Transcript: Pratt Presents 2012 - A Night of Mystery with Elizabeth George
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Speakers (In Order of Appearance): Vernon A. Reid, Chair of Board of Directors and Trustees for the Enoch Pratt Free Library; Dr. Carla Hayden, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library; Special Guest Elizabeth George, author of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries
Vernon Reid: I’m Vernon Reid, Chair of the Board of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's board directors and trustees. First, I’d like to ask, will all trustees directors please stand so I can thank you for doing such a great job. (Applause.) Thank you. Also I would be remiss if I didn’t ask staff to wave and stand up and so we can thank you for the great evening you brought to us. (Applause.)
Welcome to our fourth annual Pratt Presents. The first year Central was transformed into New York Times with Frank Rich as a guest speaker. In 2010 we travel to the low lands of Charleston, South Carolina to hear Pat Conroy. Last year went here we were enchanted by the ambience of the majestic West in honoring Larry McMurtry. Tonight we travel to mysterious London to celebrate with Elizabeth George, one of America's leading crime writers.
Looking at the decor tonight in the main hall and other rooms we see how libraries can transport you, both literally and figuratively. Pratt Presents is our first annual fundraising event that we do every year so please give yourselves a hand from making the evening such a success. (Applause.)
One important thing I like to convey is the money you provide support the Pratt child and teen literacy programs. One unique thing about these programs we don't receive any funds for the government be it state local or federal government. So your money is really important in this effort.
This is a tribute to the hard work of a dedicated team of volunteers the Pratt presents planning committee. May I ask the Pratt Presents planning committee members to please stand. (Applause.) I would like to thank you on behalf of the Pratt Board for the great job you've done. Also I would like to recognize tonight's event chairs, our friends, board member Nancy Dorman and her husband Stan Mazeroff. They are here somewhere. (Applause.) Thank you very much for making this evening a success.
There is always a little housekeeping now the time this is not a hotel or conference center so therefore after we hear from Ms. George bear with us for 5 to 10 minutes when we can prepare for dessert and the rest of this evening's activities. During intermission please grab a drink at one of the bars, visit “Get Booked” to buy one of Elizabeth George's books. Good thing is Pratt receives 40% of the proceeds for those child and teenage programs, so buy a lot of books. And then we will be received by Mrs. George in the north wing where she will sign your book. Also bids on this year’s “Most Wanted.” You will want to serve time with the likes of PBS's Jim Lehrer and MSNBC's Chris Matthews our own Carl Hayden and other luminaries. Also help us crack the safe to win a night on the town at some of all Baltimore’s finest restaurants. Also, you can continue the intrigue with the special collections in the Annex where you see some of the Pratt's mysterious treasures. The one thing that really impresses me and gets my attention is the Pratt serves nearly 2,000,000 patrons every year. To give you some perspective more people attend the Pratt then all regular season home games for the Ravens. (Applause.)
The Pratt is a nice destination to see and hear a best-selling author, to use the computers in search of a job, to work on your genealogy, or to enjoy a nice morning with your child at story time. All the Pratt branches across the city have been a resource for Baltimoreans for generations. I talked to a lot of people about what branch they would go to as a kid and what gets them engaged in the Pratt and so many of us have spent some of our formative years and presently, using the Pratt network. I appreciate that.
Everybody here has a special Pratt story. We are going to have the screen for a video to show you a few of those stories. Thank you. (Applause.)
PENNSYLVANIA AVE BRANCH VIDEO:
Narrator: For more than forty years, Frances Muldrow has been using and checking out books at the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch. As a little girl, the Library was transformational!
Frances Muldrow/Pratt Patron: "I had severe problems with shyness. It took forever for me to ask the librarian what I want."
Narrator: The Librarian provided help and encouraged her to overcome her fear.
Muldrow: "To this day I wish I knew her name. She was so nice. I always came back. I don't care if I had to stumble, but she was patient with me."
Narrator: Every year nearly 125 thousand people visit the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch. Like other Pratt locations, generations of Baltimoreans have grown up using it.
Willie Johnson/Branch Manager: "Pennsylvania Avenue has always been that beacon in this neighborhood."
Narrator: Nestled between busy Pennsylvania and North Avenues, and across the street from a subway shop, it is one of the Pratt's most visited branches.
