October 1999's Author of the Month
(Chosen by a Mary Carl)
Let me put your mind at rest from the onset. Elizabeth George is the anti-thesis of the authors I was just describing. She is warm, friendly, open, candid and altogether a delight and honor to meet. However, I am getting ahead of myself. I need to "set the stage".
While there were three signings, my friends discouraged me from attending all of them. After all, this is Southern California and the "land of the stalker". So, I chose the two events that would be the best, [one on Saturday and the other on Sunday] packed my Elizabeth George first editions into the Fritz Mobile and got on the freeway. Arriving at the bookstore on Saturday was a bit of a shock because the line was all the way out the door and she wasn't even scheduled to arrive for another half-hour. But, I took a deep breath, scooped up half of the EG's I had brought with me, and took my place at the end of the line. Actually, it was the perfect place to be. As the hour approached I spied something that would set the tone for the entire weekend. There, as proud as a peacock, came Peach. [For you readers who are not familiar with all of the EG books, Peach is the long-haired dachshund belonging to Simon St. James, first introduced in A Suitable Vengeance.] Following behind was a lovely petite woman with a halo of coppery hair and a smile that lit up the store. We all knew immediately that this was a nice person. And, while her dog is actually named Titch, it was the predecessor that was the model for Peach.
It took about half an hour for me to work my way up to the table and have my turn. I can't tell you how nervous I was and how tongue-tied too. My close friends found that difficult to believe. I've never been known to be at a loss for words. But, Ms. George was unbelievably welcoming. She never hesitated to sign all of the older books I had brought, in addition to the new copy of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner. The great thing was that she chatted through the entire process. No, I don't mean she chatted with just one person. Her little "chats" were with each and every one of us who had come from varying distances to meet her. She made me feel that she had been waiting for the opportunity to meet me, instead of the other way around. She was gracious and someone you instantly felt at ease with. There was definitely no "ME CELEBRITY" thing going on. I told her about my hesitancy to attend all three signings but that I would be at the one the next day. She laughed and told me she was glad because she would be talking about her writing, her new book and also having a question and answer session. Of course, she also said she would let the security staff know that I was going to be there. Needless to say, she got quite a giggle out of those around her with that one.
Nevertheless I couldn't wait until the next day. So, with the rest of my EG's still unsigned, I hit the freeway again the next day. Forty-five miles later I arrived at the Barnes and Nobles in Huntington Beach. This time I was prepared. I was almost 2 hours early. But, I was definitely not the first to arrive. There were already about a dozen diehard fans waiting upstairs in the "speaker's section". The fun part was getting to meet other people who had the same reading tastes as I did. We sat and chatted about the books and the characters as if they were old friends.
By the time Elizabeth George arrived it was an SRO crowd. Once again her warmth and ease came through as she began to explain her writing and her books, particularly the recently released one.
In Pursuit Of The Proper Sinner is set in Derbyshire. It is an area that had been suggested to Ms. George before for a book and when she traveled up there she realized that it would definitely work. She likes to spend at least a week in a new location, taking many, many pictures and getting a true feel for the place. She said the pictures were usually of things like mailboxes, trashcans, street signs and other things that add to the make-up of a place. The most important thing for her to find is where the body will be discovered. She found that in an area called "Nine Ladies". It is a circle of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge. Well, I guess I should say that it became that way once she finished describing it in her book. She said that she likes to use her imagination to mold a site into one that will fit her story. "Nine Ladies" became "Nine Sisters" and the small stones became a henge. She also added a large area of trees to give the site an air of mystery and isolation.
She had the story in her mind when she discussed it with her editor. The editor felt that it would be a great story but instead of only one body, the editor said she saw two. Ms. George said that that was where she [EG] made a mistake she will not repeat. She agreed with her editor and wrote the book with two bodies. This concept led to many extra hours of reviewing, rewriting and restructuring the story. She had had one story in mind and then tried to mold it into something different. She said that taking two apparently unrelated murders and connecting them in a story is difficult when it is your own idea. When it is someone else's idea it is close to impossible. But, once again, she excels in writing the impossible.
However, with the rewrites she found a link that brought the story together in a most unique way. While walking back to her Kensington flat after a day of shopping with a friend, she happened to see a postcard on the ground. She picked it up and noticed that there were a number of them. She collected them all and took them with her. They became an inspiration for a critical point in the book. [No, I'm not going to tell you anything more about them. You have to read the book]
She said she had a difficult time deciding when to start the book in the timeline of events. Her last one, Deception On His Mind, finished in June with the question of what would happen to Barbara Havers unanswered. She had originally thought to have the new book pick up immediately after the last one. However, she decided that the events of the investigation and inquiry regarding Havers' actions would take away from the new story. So, she picks up in September, after everything has been decided and uses the results as a jumping off point.
