Inspector Lynley: Elizabeth George Interview

The Lynley creator is one of our great writers of English murder mysteries - despite living and working in the USA. Here, Elizabeth George talks us through her thoughts on the TV series.

Will they or won't they?

The Lynley Mysteries is based on the best-selling novels from US novelist Elizabeth George.

It may come as a surprise to some that Elizabeth George, creator of the impeccably English Inspector Lynley Mysteries, is actually a born-and-bred Yank. So why did she decide to focus her writing on our fair island, and what did she think of Nathaniel Parker being cast as her dashing detective? Read on to find out.

How did it feel to see your stories brought to life by the BBC?

Both very thrilling and very peculiar. It's a strange sensation to see your long-cherished mental creations suddenly become flesh. Suddenly walking around, talking, with mannerisms of their own. The blow is somewhat softened by the fidelity of the adaptations – often the BBC film at the exact locations mentioned in my stories, such as Jervaulx Hall in A Great Deliverance.

I'm also given a say in how the stories are adapted – the producers and I are in close contact, so I let them know where the characters are heading and they let me read the treatments for the episodes so I can give my views on how things are going.

What did you make of Nathaniel and Sharon being cast as Lynley and Havers?

Well I had seen Nathaniel Parker in other things before, and I'd also enjoyed Sharon Small in a programme called Glasgow Kiss, so they weren't totally new to me as actors. My gut feeling about Nathaniel was that he could certainly pull Lynley off, so I took comfort in that.

However I did have reservations about Sharon Small, mainly because she's such an attractive woman! My Havers, from the novels, is fairly plain and unappealing to look at. When I mentioned this to the producers they just bluntly told me that Sharon breezed through the auditions and was by far the best person they'd seen. And when I watched her in the role first-hand, I knew they were right to have picked her.

What drew you to crime as a genre?

For some peculiar reason I've been attracted to crime since I was a young girl. As a child I remember reading the San Francisco papers for true life crime reports. Actually, not just crime but any stories that were unsettling or macabre. Tales of people perishing in fires, or at the hands of a killer – they all fed my imagination even as my friends were engrossed in fairy stories.

I was writing my own stories before long, and had my first novel done when I was about 12. It was called The Mystery of Horseshoe Lake and had a very Nancy Drew type teenage heroine.

I think it's fair to say I was obsessed by writing, and it was only a matter of time before I made it my career ambition.

Why did you choose Britain as the setting for the Lynley stories?

I've been a committed Anglophile since 1966, when I came to Britain for a summer Shakespeare course and found myelf in Swinging London. I fell instantly in love with the place, and I also went on literary pilgrimages to places like Box Hill, where Jane Austen set one of her scenes, and to Lyme Regis where John Fowles – one of my favourite writers – set French Lieutenant's Woman.

So it was only natural for me to set my own novels in Britain, and I have a flat in London that I visit when I come over for research purposes. I make a point of doing proper research for my stories – for example when I set one Lynley story in a public school I spent time at around six of them, chatting to teachers, prefects, and so on. Living and working in America, the pressure is even greater than usual to make sure my facts about English institutions are right.

Is it true that Lynley wasn't your intended hero to begin with?

Yes, I started out with Simon Allcourt St James – the forensic pathologist from the Lynley stories – as my actual hero. I wanted a quirky kind of character and he was the one. He featured in my first two unpublished crime novels – Lynley was in there too, but as a supporting character. Lynley was just a device to get Simon involved in the cases. But eventually my affections switched to the detective and my third novel – the first which was published – had Lynley and Havers as the leads.

Are all the BBC Lynley stories adapted from your novels?

Actually they're not. There are six or so stories that the BBC writers actually came up with themselves – A Cry for Justice and If Wishes Were Horses are two examples. I basically gave the Beeb permission to go ahead and make their own Lynleys as long as I could approve the scripts and they didn't tamper with the main characters too much.