In conversation: Elly Griffiths & Kate Rhodes
Bestselling crime writers, Elly Griffiths and Kate Rhodes, chat about their latest books, character inspirations and who would play Dr Ruth Galloway...
Posted on January 29, 2016 in Author Q&A
Tags: Author Content, elly griffiths, kate rhodes, uk crime
It’s a pleasure to be able to interview you, Elly. I’m a fan of your Ruth Galloway series, and congratulations on THE WOMAN IN BLUE. It’s a real tour de force. The book is inhabited by a rich and fascinating cast of characters including Druids and aspiring female bishops. Can you explain your use of religious symbolism in the novel?
Hi Kate. It feels like a great treat to have this discussion! I’m a big fan of yours and loved RIVER OF SOULS. I’m very interested in religion. I was brought up as a Catholic (I liked the portrayal of the Catholic family in RIVER OF SOULS) and have always been a big fan of writers like Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Piers Paul Reid who look at the problems and compensations of faith. I’m also fascinated by atheists which is why I made Dr Ruth Galloway a fervent atheist. I think it’s a very brave position. I still cling to some hope of heaven but Ruth thinks that this life is all we have, which makes her even more passionate about the archaeological artefacts which are our only hope of immortality. THE WOMAN IN BLUE is set in Walsingham, which has been a shrine to the Virgin Mary since the twelfth century. Mary is such a powerful icon – both virgin and mother- and icon worship can easily become something more sinister. It seemed natural to link this to the emergence of women priests which seems to have opened up a whole new set of superstitions and prejudices. Add this to Cathbad the druid, a few lapsed Catholics and a nod to Wilkie Collins and I hope you have a satisfactorily complex plot.
That’s a fascinating answer, which explains why you can write about religion with so much insight. I was brought up by religious parents, but faith never quite worked for me, and my agnosticism has transmitted itself to my character, Alice Quentin. She would love to find a belief system, but at heart she’s a scientist and a sceptic. It’s interesting that you ask about the violence which recurs in my books. The wonderland Alice inhabits has a very dark side, but it only reflects some of the tough cases the forensic psychologists I’ve interviewed have worked on. Alice is fascinated by the mentality of psychopaths who exist by no one’s rules but their own, and I’ve always been intrigued by women who work in dangerous environments. I’m not brave enough to do it myself, but writing about it allows me to stand on the side-lines and applaud their courage.
It interests me that Ruth’s personal life remains challenging and complicated, which for me makes her feel very real. Can you explain why you’ve given her some difficult emotional challenges?
I didn’t set out to give Ruth emotional challenges. I think that they have just evolved with the plot. In some ways I think (hope!) that the fact that I don’t know what will happen to Ruth and Nelson makes their relationship more real. But I suppose that, having given Ruth a difficult personal situation, I didn’t want to get out of it by using some omniscient author device (she isn’t pregnant after all! Someone conveniently dies!). I wanted her to go through the whole thing, the logistics, the heartbreak, all of it.
I will never forget being on a panel with you and you saying that you would kill Alice if the plot demanded it. Do you still feel the same way? Do you feel involved with Alice? Sometimes I feel I am too involved with Ruth.
I know exactly what you mean about feeling over-involved with your central character. We’ve both spent years honing them until they feel like relatives! I always know I’ve been working too hard when I go into a clothes shop and think ‘Alice would like that coat,’ as if she was flesh and blood. I suspect it would actually hurt a great deal to kill her off. There’s a point in RIVER OF SOULS when one of my favourite characters is very close to death, and writing the scenes when he was in peril was acutely painful. I realised I couldn’t possibly send him to a watery grave.
One last question for you, Elly. Your husband is an archaeologist; does he ever grow tired of being asked questions? I envy you having an expert in the house!
I was scared at that moment in RIVER OF SOULS too. I thought – she wouldn’t, would she? I think it is good to retain this tension. After all, people die in life – however much we love them – and fiction shouldn’t really feel that much safer. Having said that, there is something curiously comforting about fiction with a returning main character. I would feel very upset if something happened to Alice. I always want her to have better luck in love too…
My resident archaeologist. Well, I have to say that I don’t ask him that much. One of the most helpful things Andy had done is to put me in touch with experts who will answer my questions. I don’t like talking about my work at home and Andy hasn’t even read all the books. He is supportive though as are our teenage children.
Last question for you: who would play Alice in the TV version?
I know exactly what you mean about keeping home and work life separate, my husband Dave is a writer too. I suspect that we’d drive each other mad if we talked about work all the time, so we limit ourselves to specific slots in the day!
And finally, if I had my pick of actresses to play Alice on TV it would have to be the excellent Carey Mulligan. She’s got such a brilliant ability to appear strong one minute, frail the next. It’s a pipe dream, but who knows? One day we may both get lucky and see our series on the screen. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you, Elly.
Carey Mulligan would be fantastic as Alice. I’ve always thought that Ruth Jones or Eva Myles would be good as Ruth. I guess that, somewhere in my head, Ruth is Welsh!
Lovely to talk to you, Kate. Good luck with everything.