Johnnie Johnson: "Information is power, education is power. A library like this in a metropolitan area is great."
Narrator: But in recent years the branch's age has been showing. Patron Helen Williams took action!
Helen Williams: "I wrote a letter to the Mayor, thinking I was just one of many. I got a response and we will start the renovation at such and such."
Narrator: Helen's letter spoke volumes. The branch went through a makeover. Now it has a new mural of historic Pennsylvania Avenue on the inside and a little girl reading on the outside.
The Branch also has new carpeting, a new information and circulation desk and fresh coat of paint. The reaction from customers when the doors first opened again, priceless.
A lady walking in: "Wow!"
Omari Hall/9th Grader: "I love it! I like the color! I like the new arrangement of books and everything."
Williams: "The kids come here, their parents come here, you come here for everything. This is the hub of the community."
Mayor: "Librarians Rock!"
Narrator: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dedicated the branch at a special ceremony spotlighting the Pratt Library's importance in neighborhoods and in people's lives.
Mayor: "We are fortunate to have the Pratt in our city, and as we continue to grow, as we continue to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families over the next ten years, we know that it is impossible without a world class library."
Narrator: The Pennsylvania Avenue Branch is just one of 22 Pratt locations citywide. All making a difference in the lives of hte nearly two million who visit every year. Patrons like Frances Muldrow who owes a lot to the Pratt Librarian who helped her more than 40 years ago.
Muldrow: "God bless you. You changed my life."
Vernon: Thank you. Similar activities happen every day at Central library and in all 21 Pratt branches. Every day thousands of citizens physically and electronically take advantage of the free programs and resources the Pratt library provides. Many happenings in cutting-edge initiatives you see the Pratt or byproduct of extraordinary leadership and a strong management team. I would like introduce the face of the Pratt library, our nationally acclaimed CEO, chief librarian: Carla Hayden.
Dr. Hayden: Thank you. And thank you and welcome again to Pratt Presents. I have to tell you it's wonderful to see so many familiar faces people we appreciate you being here. Just think about it: cocktails and things in the central library and I'm in the company of Chris Matthews and Jim Lehrer. And there are a few perks that you have working in a library: of course working with great people, helping people, but sometimes you get a chance to be joined by your favorite author and one of the people you read a lot: Elizabeth George. Thank you! (Applause.)
Of course for this is also an opportunity to thank all of you people who have supported us, you have seen the names behind you and it wouldn't be possible without your continued support and generosity, it means so much to all of us. I also am humbled when I meet patrons who come up to us and thank us for helping them find a job or suggesting a great book and even now in these hard times being that place that they can go to. I also want to give a special thank you to one person Mr. Bob Hillman who was the founder of the Pratt society and many of the Pratt society members are here and your support is so crucial. So, Bob, could you just stand up for a minute? (Applause.) Thank you Bob.
In this age of "e" everything and you see me doing this (gestures with hand) you know what that means. I'm frequently asked just like every other librarian in this country, in fact the world, about the future of public libraries. And I just want to assure you libraries are not going away. To remain relevant and current we doing what we've always done. We are adapting or keeping up with the times and thanks to an amazing amazing grant are hoping that the Pratt library will still remain a place to go to for patrons to get more for free in the digital age. We are just going to give you a little preview. (Another film plays.)
PRATT ELIBRARY VIDEO:
Narrator: One touch...one swipe...one scan...This is not your grandmother's library anymore. Welcome to the new Pratt eLibrary!
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: "If you thought libraries were going to be obsolete in the digital age, the Pratt Library is here to prove you wrong."
Narrator: Sony eReaders will be available for patrons to checkout at all Pratt locations! Then they can download any of the thousands of eBooks available for free! If you already own an eReader like an iPad, Kindle or Nook, you can start downloading eBooks for free too. All you need is a library card!
Dr. Hayden: "You can take it home, you can read it on the bus, you can check out these ebooks. Lots of them."
Narrator: So whether you're on the go, at the park, or at home, you can use the Pratt library without even stepping into one.
Emily Sheketoff/ American Library Association: "Once again it's the public library that's serving the needs of the community. In this day and age, the needs are electronic."