She was asked if she was ever going to write a love interest for Barbara Havers. Ms. George's independent nature shone through immediately. She said that Barbara didn't need to have a man to complete her. She was a complete woman in her own way already and that was the most important aspect of the character.
As to how the characters were created, she admitted that Simon St. James was the first. Then the other four sort of revolved around him. She described at great length the fun of making up a character, giving him or her a vocation, a history, a life. She spent some time explaining Helen. She is her "It girl". An "It girl" is very much a foreign concept to Americans and unique to England. These are women, born into wealth and the aristocracy who are raised for the sole purpose of marrying a man of wealth and with a title. Their identity is tied to their father until they are married and then tied to their husband. There is no American equivalent, which makes Helen an enigma here in the US.
As for the rewrites on this book, the first was at about page 150. She felt there was a character that just wasn't working right so she started over. Then, at about page 300 she found an inconsistency that she didn't like so she went back and rewrote again. The last major problem was unearthed at page 800 and, once again, she went to the beginning and rewrote all the concerned scenes. When asked how much she writes each day or if she has any set schedule she said that she writes at least 5 pages or one complete scene each day. With the traveling schedule she has now, it is making the writing a bit slow on the next book. She was also asked about what authors she reads. She admitted to limited time for reading now that her books have been selling so well. However, she said that she always gets any new ones by John Le Carre, Alice Hoffman, Robert Crais and Barbara Kingsolver. She also admitted a fondness to the earlier works of P. D. James.
I asked her if we would have to wait two years for the next one. She gave us a little sheepish grin, reminded us of the number of lengthy rewrites on this new one, and then went on to explain a bit of the next. It will involve a 20-year-old case. Superintendent Webberly had been the investigator. Then Inspector Lynley becomes involved in a related case that could spell trouble for everyone. The next one will be titled A Traitor Of Memory. She then went on to explain that the final manuscript is due at the publisher December 15th. Unfortunately for us, that is December 15th 2000. So, fans, we can expect another two-year, nail-biting wait.
For those readers who are not familiar with the books by Elizabeth George I can comfortably tell you that all of them can stand-alone. However, it is so much more fun to read them in order and follow the lives and careers of the five main characters. The fourth published book, A Suitable Vengeance, was actually the first written and many feel makes a good beginning to the series. However, I read them in published order and thoroughly enjoyed the little look back that A Suitable Vengeance afforded midway through the series.
No matter how you read them, do take the time to give them a try. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times writes that Elizabeth George has now "taken her place among the grand dames of the British mystery." Kate Kelly of USA Today quotes George as saying, "Being a writer is all about craft and art. It's about pushing the envelope of your work. It's about developing and it's about loving the activity itself. Being a writer has nothing to do with getting published."
Thank goodness that Elizabeth George decided to develop her work, push the envelope and get published. She has given many, many readers hours and hours of enjoyment. It is with gratitude for sharing her work that I dedicate the month of October to her.
Update: Her unofficial webpage
IN PURSUIT OF THE PROPER
By Elizabeth George
Bantam Books - Aug 1999
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner is the tenth installment in the Lynley-Havers series by Elizabeth George. At the conclusion of Deception on His Mind the future of Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers was in question. As this new book opens, her fate will send the die-hard George fans into shock. Even more surprising is the fact that Lynley in no way tries to help. In fact, he feels her punishment is too lenient. Consequently, when he is called to Derbyshire to help with a double murder, he decides to choose another partner.
Thus begins the latest entry in this series. Two bodies, a young man and woman, are discovered is a remote section of the countryside. They died by different means and have no known relationship to each other except for the fact that they were both violently murdered. What follows is a puzzle that looks to mystify Lynley, who is brought in to the case by special request. The father of the young woman is a retired member of a special undercover unit. While initially it is felt that his experience will help in the investigation, it actually confuses it. In addition, the problem of identification leads to more bewilderment.
Can Lynley work effectively without Havers? Can Havers help him from a distance? Those are only two of the many questions that muddy the waters in this book. Once again Elizabeth George is right on target. She has hit the bestseller lists from Los Angeles to New York and there is one reason for it. She is a wonderful writer. And this new story is right up there with the best of them. My advice is to get a copy, find a quiet weekend, snuggle into your favorite chair and enjoy.
A Suitable Vengeance (1991)
A Great Deliverance (1988)
Payment in Blood (1989)
Well-Schooled in Murder (1990)
For the Sake of Elena (1992)
Missing Joseph (1993)
Playing for the Ashes (1994)
In the Presence of the Enemy (1996)
Deception on His Mind (1997)
In Pursuit Of The Proper Sinner (1999)
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