Tag Archives: The Outcast Dead

The Intel: Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths

Photo: Jerry Bauer

We love a bit of synchronicity around here. No sooner had Crime Thriller Fella interviewed Elly Griffiths than the news broke that she’s been long listed for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2014, for her Ruth Galloway novel Dying Fall. This week we were more concerned with her new Galloway novel The Outcast Dead, which we reviewed on Wednesday.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see that – but not before you get The Intel from Elly on The Outcast Dead, Ruth Galloway and, of course, her writing regime. You will not be disappointed.

In The Outcast Dead you very much explore the anxiety mothers feel when they allow childminders to look after their children – is it important to you that your novels have a theme to power the drama?

In a funny way the theme comes last. I usually start with an archaeological or historical idea, in this case nineteenth century prisoners held under the so-called separate system. Then the prisoner became a woman and a childminder, partly based on the real-life case of Amelia Dyer. This seemed to tie in with the theme of motherhood. Many of my characters seem to be becoming parents. I didn’t plan it this way but it’s one of the benefits of a long series. You can watch the children grow up in real time.

The characters – Ruth, Nelson, Judy and Cathbad among them – have very entangled emotional lives. What comes first character or plot?

As I say, probably the historical idea comes first, then all the other factors come into play. Character, plot and setting are all intermingled in my books. You can’t really separate them.

Norfolk is very much a character in the book – what is it about the county that you find so evocative and mysterious?

So many things! I spent a lot of my childhood in Norfolk and I think there is something magical about places you visited as a child. They retain their sense of awe and wonder. Norfolk also seems very big to me, possibly because I’m still seeing it on a child’s scale. But it’s also because it’s such a rich and varied landscape – and also slightly spooky.

But the main reason I set the books there is because there is such a wealth of archaeology in Norfolk. You have Neolithic flint mines, Bronze and Iron Age relics, Roman remains and a host of other historical sites, right up to the Second World War.

The Outcast DeadYour protagonist Ruth Galloway is both headstrong and insecure – what is it about her that your readers love, do you think?

I’m not really sure but I’m so happy that people love her because I do too! I think people like the fact that Ruth isn’t perfect. She’s shy, overweight and slightly grumpy. She’s insecure about her personal life but very confident in her professional sphere. I think people can relate to that.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

My children catch the school bus at seven-thirty. Then I make a pot of strong coffee and start work. I try to work from eight to eleven with no interruptions. My mum is housebound and I visit her every day at eleven-thirty so my writing time is quite limited. Having a set time to write works well for me. I’m not easily distracted (certainly not by housework!) and I try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

My favourite author is Wilkie Collins. I love his sense of place, his humour and his characterization. I think Count Fosco in The Woman in White is the best villain of all time and Marian Halcombe the best heroine. When I was writing The Crossing Places I was very influenced by the description of the Shivering Sands in The Moonstone. I also like David Lodge, Anne Tyler and Alison Lurie.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That not everyone is pleased for you when you write a book.

How do you deal with feedback?

I honestly think feedback doesn’t help with the creative process. I never show my work to anyone until it’s finished. Then, of course, I get wonderful help and advice from my editor and agent. But they are professionals and it’s their job. Having said that, I love hearing from people who have enjoyed my books. For me that is one of the joys of social media, being able to speak so directly to readers.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

I’m sure my life has shaped my writing but, the more I write, the better that is hidden. My early books (published under my real name, Domenica de Rosa) are very raw with personal experience. I’ve learnt to disguise myself now.

Give me some advice about writing…

Write every day and try not to go back on what you’ve written. Press on until you’ve got a final draft. And don’t ask friends and family for feedback!

Dying FallWhat’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Write to lots of agents and tell them that you’re doing this. The one thing agents can’t stand is the thought that one of their rivals might get their hands on a hot new writer.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got a new book out in the autumn. It’s a crime novel but not about Ruth. It’s called The Zig Zag Girl and is set in the theatrical world of the 1950s. The next Ruth book is called The Ghost Fields and will be out early next year.

The Outcast Dead – Elly Griffiths

The Outcast DeadSo I’m a little late to the party where the Ruth Galloway series is concerned. The Outcast Dead is the sixth book by Elly Griffiths to feature the forensic archaeologist who investigates crime – past and present – along the windswept Norfolk coast.

The blurb is pulling on a pair of wellingtons:

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has excavated a body from the grounds of Norwich Castle, once a prison. The body may be that of Victorian murderess Jemima Green. Called Mother Hook for her claw-like hand, Jemima was hanged for the murder of five children.

DCI Harry Nelson has no time for long-ago killers. Investigating the case of three infants found dead, one after the other, in their King’s Lynn home, he’s convinced that their mother is responsible.

Then a child goes missing. Could the abduction be linked to the long-dead Mother Hook? Ruth is pulled into the case, and back towards Nelson.