Narrator: Several Pratt Branches will also have a high-tech touch screen monitor. It will allow patrons to browse and even download eBooks. You can scan the QR code with your smart phone or tablet. Then it will automatically download the eBook you selected. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was the first to try it out at the launch of the eLibrary.
Mayor scans. "I have scanned my book."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: "Our library system is admired, worldwide. More and more people use our library system every year, and that is because the Pratt stays relevant."
Narrator: The Pratt eLibrary is made possible by a $350,000 grant over two years by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. It's the largest grant to a public library in support of eBooks and eReaders.
Foundation President Rachel Garbow Monroe: "Children who would never otherwise have access can use and check this out, use it, learn from it and experience it and be at par with their peers from other socio-economic backgrounds."
Narrator: The Pratt Library's mission is to provide equal access to all patrons across the city of Baltimore. Free is our middle name! Now we're offering more for free!
Dr. Hayden: "We will go into the next few decades with ebooks and ereaders. And the eLibrary will still be alive. Mr. Pratt's vision will still be alive."
Dr. Hayden: We think that Mr. Pratt is looking down and cheering us on. His million-dollar donation to the city more than a century ago has certainly come a long. We also have to tell you and I hope you heard that one part in the video, this is the largest grant to a single public library in the United States for e-book expansion and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg foundation made it possible, so please give them a hand. (Applause.)
Now we are high tech but we are also high touch so is some of you have kindles and nooks and things that you can download and tweet on but you're not quite sure how to download those free e-books, thousands of them, we have Pratt library staff members who will give you free lessons. So we know that after the holiday season we might see a few of you coming in, so thank you and thank you.
Now I mentioned that one of my favorite authors is here tonight because I am a fan of mystery books and I know a lot of you are too. Elizabeth George has dedicated her life and career to literature and learning. She's been writing quite well I must say since she was seven years old. As soon as she learned to read and write she knew she wanted to be a writer she started out as a teacher in California and touched the lives of countless students from more than a decade as an English teacher. She was even selected as the Orange County teacher of the year, a tribute in part to the work she did with remedial students for a decade. But even as a teacher she continued her passion for writing. So even after 13 1/2 years as an educator she left education when she sold her first novel A Great Deliverance and it was something. Now she is the author of 25 books and I have to say that almost all of them I think all of them have been bestsellers. Most of her novels have been filmed for television by the BBC and have been broadcast on US on the US PBS's mystery and who doesn't love the Inspector Lynley Mysteries.
She's won the Anthony award and Agatha Award, Francis Grand Prixe for literature; she has been nominated for the Edgar and the Macavity award, awarded Germany's novel. And there aren't many times that I can stand in front and introduce an author and get tongue-tied. But when you meet somebody like Elizabeth George that you personally read and loved for so long I'm just delighted to bring her up to you: Miss Elizabeth George. (Applause.)
Elizabeth George: Well thank you it is a great thrill to be here and I would like to begin by saying you're doing two really wonderful things by coming here tonight: you are supporting libraries which are really crucial I think to the development of the entire nation and the development of writing and the development of understanding of literature and the development of understanding other people and all people. But you're also doing something that I think sometimes people don't think about when they come to a library event and that is that you are buying books. And why that's important is that if people cease buying books soon there will be no books so it's also a very important thing to do to support the writer and I want you to know how much I deeply appreciate it when people show up and buy one of my books because you have a lot of things you can spend be spending your money on. I am very grateful to you and also to when people to show up to even hear me speak.
I'd like to talk to a little bit tonight about writing and I'm taking my watch off because I have a timeline and I want to give you a chance to ask questions if you have any. I first want to talk about "why write?" Why do writers decide to do this? Why do individuals decide to spend some of their time in isolation with their legal pad or their typewriter or their computer depending on how they approach the activity of writing a novel.
I can say that for myself it began because I really felt called upon to write. What does that mean? Well, when I was a little kid and I was seven years old and my father began taking me to Mountain View library in California I discovered in these little books that I bought a great great world opened up to me and it was a world that I found myself sinking into and enjoying and it was the world of literature. Very soon as I began reading these books I thought I'd like to do this myself, I'd like to create these stories myself.
