Welcome to the latest Books on the 7:47 author interview with the fantastic Elly Griffiths! Born as Domenica de Rosa, she has written four books under her real name and uses the pen name Elly Griffiths to write her very successful Dr. Ruth Galloway crime series and the Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto mystery series. The Stranger Diaries is her first stand alone novel (which I have just finished reading, find my full review here) and is a deliciously addictive crime / Gothic hybrid. She kindly took time to chat to me about writing, reading and all things Gothic.
/ Hi Elly, let’s go back to the beginning. When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember. I wrote my first novel when I was 11. It was called The Hair of the Dog and set in Rottingdean (a beautiful historic village on the Sussex coast).
/ Do you have a preferred writing spot? (I’m very intrigued by visuals people use to get them in a certain zone!)
I always used to write at the kitchen table but now I have a garden office, though shed would be a better description. My view is apple trees and a tiny bit of sea. Inside there’s a desk with a computer on it, bookcase and a chair for my cat, Gus.
/ Do you remember the moment you had the idea for The Stranger Diaries?
Yes. It was that day in October 2017 when the sky turned yellow (was it a volcanic dust cloud?) I was having lunch in Brighton with my editor, Jane. On the way home I suddenly thought of a scary story that I used to tell my kids. I decided to start with this, a dark night and a stranger on a train…
/ I loved the classic Gothic horror conventions you used in a modern setting, have you always had an interest in the Gothic horror genre?
Like you, I love Gothic fiction. I’ve always loved Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. I also did an MA in Victorian literature and that really made me think about the Gothic as a genre.
/ Is this the first Gothic themed book you’ve written?
There are Gothic echoes in some of the Ruth books – The Ghost Fields, for example, which features an aristocratic family in a spooky house – but this is my first attempt at a modern Gothic novel.
/ What research did you do?
Less than for the Ruth books. I already knew the literature and the setting. I just had to get some advice on police procedure and on Sikh background for Harbinder.
/ Are any parts of The Stranger Diaries based on real life experiences (not the murder parts!)?
The school is partly based on my old school, Cardinal Newman in Hove and West Dean in Chichester, where I teach creative writing. The ghost story owes a lot to the phantom nun at Cardinal Newman…
/ Did you put elements of yourself into the lead character of Clare?
Actually, Georgie is much more like me! I was quite secretive as a child and wrote novels that I never showed to anyone.
/ I love the fact this book is set on the south coast, does the location play a big role when crafting your plot ideas?
Location is very important to me. I always think of the Shivering Sands in The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and how they contribute to the atmosphere of menace. I’ve always been fascinated by the abandoned cement factory near Steyning and by the prim row of houses in front of it, so that seemed the ideal location for Clare’s house.
/ I notice you have three books published in 2019, were you working on them at the same time?
I can’t write 2 or 3 books at once but I can edit one and write another. If I’m at home, I start writing at 8am and stop at lunchtime. I do admin and other stuff in the afternoons. I try to write at least 1000 words a day.
/ Who are your favourite authors?
Apart from Wilkie Collins, I love Anne Tyler, Alison Lurie and David Lodge. Favourite crime writers include Kate Atkinson, Lesley Thomson, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Donna Tartt.
/ If you had to, could you choose a favourite book?
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
/ What are you reading right now?
Red Snow by Will Dean. It’s excellent.
/ Are you writing at the moment?
I’m just finishing The Lantern Men (Ruth no. 12).
/ When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love to swim. In the sea from April to October, otherwise in an open-air pool. I also love reading, long walks and watching crime dramas on TV.
/ Finally, what advice do you have for any aspiring writers out there?
Don’t wait for inspiration – start writing today!