I really liked Ruth Galloway. She’s a terrific protag. Fiercely independent and intelligent, but filled with insecurities about her place in the world. She’s a hugely empathetic – and, thank god, flawed – character. Her deadpan observations about the people around her are acerbic and witty. Griffiths gives her plenty of ammunition when she becomes involved in a lurid documentary series called Women Who Kill, staffed by telly people with names like Aslan.

Griffiths knows all her characters backwards – DCI Harry Nelson and his team of coppers, and Ruth’s work colleagues – are all well established and likeable, and you really get a strong sense of their tangled relationships as well you should after half a dozen novels. It doesn’t take long to get up to speed with all the soapy shenanigans – oh, so Ruth’s got a child with Nelson, but he’s married to this other woman, okay, and Ruth’s married but she’s got a thing for the druid guy in the cloak, and he’s gone up north to get over it.

The backstory is so layered and the relationships between the characters so comfortable – they’re like a squabbling family – that, picking up the thread six books in, I found myself a bit like an outsider looking in at first. Like I’d been invited to a party only to discover everyone there goes waaaay back together. But I soon got over it. And, anyway, I like tangled, I like characters to grow and develop. I don’t like those series of books where all the characters default to factory settings with every new instalment.

The title, The Outcast Dead, refers to a ceremony honouring the unknown dead of Norwich, and there’s a overwhelming holistic sense of time and place in this novel – a sensation that the past continues to exert an influence on the present. And, of course, Ruth’s unearthing of the 18th century remains of a notorious child killer called Mother Hook – a woman who took in unwanted children – has parallels with the ongoing investigation into the abduction of children by someone calling themselves The Childminder.

These historical connections really resonate, and Griffiths runs with the theme of the anxieties of working women who are forced – or choose – to place their children with strangers. The rich history of the North Norfolk coast – with its remote and wild Saltmarshes – provides even more spiritual texture to the proceedings. The rich history of the region is soaked into every page like sherry into sponge. Griffiths even throws in some vague supernatural stuff.

The whole thing feels comfortable. That’s not a criticism. Griffiths knows her cast of characters inside out, and her love of that part of Norfolk is clear. The crime aspect of the narratives stutters to lift off, perhaps, but there’s a lot to enjoy along the way. The prose is crisp and wry, and because the theme of the book is so strong, there’s a resonance and momentum to the writing.

Many thanks to Quercus for the review copy. I’m delighted to say that later in the week Elly Griffiths will be giving us The Intel on The Outcast Dead, Ruth Galloway and, of course, her writing regime.

Radio & Event Crime Log: Hove, Payment

Hove Book Festival

That Saharan sand is blowing across the country right now, making itself very unwelcome inside your lungs. One way to ensure you get some fresh air is to get yourself to the seaside.

It just so happens that the good people of Hove have started their own own book festival, which takes place this weekend. As part of the festival – which features talks on how to get published and write for TV, and all sorts – they’ve invited Elly Griffiths to discuss how to write bestselling crime series.

If you’re hanging around this blog, it sounds like something you’d possibly like to know. Elly is, of course, the creator of a series of bestelling books about crime-fighting archaeologist Ruth Galloway, so she knows what she’s talking about.

Elly Griffiths

Photo: Jerry Bauer

The latest Ruth Galloway book, the sixth, is called The Outcast Dead. It’s about Ruth’s investigation of a Victorian murderer, and offers another piece in the jigsaw of the complex leading character. Elly’s Ruth Galloway series of book is currently in development with the BBC. And I do believe we’ll be reviewing The Outcast Dead here soon.

So, anyway, Elly will be discussing how she created the character of Ruth Galloway and subsequently developed the books — and about how you can do the same.

The How To Write A Bestselling Series With Elly Griffiths session starts at 1pm on Saturday at the Hove Centre. The £4 ticket sounds a right bargain.

And if, by any chance, you see that miserable wretch George Harvey Bone aimlessly wandering the landscape, do send him home. His cat is very lonely.

I understand that the overwhelming majority of you, living hither and thither, will possibly not be able to make that event on the south coast. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It just so happens that BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting a new series that afternoon that may be of some interest to you.

As a novelist, CS Forester is famous for the Horatio Hornblower series, his rumbustious novels of naval conflict. But early in his career, Cecil Scott wrote three psychological crime novels that were quietly ground-breaking.

We mentioned George Harvey Bone earlier. Forester’s crime novels, known as his London Noir trilogy, were similar to Patrick Hamilton’s work in that they focused on submerged suburban lives in which small, weak people commit desperate acts.

Now BBC Radio 4 is dramatising the three of them on subsequent Saturday afternoons. The first, Payment Deferred, is this week at 2.30pm on BBC Radio 4.

Originally published in 1926, it’s about a bank clerk living in south London with his wife and two children, who’s desperately worried about money and is in grave danger of losing his house and job. An unexpected visit by a young relative with an inheritance tempts him to commit a heinous crime.

Payment Deferred is followed by Plain Murder, written in 1930, and The Pursued. That last book was written in 1935, but then the manuscript was lost for over 70 years!