So I thought I'd like to just be able to create different stories" and I don't think it was really a decision that I wanted to be a writer but just that the activity of doing what these people did that ended up in his little books that I was reading was something that really appealed to me. So I started writing when I was very very young and what happened in my life is that my parents were really wonderfully respectful of that. In that, they never asked to read a single thing that I wrote. This was an enormous gift to me. I don't know if it was because they weren't interested or because they were wise. But what they did was they made writing available. So the first thing that happened is that my mother gave to me her typewriter.
Now my mom was born in 1914 and her typewriter had gone to the great flood in Ohio which I think took place around 1929-1930. And it worked just about as well as you can imagine the typewriter that gone through a great flood would work. So some of the letters didn't work too well and some of the mechanisms of the typewriter didn't work too well. But this is where I began writing my short stories and as a little kid I learned to teach myself to touch type well not to touch type but to hunt and peck. And I wrote my first stories hunting and pecking on this first typewriter that I still have. I would like to think this typewriter will be part of the Elizabeth George Museum one day but I think I still have it because my mom kept. I found it after my mother's desk in the closet, and now it's in my library at home under Plexiglas so I still have the typewriter that I began working on.
My parents really respected the written word: my dad was a great reader. And my mother was a great Italian housewife who never read until she was in her later years and then got back to reading which she really enjoyed. But my brother and I always always loved books. And very soon I discovered that when I was writing I was who I was intended to be.
Now my guess is that there are people sitting here that know that they were always supposed to write. And they have within them this great longing to write. And I have that too. I was a high school teacher and every time summer came around I knew that what I was supposed to be doing really was writing. So a summer approached every year, I began to feel more and more anxious as a teacher. Knowing that I would have this open time when I could write or start a novel if I wanted to write something. And finally in 1983 when the dawn of the PC occurred, I reached the point called "put up or shut up time." And I decided one day to think "what do I really want to say on my deathbed? That I could've written a novel or that I did write a novel?" And I decided to say that I did write a novel. And what I experienced was a great sensation of peace. This was a peace that took me back to my childhood, my time in high school because when I wrote as a child and when I wrote in high school I was, as I said before, most complete. Most who I was intended to be. And that has existed until today. Even today as I write I know that that's what I'm supposed to be doing because I feel that what happens is that I sort of sink into the experience of being a writer—I feel this great sense of release. Of doing what I'm supposed to be doing. And it's an odd kind of thing but I think it's the kind of thing that everyone experiences when they are in alignment with the fates, as it were.
Why then did I choose to write British novels? Because it's sort of an odd thing. I was born in Ohio. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area for 34 years I lived quite unwillingly in Southern California. And now I live in the Pacific Northwest quite willingly. I never wrote particularly about any place that I lived. Because I never felt that any place I lived was interesting or conducive to story until I got to the Pacific Northwest. So when it came time for me to actually write, I began thinking about "well what is it that I want to write about?" And it was very simple I immediately knew in 1983 when I decided what to write I decided I would write about England. The reason for this is kind of varied. First of all when I was 13 years old, a long time ago, that was at my dawning of understanding of what constituted pop-culture. Now today remember things are different today: now five-year-olds know what pop-culture is all about. But in those days those days of just having three channels on television just in black and white and virtually nothing else, your access to pop-culture was very limited we didn't even have FM radio we only had AM radio and these three things on television.
So my dawning of the pop-culture began in February 1964 I believe or was it '63 when the Beatles came over to United States. And all of the sudden everything related to pop-culture was British. All the music that we listen to was British and it was fast on the heels of the Beatles were all these other rock groups. At the exact same time film was all British in its orientation because all these young actors came to United States too. Actors that are household names now like Michael Caine and Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave and Sean Connery. And all these people from the British Isles were unknown before that time. So that became part of my experience as well. And fashion. I went to Catholic school so I came to fashion very late like in my 20s. But I was aware of fashion because that was when Mary Quant created the miniskirt. And all this fashion came over from London so if you think about: that my entire experience of pop-culture was informed by Great Britain.
At the exact same time, I started studying Shakespeare. Now unlike a lot of young people I liked Shakespeare right away. I thought Shakespeare was the bees-knees. I thought Shakespeare was very cool. I can remember my first experience with Shakespeare was in Sister Lorinda's class. It was at Holy Cross high school in Mountain View California studying the Merchant of Venice. I thought it was just the coolest possible thing. And what I thought was so neat was the ability to understand Shakespeare. And Shakespeare is pretty complicated and convoluted and difficult to understand but when you make this breakthrough and all the sudden you understand this Elizabethan English and he's writing in iambic pentameter it creates this great sense of triumph. So that and my subsequent reading in British literature all informed what I was later going to write. So when it came time for me to actually start writing seriously there was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to write about Great Britain, no question. Why then did I turn to British crime novels?
