fiction in other fields but The Crossing Places is
crime novel – I hope the first of many cases for forensic
Galloway, her protagonist, and DCI Harry Nelson, with whom she shares
detection honours. This novel is set in the remote and atmospheric
Q. I enjoyed The Crossing Places greatly, so my first
question is an obvious one: after reading the novel, I’m very
glad you turned
to the crime field, but what influenced you into doing so?
I’ve wanted to write
a crime novel
for some time. I love crime fiction, particularly Victorian novels like
or The Murders in the Rue Morgue where the detective was just starting
emerge as a literary figure. In my last ‘non-crime’
novel I had a mystery
sub-plot which eventually threatened to engulf the whole book. When I
thinking about what to write next I realised that what I really wanted
was write a ‘proper’ crime novel – dead
bodies, detectives and all.
Q. Ruth Galloway was
inspired by your husband decision to give up a city job to train as an
archaeologist. However you write very naturally about the tools,
and the excitement of archaeology, yet without forcing information on
reader, which is a frequent pitfall of writing in an area that one
experience at first hand. Do you go on digs with your husband, and have
done so in Norfolk?
He never lets me come on digs
because I’m far too lazy! Digging is incredibly hard work and
I would want a
cappuccino break after about ten minutes. However he has been very
the details and I do think living with an archaeologist has helped me
understand a little of what it’s all about. I love the idea
that you can read a
landscape, make deductions based on the colour of the grass or the
shape of the
hills. It feels very magical to me though I do know that it involves
physical work (and a lot of mud).
Q. Another theme of
novel is folklore and prehistoric ritual, and they are central to its
plot. Is this is a general interest of yours, or is it specific to the
are writing about so skilfully? Is
one particular myth or ritual that you always link with the marshes?
Yes, one holiday in Norfolk my husband started talking
marshland, how it was sacred to prehistoric man because it is neither
sea but something in-between. Prehistoric man saw marshland as a kind
between life and death which is why they buried sacrifices there. The
plot of The Crossing Places really came from this one conversation.
Also, I’ve always
been fascinated by Norse mythology. My mum used to tell me the stories
was very young (she wanted to call my sister Freya but my dad objected)
think they have stayed with me. I love the way the myths are entwined
with the seasons
and the natural world.
Q. The atmosphere of
location is an important tool in any novel but in a crime novel it can
In yours, the eeriness and sense of the past that you convey in
salt marsh contributes much to the pace of the novel as well as to the
was with you every minute during the scary scenes on the Saltmarsh.
had such experiences yourself?
I was once lost in a fog on the
Downs but I realise this is not nearly
so dramatic! I have always lived near the sea and feel a real pull
lonely coastal scenery like the Saltmarsh.
Q. You write in the
present tense. Did this come instinctively, or was it the result of a
decision, having considered the pros and cons?
It was a conscious decision
because I felt that, in a crime novel, you need a real sense of
feeling that events are happening ‘now’ Having said
that, I love the way
Victorian novels start by saying things like: ‘This is the
story of the strange
events that happened when I was but a child...’
Q. I was very
by your characterisation of Nelson, and the way he develops throughout
novel. It’s often difficult to have two strong characters
the need for constant conflict between them. Did Nelson spring fully
the page as a character, or did he grow in your mind just as he
develops in the
I’m so glad you like
love him but I have noticed before that the men in my books tend to be
dark and bad-tempered. He really did spring into life fully formed, as
Ruth. Nelson isn’t based on anyone in my life although my
supply some of the Blackpool background, particularly about
the football team.
taken a familiar subject in crime fiction – the disappearance
of a child – and brought
it across very sympathetically. It is intertwined throughout, however,
theme of prehistoric ritual and sacrifice, which requires the reader to
himself in a completely different world. The mixture works very well in
The Crossing Places, but in some
the balance gets out of kilter with either the past or the present
with greater emphasis indicating the author’s bias. In yours
I felt that this
wasn’t the case; however what flows naturally on the printed
page for the
reader is often very hard to achieve during the writing process. Did
I did know it was a little
doing the whole ‘scary stuff in italics’ bit.
I’m glad you think it paid off. I
am very squeamish about anything to do with children, especially since
children myself, so I did find those parts very hard to write.
Q. I felt there was
freshness and direct appeal in this novel. Partly this was due to the
of the two main characters, partly to your writing of course, partly to
atmospheric location and partly perhaps to a factor X. Do you have your
ideas as to what factor X is? Could you, for example, write in the same
about Sussex (where you
live) as you do about Norfolk, or was it your
memories of Norfolk that first inspired
I wish I did know what factor X
is. I used to work in publishing and we were always trying to find
J.K Rowling’, ‘the next Patricia
Cornwall.’ Eventually I came to the conclusion
that you just can’t predict these things. The best novels are
the ones written
from the heart without trying to fit into a particular genre. Who could
predicted the success of ‘A Short History of Tractors in
Ukrainian’, for example?
It was just a brilliant book.
Q. Lastly, a
which a lot of readers are going to ask: when can we expect the next
Well, the next book is about
‘foundation sacrifices’; bodies, often children,
found buried under houses,
supposedly for luck. It takes us into the territory of the Roman Gods,
particular Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.
Many thanks, Elly,
all good wishes for The Crossing Places. And
my appetite’s well and truly whetted for the next one.
Places, Elly Griffiths,
hardback £12.99, February 2009
ISBN 978 1 84724 846 6
the Shotsmag review pages for a review of The Crossing Places.