The criminal pasts of two Norfolk authors

Norfolk novelists Elly Griffiths and Rory Clements will be digging up the past at a special evening offering a unique look at crime fiction and history. SIMON PARKIN reports.

The past can be a dangerous place — full of murder, intrigue, despicable characters, power-mad tyrants and foul deeds. It is therefore the perfect for crime writers.

It is no surprise that so much crime fiction is either set in the past or draws inspiration from it — whether it be the relatively recent past, Agatha Christie remains as popular as ever, or the ancient past, the Roman empire and even ancient Greece have inspired crime writers.

Two Norfolk novelists are now set to discuss the links between crime fiction and history at a special talk in Norwich. Elly Griffiths and Rory Clements will host Digging up the Past at Norwich High School for Girls on July 11.

It should provide a fascinating insight as both writers have used history in very different ways in their fiction.

Elly Griffiths' novels are inspired by her aunt and her husband, an archaeologist, whose tales of the myths and legends of the Norfolk coast fired her imagination.

She has written the Ruth Galloway novels, which chart the fortunes of a forensic archaeologist. Though set in the present they draw on the past.

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Her books tell the story of Norfolk-based Dr Galloway and detective inspector Harry Nelson, who solve complex and mysterious investigations which span hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years.

Her recent novel A Room Full of Bones was once again is set in Norfolk, this time in a fictional museum in King's Lynn which houses some Aborigine remains.

'There is an Aborigine pressure group which wants the remains to be returned for ritual burial back in Australia. Then the museum curator is found dead and the suspicion begins,' she said. 'Researching this book I discovered that a lot of museums hold human remains and there is a big discussion to be had about this issue. On one hand we can discover a lot from these finds and learn an enormous amount about the past, but also there is the debate about how they are stored, how they were attained, whether they should be kept at all or whether they should be buried and respected.'

In contrast Rory Clements, an ex-Fleet Street journalist who has settled with his family in Ringland, near Norwich, has chosen to set his fiction in the past.

He has written a historical thriller series following John Shakespeare, brother to the more famous William and chief intelligence officer in Sir Francis Walsingham's spy network.

The late 16th century was a particularly unpleasant time to be a Roman Catholic in England. A rap on the door could be the precursor to torture and horrific execution: little wonder many Catholics had secure hiding places installed in their homes, such as the well known priest's hole at Norfolk's Oxburgh Hall.

Priest-catchers like Richard Topcliffe rampaged around the country, fired by religious righteousness, rooting out 'traitors' whose ultimate loyalty lay with the Pope ahead of the Queen, ever-aware that the Spanish Armada had designs on invading and forcibly converting Protestant England back to Catholicism.

'I think people love that time,' he said. 'It's the adventurousness, the courage, the extraordinary contrast between a man like William Shakespeare, who had such humanity, and somebody like Topcliffe, who is a stain on English history. And we have all the other characters of the time that are so huge: Leicester, Walsingham, Essex — they are all incredible characters.'

t Digging up the Past: An Evening with Elly Griffiths and Rory Clements takes place at Norwich High School for Girls, Sixth Form Centre, Albermarle Road, Norwich on July 11, 6.30pm. Tickets �3 (�2 redeemable against a purchase on the night). More information on 0843 2908519.