Well, first of all you have to understand that writing is really frightening. Writing is one the scariest things you can do. Woody Allen said it best "when I begin something I don't know if I have a paragraph or a book. A paragraph or screenplay." That's really true that when you begin you don't really know what you have. Do I have a paragraph on actual novel? So I had to do something to demystify the process. And for a long time I did not know what that was going to be. I knew I wanted to write but I didn't know exactly what I was going to write. Then I taught a class at El Toro high school in California that was called the mystery story. Now to teach something you have to deconstruct it and I suppose you can just fake your way through but I was never very good at faking my way through things. So I was assigned this class to teach and I thought well I better learn something about mystery stories. So I got my hands on an essay called "the history of the mystery story." And what Dorothy L Sayers did was break down the mystery story into its component parts. When I read this essay I thought oh my God I think I might be able to do this myself. But I wasn't sure after a few years of teaching this course to my students I realized you know what I think I can do this I think I could write a crime novel.
So here I am poised with my background and all this stuff British that I love. I went to England for the first time in 1966 and I saw The Who in a nightclub in England nobody even knew who The Who were they just carted us off to see The Who and I thought I will go see this, who cares. Here's The Who breaking their instruments on stage. So we did that we want to Soho and to all of these places, and were eating chips and fish out of the bag and it was all very wonderful, this was even before England changed their money. So you were dealing with these vast sacks of coins and try to figure out what everything meant. I thought all this is really wonderful. I had gone back several times after that.
Here I was deciding "I'm going to write a crime novel" and I think I am going to set this crime novel in Great Britain. But I couldn't do it until I knew who my characters were going to be. So I am not very creative I wish that I were but I am not. I knew that I couldn't begin to write my crime novel until I found someone who could be my characters. And actually stand in place of my characters. So I thought this is a good way to put off writing and writers are very good at putting off writing. So for five years I thought about it. I thought about writing a thought about my characters were to be and then I saw Chariots of Fire. Remember Chariots of Fire? That was the movie about the Olympic team of 1920 runners. This scene in Chariots of Fire where the young actor Nigel Havers plays this Lord Lord somebody or other and he is very good at the hurdle and he's practicing hurdles and his Butler sets champagne glasses on all the hurdles so that of course the young man does not want the champagne to spill so he won't knock over any of the hurdles. So as soon as I saw that moment in the film I thought that's Lynley. That will be my main character. So I decided my main character would be Nigel Havers with improvements. Because Nigel Havers is a little short and his nose is too big. But I figured if I could elongate Nigel Havers and fix his nose that would be perfect as Lynley. Great now I have my first character.
But first characters are not enough so I needed to have the character that would be the wise one the forensic expert. Because I decided that my forensic expert was really going to be the main character. It was a great idea to have a forensic expert because I wanted to have somebody who conveniently knew everything. Great. So I thought against forensic science sounds perfect what does he look like? So that meant I had to watch many more British movies. (Laughter.)
And one day I saw the remake of the 39 Steps. This was the remake. So many of you have probably not seen it but the remake had a young actor by the name of Robert Powell. Robert Powell as soon as I saw him I said no problem that's him St. James. Now I have my second character. I was just looking for physical descriptions otherwise everyone would be generic so I thought well I have to find people who look like something. I had my first two characters and later I learned that Robert Powell was too good-looking so I had to make him look uglier so I had to make my character look like Daniel Day-Lewis on a bad day. So that's good I have my first two characters.
And then I began peopling the world of these two characters and I named them Thomas Lynley & Simon St. James. Now I made a decision at that point with these two characters that has haunted me ever since because I decided that it be very cool if Thomas Lynley had two names. Why? No reason. Just because I thought it was cool. Do you know how George Gordon is, Lord Byron? Maybe you didn't know that the English majors know that. I wanted Thomas Lynley to be, somebody. Because in America we can't do that the most you get is Junior or the third and fourth. But you don't get, Lord anybody in this country. In Great Britain they get that so I decided he was going to be, Lord somebody. So I came up with, Lord Asherton. And the question was if you are, Lord Asherton was does that make you? You can't just say he's a Lord that is a giveaway that you don't know what you are talking about. So I thought I have to do some research on this to be, Lord something what are you?
