Get to Know the crime author Elly Griffiths

elly griffiths 2 20cm 300dpi (credit sara reeve)

Acclaimed Brighton crime author, with The Great Deceiver the next book out in late October

What can you tell us about The Great Deceiver?

The Great Deceiver is set in 1966. It starts when a woman is found dead in her Brighton boarding house. Cherry was the assistant to a magician known professionally as The Great Deceiver. The trail leads the police, and private detectives Emma Holmes and Sam Collins, to investigate a sinister group of magicians led by a man who has reinvented himself as a television personality, known simply as Pal. 

The Great Deceiver by Elly Griffiths

Why did you originally come up with the idea to base stories in 1950s/60s Brighton?

The Brighton Mysteries are set during the last days of Variety Theatre. The 1950s saw the decline of live theatre and the rise of television (many homes getting a set for the coronation in 1953). I was inspired to write about the stage by my grandfather, Dennis Lawes, who was a comedian. I still have his playbills and the names on them are amazing, including a magician called The Gay Deceiver.

What is it about Brighton that seems to inspire crime novelists?

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Regency Square, Brighton – Photo creds Vittorio Caramazza

I’ve lived in Brighton since I was five and, for me, it’s a safe and happy place. But no-one can deny that Brighton has a dark side. I love the contrast between the beautiful Regency facades and the backs of the houses, dark and chaotic. The same is true of the gorgeous Theatre Royal, all gilt and velvet, and the slightly seedy-looking stage door a few streets away. This duality is perfect for a crime novel. 

theatre royal cred caron badkin
Theatre Royal – Photo creds Caron Badkin

The Fatal Shore Crime Writing Festival returns in October. What originally inspired you to set it up?

I did an event at Shoreham Wordfest in 2021 with my friend and fellow crime-writer William Shaw. It was our first live event since lockdown and it went so well that we were asked to set up a Crime Day as part of the festival. Fatal Shore is a play on Shoreham and on William’s last name.

What is in store at this year’s festival?

We’ve got an amazing line-up including Richard Osman, Nicci French, Kate Mosse and Saima Mir. We will be talking about spies, Agatha Christie, crime by the sea and much more. Tickets sold out really quickly – next year we’ll need a bigger room!

All this would keep most of us busy, but you are a prolific writer and 2023 has been quite the year for you. Was The Last Remains tough to write as it’s the last we will see of Dr Ruth Galloway?

It was difficult, not only because it was the last (for now!) but because I had a lot of loose ends to tie up. I think I managed it and I’ve been very moved by people’s reactions to the book. Now I’m looking forward to writing a new series. But first there’s a new Harbinder Kaur book, The Last Word, out in February 2024. 

Why are you calling time on Dr Ruth Galloway?

I felt that, after 15 books, I had to answer the ‘will they, won’t they’ question between Ruth and DCI Nelson. Having done that, I thought they deserved a break. I might well go back to the characters one day.

Why are you heading into non-fiction writing with Elly Griffiths: Norfolk?

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Norfolk – Photo creds Helen Hotson

There are just so many wonderful Norfolk stories and legends that didn’t make their way into the books. It seemed a great idea to combine them with Jusin Minns’ beautiful photography. I hope ‘Norfolk’ is the perfect companion to the Ruth books. 

How do you tend to write?

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Saltdean Lido – Photo creds Toms Auzins

My day often starts with a swim – in Saltdean Lido or the sea – then I go to my writing shed and write a thousand words. My theory is that, this way, you will have a book in 80 or 90 days. It doesn’t quite work like that but, for me, the most important thing is getting the words on the page. The editing and fine-tuning can come later. 

What has kept you in Brighton throughout your life?

I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love the vibrant atmosphere, the liberal values and the wonderful history. When you add the sea too, you have the perfect combination.

Is it possible to pick out your three favourite places to visit in Brighton?

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Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

Brighton Museum – it’s a hidden gem. My favourite part is the archaeology gallery where there are wonderful facial reconstructions of Brighton’s earliest residents.

The Theatre Royal – do the tour if you can and find out why one seat is always down…

Saltdean Lido – I was involved with the fight to bring this Art Deco gem back into local ownership. This year the pool will be open all year round and, next year, there will be a new café and revamped library.

Finally, why did you come up with the name Elly Griffiths when you turned to writing crime novels?

My first four books were written under my own name, Domenica de Rosa. Then, when I wrote a crime novel, I was advised to get a ‘crime name’. I chose Elly Griffiths because it had been my grandmother’s name. She died when I was four, but she loved reading so I thought she would have liked to see her name on the cover of a book. 

Elly Griffiths’ The Great Deceiver is out on 24 October, priced at £22 hardback. See more at ellygriffiths.co.uk

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