of the heroes is a music hall magician, Max Mephisto, whose war-time experiences are loosely based on a real-life character, Jasper Maskelyne.

As I say, I didn’t know that The Crossing Places would be a series. When I first wrote it I didn’t even realise that it was crime. I’d published four non-crime books previously (under my real name Domenica de Rosa) and I didn’t, at first, think that this one was very different. Starting out to write The Zig Zag Girl was a very different matter. I knew this would be a crime novel and it started me thinking about the building blocks needed to write a successful book in this genre.

The Zig Zag Girl1. A protagonist. Having written seven books about Ruth I quite fancied writing about a man. Much as I loved the character of Max I thought that I needed a policeman hero. If your main crime protagonist isn’t in the police force it does become rather a strain inventing credible scenarios for them even if, like Ruth, they can plausibly be called in as a forensic expert. So I came up with Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens, idealist, ex-spy, sucker for a pretty face.

2. A memorable setting. The Ruth books started with the setting – the wonderful but slightly eerie North Norfolk coast. I needed something similar here. But I was lucky. I live in Brighton, one of the most atmospheric towns in England, rooted in a deep and often dark history. And setting the story in the 1950s meant I didn’t have to face the inevitable Peter James comparisons.

3. A cast. The Ruth books have taught me that you need to spread the load. You can’t have one character constantly in jeopardy or rescuing others. You have to create a cast. So, in The Zig Zag Girl I have a host of other performers, some of them inspired by my granddad’s collection of theatrical bills. The Great Diablo, a once-great magician who has now succumbed to the demon drink. Tony ‘the mind’ Mulholland, a specialist in mesmerism. Charis, the beautiful ex-WAAF. Emerald, the snake charmer. Sonya and Tanya, exotic dancers.

4. A story. Well, this should have come first because of course I had a story. It has been in my head some time along with the Norse Gods and the old lady who solves crimes. I do hope people enjoy it.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths is out now, published by Quercus, priced at £16.99.

By the way, as we’re plugging stuff, check out this Intel Interview Elly did for Crime Thriller Fella earlier in the year.

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