So I looked in my most notable resource: People magazine. I quickly discovered that Anthony Armstrong Jones was, Lord Snowden. And that meant he was an Earl so now my guy has got to be an Earl so he's the Earl of Asherton and I figured which number I decided he'd be the eighth Earl of Asherton. And only because that was alliterative pleasant to me. It has a flow to it, it has this nice mellifluous quality if he was the seventh that wouldn't have sounded as good. So now I have the character and now we are cooking.
So now I decided that if he is an earl he has to have an earldom. So where is the earldom? So where is charmingly the "family pile?" I love that expression, the family pile. I decided that his family pile would be in Cornwall. Why? You're about to hear the truth. Because I had been watching Masterpiece Theatre and Poldark took place in Cornwall. I thought okay Cornwall's my place. Put him in Cornwall. I wasn't sure where but that was not a problem, I went to Cornwall to find it in the meantime. So now I know where he comes from he's the eighth Earl had to come up with a name for his house I have no idea where the name will come from. And I have to give my townhouse in London a name because an earldom in Cornwall has got to have a townhouse in London. So where's the townhouse? Not a problem because I watched "Upstairs Downstairs." Now the Bellamy's lived on Eaton Square but I went to Eaton Square and quickly discovered that it was way too too posh. And nobody would believe that this guy would live in Eaton Square but that was not a problem because just a few streets away was Eaton Terrace. This was not beyond the means of Lynley and so I give him a house not too far from the square.
Okay so I have that. Now it's checking things off the list so you got have a car. Well he's an earl and he has got to drive a car. So I thought he can't drive a Rolls-Royce because that is over the top. So I have this car called a Bentley. Now I'd never seen a Bentley and I didn't know that a Bentley is a Rolls-Royce with a B on the front. It took me many books to wreck that Bally after I saw the Bentley in London I thought oh my God my character's driving around in this and I have got to get rid of this car posthaste. But it took books and books for that one moment in a book called "when no one is witness" when I saw here it is, here is my chance to get rid of the Bentley and believe me I took it.
So he is in the Bentley and he's driving around and he's really really kind of a great guy and then I thought well where did he go to school? I decided he went to Oxford that he had been to Eaton that had a first in history and he liked to quote Shakespeare…I like to define them pretty much like all the guys I used to date. [laughter] Not really but it was in my fantasy and so that's how Lynley came into being but once I had created this character of Lynley and I've created St. James who had a much less lofty background but still was from a rather wealthy family. But I looked at Lynley and I realized well wait a minute this is a character who's really pretty unbelievable. And worse than being unbelievable he ran the risk of being pretty unlikable as well because look: he's handsome he's compassionate and intelligent, and likes to quote Shakespeare and really maybe he's going to make people be pretty ticked off at him as a human being.
So what I decide to do was to create a character who did something called prescribing the reader's symptom. Okay this is what that means. The reader's symptom is not liking Lynley but I want the reader to like Lynley therefore I will invite you not to like Lynley because whatever I invite you to do, you are not going to do. An example would be when some tells you: "come on why won't you you just be happy?" Doesn't that make you want to smack him across the face? So if I'm saying come on hate Lynley see you're probably going to not hate him. So to get you to like Lynley I had to invite you to hate Lynley in order to invite you to hate Lynley I had to create a character that needed Lynley and that became his partner Barbara Havers.
The creation of Barbara Havers for those of you haven't read my books she is simply the antithesis of Lynley. He's upper class she's working class. She has this well-rounded Oxford education she just went as far as comprehensive school. And then left school. He is well turned out well dressed not over-the-top the British upper-class. You know they do this thing where they give their clothes to somebody to wear their clothes for a few years and then they wear them [laughter]. He's got that wonderful disheveled upper class British staying and she looks disheveled all the time. What I did was create his polar opposite and I created a character who when she is asked to work with Lynley she is not happy about it she hates the idea and she certainly hates him and so the character that you first meet in the series of the continuing characters is Barbara Havers.
