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The crime writer the world knows as Elly Griffiths will talk on Saturday as part of this weekend's Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend on how she got this name – and is there a clue about her heroine Dr Ruth Galloway?

By Margaret Chrystall

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Crime writer Elly Griffiths will probably leave her forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway behind when she heads to Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend.

But the writer will definitely be bringing Domenica De Rosa.

The story of how Domenica became Elly Griffiths, a name now best-known as creator of the 14 books and counting that feature Ruth and the Norfolk crimes that so often bring her together with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, will unfold at the festival on Saturday.

Domenica de Rosa. Picture: Sara Reeve
Domenica de Rosa. Picture: Sara Reeve

Years spent in publishing and as an editor perhaps naturally led Domenica to writing her own books.

And at first, working under her own name, she wrote four books tapping into her Italian heritage.

But crime was where she started: “It’s funny because my first book wasn’t published at all and was written when I was 11! But it was a crime novel and it was called The Hair of the Dog. That was something my parents talked about a lot!” Domenica laughs. “It was a very Agatha Christie-esque crime novel set in a village called Rottingdean, really near where I live now. So I must have always been interested in that genre.

“But my first published book was called The Italian Quarter, slightly biographical in that it was about my dad who had come from Italy and had been interned here in the war and it tells the story of what happened to him. That’s why I started writing about Italy and families and relationships. But looking back, there is a sort of mystery in all those books, so I think I always was drawn to crime, really.”

Now with the series of Ruth books almost complete the next and allegedly last one, The Last Remains, is already under way, Domenica revealed.

But as a desperate fan of the series and looking for clues as to Ruth’s fate, I listen to see if Domenica offers any crumbs of hope that all may not be over.

“I’m writing that one now, it’s on my screen at the moment,” Domenica stated, tantalisingly, before revealing that she hopes to be finished by her August deadline. Actually, August 17, the birthday she happens to share with her editor.

“After that there’ll be a pause for a little while – and I’m not saying it is the end – but it will be the end for a bit.

“I’ve got ideas for other books – and other series, even.”

There is already the Brighton-set post-war crime books that began with The Zig Zag Girl plus a mystery series for children.

Domenica de Rosa reveals how she became Elly Griffiths. Picture: Sara Reeve
Domenica de Rosa reveals how she became Elly Griffiths. Picture: Sara Reeve

And there are two standalone novels, one of which – The Stranger Diaries – has a follow-up coming, thanks to a suggestion by Ruth Galloway celebrity fan Val McDermid.

But Domenica has many more book ideas jostling in the wings: “I suppose I’m very lucky because that’s what I like doing, writing books. When I first started, I was still working as a full-time editor and my kids were young. But now they’re grown-up and not living at home, I go to my writing shed.”

Domenica was in there “getting a lot of writing done” at the time of our interview, despite having Covid, which she likened to having a bad cold. Covid does makes a dramatic appearance in her latest Galloway novel The Locked Room.

The idea for Ruth came in an unusual way: “My husband Andy is an archaeologist and he made a comment about marshland, that prehistoric people thought it was sacred because it is neither land or sea, but something in between and they thought of it as a link to the afterlife.

“As soon as he said that, I did see Ruth walking towards me and it’s funny because I teach creative writing and I would never let my students get away with that!

“I just had an image of her walking across that marshland and I knew where she was going – which has never happened to me with another character.”

This weekend’s visit to Cromarty will be Domenica’s first. It is also a chance for her husband to find out more about the Scottish ancestors he always thought he had. That road has led to Rosemarkie, Domenica mentioned in her talk with Carrbridge writer Lin Anderson at last year’s Bloody Scotland crime convention.

“Ever since I’ve known Andy he has always said he is part-Scottish and we always mocked him about it. He would say things like ‘I must be Scottish because I get this stirring feeling when I hear the bagpipes!’,” Domenica laughed.

“But his great-grandmother was a Fraser and the name has survived in the family – both boys have it as a middle name. He traced her back to Rosemarkie. But it’s funny how he has always felt a pull with Scotland and this is where his family is from, so it’s exciting. And I think Ruth would love it too, it might come into a future book.” Future book? In my mind’s eye, Dr Ruth Galloway is punching the air.

Elly Griffiths’ event is at noon on Saturday. More: cromartyartstrust.org.uk/crime-and-thrillers

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