Author One-on-One: Deborah Crombie and Elizabeth George
Elizabeth George is the bestselling author of sixteen suspense novels featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Lynley, including her latest, Believing the Lie.
Elizabeth George: In many ways, you and I are "working the same patch", so I'm curious about your methods. How did you balance internet research with on-site research for The Sound of Broken Glass?
Deborah Crombie: I try to get over to the UK (usually London) once or twice during the writing of every book. I search out obscure books on the setting and subject of the novel, and I also interview people who do what my characters do. For The Sound of Broken Glass I talked to working musicians, from street buskers to singers to record producers. But I do find that the internet is a good source for the small details that fill in the cracks and make everything just that much more vivid and interesting.
EG: For me, place becomes an element in my plot design. How did Crystal Palace influence your writing of the novel?
DC: A dear friend of mine moved to Crystal Palace a few years ago, and has been feeding me fascinating nuggets of Crystal Palace lore ever since. I found it really interesting that three distinct areas come together there, and yet its geographical isolation (the highest point in South London) sets it apart, giving it almost the feel of a village. And then there was the history of the Crystal Palace itself, and the atmosphere that still lingers even though the palace is gone. You could say that in a way, place becomes a character in the novel.
EG: We appear to have made a similar decision to allow our continuing characters to have lives that change and develop from one novel to the next , but you've done something additional that I find fascinating: using characters who've been in earlier books as part of the crime plot.
DC: Often even my minor characters introduce themselves to me towing a full backstory. It may not have anything to do with the book where they first appear, but when the time is right, I like to get back to them and tell their full stories. Continuing characters like Erica Rosenthal and Hazel Cavendish were part of Duncan and Gemma’s lives long before they became the center of their own books. Andy Monahan, the guitarist who is the primary character in Broken Glass, had very minor walk-on appearances in several previous books, and the more I saw of him the more I knew he had a story I wanted to tell. I was delighted to have the opportunity to bring him back for The Sound of Broken Glass.
EG: I take my novel through an almost Byzantine process with a number of intricate stages. Do you follow any particular process yourself?
DC: Byzantine is the word! I do research, take photos, walk the area for weeks on end, study maps (I love maps) read stacks of books, and do many first- hand interviews as I begin to shape my plot. Then I like to brainstorm with my long-time critique partners—who include people from law enforcement, medicine, and other writers— before I ever begin outlining the plot and journaling my ideas. I then do character histories, block out the predominant storylines (usually six to eight per novel) then work the events in the storylines into a chronological scene-by-scene outline. This preliminary work usually takes more time than the actual writing of the book. The first part is very left-brained, the actual writing seems to be more right-brained—something you and I have chatted about. I love the fact that we use similar methods, yet end up with wonderfully different books.