You see that Barbara Havers is being assigned to work with this man Thomas Lynley and she is not happy about it she hates him she hates the idea she believes that he has slept his way into his current position of detective inspector and he's on his way to sleeping his way up to assistant commissioner. So when you meet him and he comes across the lawn of the St. James wedding so he can go along to Yorkshire with her he says well perhaps you're the best one for the job you realize maybe he's not so bad. It's not his fault that he is tall, good-looking, rich, drives a Bentley has a pile in Cornwall and a home in Eaton Terrace. Maybe he's an okay guy. And as Lynley wins Havers over in that first book "A Great Deliverance" so he also wins the reader over.
That is a little bit about how these novels came about and why British instead of American novels. And what I would like to do now is open it up for questions for about 10 minutes if you would like to ask questions because that's usually kind of fun. And we have some microphones. (Applause.)
Question from a guest: Hello good evening. Did you help choose any of the characters on the television show? That we see on MPT?
Elizabeth George: Did I help choose any of the actors? No no no not at all. When you sell to television or to film essentially you have to just kiss it goodbye. And you have to just say you know what film is film whether it's television film or movie film; film is film and books are books and just hope for the best. So it is completely in their hands who gets to play who and whatever. They tell you for example the right of creative consultation. What that means is they tell you what they are going to do before but they do it anyway. So you can scream and yell or say whatever but hope for the best. That was all their decision. I did know who both the actors were because I had seen them before and watched a lot of British television I knew he was and I knew she was; I was a little concerned especially about Sharon because she is a very good looking woman but I had no say in it. I do think they captured the essence of the characters sort of mentally and psychologically although neither of them looks at the characters.
There's a gentleman here.
Question from a guest: Okay you've told us how you develop characters how many Lynley books have you written?
Elizabeth George: I've just written my 18th.
Guest: But you didn't tell us how you develop the storyline with a plot.
Elizabeth George: Okay here's how I do it picture it like a spider web I can't really begin a book until I know the kernel of the story which is killer, victim, and motive. Once I know the killer victim and motive then I people the world of the crime. Now generally I have already been to England and I discovered where the story is going to take place. Sometimes I go to England without having the slightest idea of what the story is going to be which is very very scary. But I have decided the location and the location will give me the story. That's high risk writing and you go through the whole thing sick to your stomach thinking am I going to get a book out of this.
Once I have the killer and the motive the next thing I do is people the world of the crime. What that means is I asked myself questions about it. I say well here's the victim and who else is in the victim's world? Who are the other suspects? Does this victim have parents a spouse children? I just create a list generically of who would be in the world of these characters; The killer as well. Then when I do is I create the characters first I named them because naming is extremely important in Great Britain. Because the name indicates all kinds of stuff to the British audience see have to be really careful. For example I don't mean to offend anyone but the example I use is Sheila. Sheila is a name that would never be an upper-class name in England and the reason is it's very easy "the trumpets sounded the door open and the princes Sheila walked into the room." No offense there would never be a princes Sheila a Princess Linda. The British have these very traditional names so when you name a character in Great Britain that means something to the British audience.
Then what I do is I create all the characters in the creation of the characters which is like drawing a psychological emotional historical profile of all the characters their biography their psychological background their emotional background or familial background. That process shows me how they relate to the other characters and what the subplots of the book will be what the major theme of the book will be. So then I have that done that's pretty long document. Then I have the sense of what the shape of the novel will be like. At that point I create a step outline and then a running plot outline and the rough draft of the novel. Kind of a long involved process but that's how it's done.
Question: Why did you kill off Helen? (Laughter.)
Elizabeth George: That's a really good question for those of you haven't read my books you can kill her later since she has just given away a very important detail. What happens is that when you write a continuing series you have two choices: one choice is to freeze the characters in time place and circumstance. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are good examples of that. When you read the first Hercule Poirot book it's the same guy nothing is changing his book except he dies in the end. He's still that guy with the patent leather shoes laced drink hot chocolate was the egg shaped head and handlebar mustache never changes.
