From Annika: This is a guest post from Elly Griffiths. Elly is the author of the books Crossing Places, Janusstone, House at seas end, Room full of bones and Dying Fall. What might not be known to all of you is that she´s also written a few books under her real name, Domenica de Rosa. Today she´s revealing the story behind her pen name.
When I tell people my real name they are always surprised. I think it’s because, if ever a name sounded completely made up, it’s Domenica de Rosa. It’s as if a focus group got together to come up with the perfect name for a romantic novelist. Domenica de Rosa. Sunday of the Rose. But it’s my real name, courtesy of an Italian father and a mother with a good ear for alliteration. Actually, I’m the youngest of three sisters and I think they thought I was going to be a boy. They didn’t have a name for me so they picked on the day. Domenica means Sunday in Italian. Lucky for me because Monday is Lunedi.
Does your name influence your choice of career? Some people think so. There’s even a name for it. Nominative Determinism. There are lots of examples – neurosurgeons called Brain, arctic explorers called Snowman – but my favourite is a Russian hurdler called Martina Stepova. Whether Nominative Determinism exists or not, I do think that having an author’s name made me think about writing as a career. I certainly remember practising my signature – all those curly Ds and Rs – on the back of exercise books. I wrote my first novel ‘The Hair of the Dog’ when I was eleven. It was a crime novel which may have been prophetic.
Despite this early promise I didn’t have a book published until I was nearly forty. The Italian Quarter was loosely based on my Dad’s life and was written under my real name. Three other books followed – The Eternal City, Villa Serena and Summer School – all with vaguely Italian themes. In fact, see these books anywhere and you will know where they are set. All the clichés are there on the covers – wine, olives, cypress trees, the beautiful girl sitting alone on a terrace. Actually, Villa Serena is about the war and Summer School has some very dark themes, including child abuse. But, for bookshops, they were ‘holiday reads’, to be shelved with books about drinking Chianti by moonlight.
After four books about wine, olives etc I wanted a change. I had recently become interested in archaeology because my husband, Andrew, had given up a city job to retrain as an archaeologist. I tried to be supportive (archaeologists do get more interested in you as you get older, after all) but it meant that many thinks in our lives had to change. We could no longer afford to go to Tuscany, for a start, so we went back to the place where I’d holidayed as a child – Norfolk. One day, walking across a nature reserve called Titchwell Marsh with our children, Andy mentioned that prehistoric man had seen marshland as sacred. Because it’s neither land nor sea, but something in-between, they saw it as a kind of bridge to the afterlife. Neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. That’s why they often buried bodies or treasure in marshy places. The entire plot of The Crossing Places came to me in that instant.
Up to this point, I hadn’t thought of The Crossing Places as being very different from my other books. It had many of the same themes – history, the power of the past, the sacred landscape. But, when my agent read it, she said: ‘This is crime. You need a crime name.’
So that’s how I became Elly Griffiths.
Why Elly Griffiths? Well, it sounds more hard-edged than Sunday of the Rose. And G is a good initial for a writer because, in most bookshops and libraries, G is at eye level. But the real reason is that it was my grandmother’s name. I have since found out that many women writers choose their grandmother’s name a pseudonym. I didn’t know that at the time but I hoped that my grandmother, who died when I was five, would approve. She was a highly intelligent woman, forced to leave school as twelve and go into service. She loved books but all she really wanted was for her granddaughters to become teachers. Well, my eldest sister is a headteacher and my middle sister teaches at a university, so she would be proud of them. I hope she’d be pleased with me too.