Friday, July 19, 2013

Elizabeth Speller

"As for why I love the period –which is the same thing really as why I set my books in it: I had read all of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Ngaio Marsh's books while I was in my teens!

What novelists enjoy is putting their characters in jeopardy and then seeing how they get out of it (or don't!). The 1914-1918 Great War put everybody in jeopardy; it changed the lives of everybody in Britain; not just because of the huge casualties but because new ideas emerged - about a woman's place, about class, about foreigners. It offered exciting new possibilities in technology, in travel and in entertainment: cinema, jazz, recorded music. What followed in the 1920's was a fast-moving time of revolutions, economic disasters and a devil may care attitude among the elite.

There were too few men to provide husbands, too few who wanted to be servants in big houses. Heirs had been killed, once grand families were hiding the fact that they were nearly destitute.

In Golden Age fiction, which I have loved practically since I could read it, there are stock characters: the spinster, the brash incomer with new money, the injured war veteran, the outsider –usually a nattily dressed European. Mistrust of strangers, bequests, inheritances, false identities, lost letters and unsuitable marriage were very real issues but wonderful for a fiction writer.

What I like is that these situations and these characters, who were actually created by the aftermath of the war, appear in novels set in the 20's in quite traditional privileged surroundings: an Oxford College, a country house, a cathedral close, an exclusive school; apparently un-changed, closed societies and perfect places for tensions and a dramatic tale to unfold and to create atmosphere.

One of my books, The Return of Captain Emmett, concerns a young officer trying to settle back into peacetime but finding himself confronted with the death of a friend, the past and its violent mysteries. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is set in a struggling country house where the men who worked on the estate have almost all been killed in the war and a child has disappeared. In my next book, At Break of Day, (comes out in autumn) one character is a wealthy Englishman who has long lived in New York, escaping a potential scandal back home. In 1915 he is called up to serve his birth country and, returning to England, his secrets start to unravel." -  Elizabeth Speller

Elizabeth Speller is the author of three novels (one forthcoming this fall, which I am excited to read even though it doesn't star Laurence Bartram) and four non-fiction books, one of which is a memoir. She is also a poet and recently won the Bridport poetry competition and was short-listed for the Forward Prize in 2009, which led to her sensitive handling of poets in her book The Return of Captain John Emmett. Elizabeth Speller had the envious opportunity to read Classics at Cambridge as a mature student where she received a post-graduate degree in Ancient History. She has had numerous jobs, one of which, making a survey of inscriptions in a large village churchyard, I am sure helped with the creation of Laurence Bartram, and most definitely contributed to his own fictitious book on churches.

Elizabeth is currently the Chair of the Criticos Prize (for an outstanding book in English about, or inspired by, Greece) and holds a Royal Literary Fund fellowship at the University of Warwick. She divides her time between Glouchestershire and Greece, working in a restored shepherd's hut in an old apple orchard on the edge of a Cotswold valley and in a small cottage on the Ionian island of Paxos. The Return of Captain John Emmett is an astounding mystery that will rivet you to your seat and was actually chosen as a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick in 2011, though I would hope you are more swayed by me then Richard and Judy... This book was followed up with the labyrinthine The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, which I am hoping fervently will not be the last we see of Laurence Bartram. I am honored to have Elizabeth Speller as the first of many authors participating in my Golden Summer, a place rightfully reserved for her and Laurence!


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