As a reader I don't like those kind of books I like books were things change and things develop in the characters lives I call this the "Nancy Drew Ned Nickerson syndrome." I stopped reading Nancy Drew when I realized that Nickerson was never going to kiss her in my lifetime. That was pretty devastating to think these books have been written since 1914 and it is almost 100 years of waiting for Ned Nickerson to kiss her I thought I would wait this long I'd move on. So I like books that don't have that same thing going on like books where the characters change and develop. What happens then is you have to keep opening their story up you can't close their story down.
The question was why did I kill Helen? For those of you haven't read my books Helen is one of the continuing characters one of the five main ones. She ultimately marries Lynley. When she marries Lynley and then she becomes pregnant effectively that story has been starting to close down. I will tell you why because if she has the baby I'm in big artistic trouble. Now name 10 books that have babies as compelling characters. Name one. You see the problem? Babies are nice but not as nice as puppies but they are nice. But they are not compelling literary characters because unless the baby develops a terrible disease or is kidnapped there's nothing going on with the baby except that they can projectile vomit, like a dramatic scene where the baby projectile vomit's, what's a baby going to do? So that means that Lynley story closes down right then. Soon as Helen's pregnant we go through the angst and she's pregnant for three years in the books so what am I going to do with her now? Why I had known for quite some time that Helen's was going to have to be eliminated. I hate to tell you this and I was just waiting for the appropriate vehicle to do it. So what happened is when I was writing "with no one as witness" I realized I had come across my vehicle to eliminate Helen. My original idea was to have the serial killer kill her. Perfect. But I thought wait a minute everybody would do that. As a matter of fact everyone's is expecting that. Everything will think that the serial killer killed her. So I decide what that's not what happens at all. What if she's killed in this arbitrary street killing so typical of what happens in Great Britain London today. This was unheard of in London 40 years ago today but today it is common.
That's what I decided would happened to Helen. In eliminating Helen what I did was I opened up Lynley story and it opened up a bunch other stories as well. And it was ultimately the reason why Helen had to go, and people say to me well don't you miss her? What I was say is, well when I miss Helen all have to do is think about her. Because of she always was in my head.
But additionally it was critical absolutely critical that when I eliminated Helen that the reader engage in the same experience that the characters were engaged in. Consider this: and there are probably people around that have read this book and I got a lot of mail after this from people a lot of people enraged I got a three page type letter from an attorney and his wife wouldn't read it ever again his mother wouldn't and how dare I. But here's the thing: when Helen dies it is totally unexpected it is horrible and she's on life support and Lynley's decision is as the doctor say, look she went without oxygen for 20 minutes now we keep her alive support for two months and then deliver this baby prematurely but she was without oxygen for 20 minutes and we don't know what's going to happen we have no idea what can happen to this child or you can let her go you can unplug the machine. And Lynley has to make that decision. He has to go through the process of letting go of this beloved wife and this child.
And so what I want to do was to invite the reader in to experience his decision and his grief. And the fact that I got all these outraged letters from people who told me that I had done the job. If at the end of the book the reader just tossed it over his shoulder went to the refrigerator made a bologna sandwich and looked for the next book to read the book would have been a failure. But the fact of the reader was so devastated by the loss of this character told me that the book was a success. And that's what writers want to do. Writers invite you into the lives of the characters to share in some respect what's happening to these people and if you don't share in some respect what's happening to these people why read? Because that's the beauty of it. When a writer makes a character so real. Because basically all we have is 26 letters. 26 letters of the alphabet. Endlessly arranged in such a way as to revoke an emotional response from you and that is what we are trying to do. As writers. And I think that's it thank you. (Applause.)
Dr. Carla Hayden: I want her to stay and thank you so much for taking the veil back a little bit and revealing how inspector Lynley was created I'm telling I'm never going to look or read these characters the same again you've taken some of the mystery out but you've also given us a wonderful insight into the writer's mind so thank you.
We also want you to stay because each year with Pratt Presents we give an award for the most distinguished author of the year and want to make sure that you knew we appreciate your contributions and so we are giving you an award the 2012 distinguished author award from the Enoch Pratt free Library the Board of Trustees and Directors and this is the 1933 print of this building and there only about 10 of them. Thank you. Applause. Don't forget us. Miss George will be signing books and we are going to be breaking for just a few minutes and have dessert and really get going. You can crack the safe and the most wanted you saw those photos up there and so thank you very much and let's have some more fun.
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