How East Anglia inspires novelist Elly Griffiths’ mystery series

Author Elly Griffiths pictured with her new book The Chalk Pit in the undercroft below Guildhall.
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Author Elly Griffiths pictured with her new book The Chalk Pit in the undercroft below Guildhall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Author Elly Griffiths' inspiration for using East Anglia as the setting for her storytelling first began with hearing ghost stories on family holidays on The Broads. As the latest book in her long-running mystery series is released, she talks to arts correspondent Emma Knights.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths. Image: supplied by Quercus.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths. Image: supplied by Quercus. - Credit: supplied by Quercus.

Elly Griffiths is now on book number nine of her long-running mystery series featuring forensic archeaologist Dr Ruth Galloway, and all but one is set in Norfolk.

This time around it is Norwich's old underground chalk mines that were the starting point. Called The Chalk Pit, the novel begins with the grisly find of boiled human bones in the city's web of subterranean tunnels, and Ms Griffiths said she first thought of the idea when she was shown the undercroft linked to Norwich department store Jarrold while there for an event for previous book, The Woman in Blue.

'There was this passage that was all flint-lined, and I started thinking about setting the book underground,' said Ms Griffiths, whose pen name is a tribute to her grandmother and whose actual name is Domenica De Rosa,

'The next day I was in a taxi and the taxi driver started telling me you can walk the length of Norwich underground, so that really lit the fire in my mind. I was going to start the book with bones being found under the Guildhall.'

Books by Elly Griffiths. Photo: supplied by Quercus.

Books by Elly Griffiths. Photo: supplied by Quercus. - Credit: supplied by Quercus.


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As well the historical element, the book also has a modern day focus too.

'It deals with how lots of tunnels have these urban myths of a community underground. In my book there's such a community,' said Ms Griffiths.

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While the first thought in the book is that the bones may be from medieval times, the discovery they were actually recently buried sparks a murder inquiry. Meanwhile the disappearance of a local rough sleeper is being investigated and there are rumours of a rough sleeper community in the underground network that may have a sinister side...

Ms Griffiths, 53, who lives in Brighton but whose family has connections to Norfolk, returned to the county last week to promote The Chalk Pit and said she was looking forward to writing more Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries set in the county because she loved its wealth of history.

'It's lovely to be right back in Norfolk, there is so much more still to explore, so many archaeological excitments to be discovered,' she said.

In fact, research for her books can be a bit of a family affair as her husband, 54-year-old Andy Maxted, is curator of archaeology at Brighton Museum.

'He's very helpful with the archaeology bits of the plot. He's also a huge fan of Norfolk and has dug at Happisburgh [where early footprints from 800,000 years ago were found].'

'We love coming back to Norfolk. Our twins Alex and Juliet are grown up now and at university but we spent many a summer holiday in Norfolk.'

She said it was actually family vacations visiting her aunt Marjorie Scott-Robinson in Norwich when she was younger that sowed the seeds for her fascination with the county.

'We used to spend summers with her and she had a boat at Reedham. My aunt used to know lots of really good ghost stories. We would be gliding along the Broads and she would be telling these stories, and that really made the connection with me.'

The whole Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery series - which along with Ms Griffiths' Stephens & Mephisto book series led to her winning the 2016 Crime Writers' Association Dagger in the Library Award for an author's whole body of work - has seen Ms Griffiths' central character take quite a tour of Norfolk.

The Outcast Dead starts with Dr Galloway excavating a body from the grounds of Norwich Castle while The Woman In Blue takes her to Walsingham.

A Room Full Of Bones begins on Halloween night in King's Lynn and The House At Sea's End sees archaeologists unearth six bodies buried at the foot of a cliff on the north Norfolk coast.

In her decade of writing about the forensic archeaologist, it is almost as though Dr Galloway has become an extended member of Ms Griffiths' family as she talks about her like an old friend.

'Café Britannia [in Norwich] is in the new book. Ruth is like me, she loves a nice cake in a café,' she said, adding that she already had plans to send her on vacation in her next novel.

'Book 10 is going to be set in Italy. I have been writing about Ruth for 10 years so I think she deserves a holiday.'

The Chalk Pit: A Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery is out now and costs £16.99.

For more about Elly Griffiths' books visit www.ellygriffiths.co.uk, find Elly Griffiths on Facebook and follow @ellygriffiths on Twitter.

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