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"Mystery! Inspector Lynley"

Elizabeth George
Author
Monday, June 27, 2005 2:00 PM

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George was online Monday, June 27, at 2 p.m. ET to answer your questions about her latest book in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, "With No One As Witness," as well as Series 4 of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries airing on PBS Sundays, June 26 - July 17 (check local listings).

Please keep in mind, plot details may be revealed ...

In "With No One As Witness," Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley is back along with his partner, Barbara Havers, and newly promoted Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata to hunt for a sinister killer.

During "The Inspector Lynley Mysteries," Series 4, George's crime-cracking duo, Lynley and Havers, will investigate four new contemporary murder mysteries -- building to a dramatic climax that threatens Lynley's relationship with the two women closest to him.

George is a graduate of the University of California at Riverside and California State University at Fullerton and began her career as a high school English teacher. George's awards include the Anthony, the Agatha, the Grand Prix de la literature Policiere and the MIMI. She is only one of two American writers whose novels have been adapted for MYSTERY!.

The transcript follows.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I am halfway into reading "With No One As A Witness" and it is the first of your books for me. I was introduced to your novels through the Inspector Lynley Mystery series. Since I became a fan through the TV Series, it enabled me to know who the characters are in "WNOAAW". Question: All of your characters are strong, opinionated and dedicated to their respective jobs. Do you base these attributes on people you know, interviewed and researched, or are they composites of people you know, interviewed or researched? Thank you.

Elizabeth George: I suppose that, in large part, the quality of being strong, opinionated, and dedicated to a profession or a job is something that comes from me rather than something I witnessed in someone I was interviewing, deciding afterwards to use it in a character. I'd say that nearly all of the successful professional people I know are pretty much like that as well.

Beyond that, though, having strong and opinionated people makes for good conflict in a novel since they're obviously going to butt heads at one time or another. When you read "In the Presence of the Enemy" I think you'll notice this in particular, as it involves all five of my mine characters and they soon find themselves in major conflict over their involvement in a kidnapping case and their differing styles of handling what happens in that case.

I hope you continue to enjoy the books, and it's great to know that you came to them through the television series.

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Rimini, Italy: Many are wondering about the cut of 150 pages you did while writing WNOAW, you said in an interview or during your tour, that they were part of this last book, but that you decided to put them in the next. Can you tell us something about this? You also told about an omniscient way that you wished to use for this next novel. What is that meaning of this "omniscient" word in this contest?

Elizabeth George: Buon giorno! How exciting to get a question from Italia. What a glorious country.

On to your question: What happened was the WNOAW was becoming longer and longer as I attempted to create a plot structure called an hour-glass plot. Using this structure, the writer creates what appear to be two different and unrelated novels that end up colliding in one moment and then going on their separate ways. To do this structure justice, I saw it was going to run about 1500 manuscript pages in length. It was also going to demand that the reader hold an enormous cast of characters in her head. About 900 pages into it, I decided to pull out the other plot and to use it for my next novel, which is what I'm doing right now.

Omniscient is a style of narration in which the story is told from the all-seeing and all-knowing viewpoint of a narrator who is outside the action and can consequently comment on the action, on characters, on social conditions, etc. Lots of literary novels are written this way (Think "Cold Mountain" for starters) and most of the classic novels were written this way. It's the most difficult of the narrative styles to carry off, so I wanted to try it as a challenge to myself.

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Denver, Colo.: Is it true that you're a born-again Christian? This isn't obvious in your writing, perhaps in the topics chosen?

Elizabeth George: You are confusing me with the other Elizabeth George. You will see the difference if you log onto her Web site which is ElizabethGeorge.com and mine which is ElizabethGeorgeonline.com.

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Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada: I have loved everyone of your books on Detective Lynley, especially Playing for the Ashes. I noticed that on the Detective Lynley mysteries there are two titles I didn't recognize: A Cry for Justice and If Wishes were Horses. I've never seen these in book form. Where can I get them? Keep writing, your a truly fabulous writer!

Elizabeth George: I gave the BBC permission to use my characters in their own crime stories as long as I could approve the script and as long as they made no changes in the characters personally or professionally. The two you have seen are among the 6 independent stories they've filmed with my permission. There are no novels to go with them.

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Huntington Beach, Calif.: With Lynley resigned (for now?), will you focus more on Havers or on some of the other characters you have been introducing over the last few books? (Loved "With No One As Witness" -- your finest to date!)

Elizabeth George: Hi Neighbor!

Lynley has gone to Cornwall to recover from WNOAW. It wasn't my intention to reassign him or retire him, as you will see. I'll continue my focus on all the characters from the books, continuing the process of dipping in and out of their lives at different times.

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New York, N.Y.: A few years ago a message on your Web site described Helen as "cryptocatholic." Do you agree? How would you describe Helen? Thanks.

Elizabeth George: Gosh. I don't know what "cryptocatholic" means. I should dash for my dictionary. Instead, I will say that Helen is first of all what I would call a fading It girl. It girls are upper class girls in England who are generally well-bred, did no go a university for higher education, come from wealthy families, and lead fairly idle lives until such a time as they marry a well-heeled man. They get their pictures taken at parties and after that they appear in Hello magazine. If they get drunk and vomit in the gutter, the tabloids are there to see it all. Helen comes from this group of young woman but she's older and now she has to take a look at what she's done with her life as far as being a productive member of society goes. Having no sense of real purpose, she feels inadequate and when she agrees to marry Lynley, there is part of her that feels even worse because she's ended up doing just exactly what she was brought up to do. Yet she's surrounded by people who are leading productive lives, which causes her to look at her own life and find it wanting.

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Dallas, Tex.: What plans do you have for Tommy, will he return to New Scotland Yard in your next book?

Elizabeth George: Lynley will definitely return.

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Rochester N.Y.: Dear Ms. George, I very much enjoy your books, primarily because of the characters involved -- although the mysteries are very good puzzles.

I wonder if you've thought of writing about Lynley, Helen, etc. ... outside of the murder mystery genre? I guess I'd encourage you to write some more stories about these characters, perhaps earlier in their lives.

Thanks very much.

Elizabeth George: I love the structure of the crime novel, and I can't imagine writing about these characters outside that structure. The crime provides a throughline in the novel, driving it forward. On that structure I can hang as much as I want from the point of view of the characters' lives. Right now that gives me a lot of freedom to explore who they are and what's happening to them, so I guess I'll be sticking to it for now. Basically, I consider these "regular" novels in which crimes occur and must be solved.

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College Park, Md.: I love your writing style, the way the story comes from so many points of view. I also like the way you have introduced the class struggle in England with out making the books preachy.

Besides all that I am an incurable Anglophile so I love mysteries set in England with strong female characters.

Elizabeth George: Thanks so much. I try to make the books reflective of England as it is today. Not too much like the England Agatha Christie wrote about, but still an endlessly fascinating place.

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Lynley Lover on the Chesapeake Bay: Elizabeth:

An important element in the success of your books, and of the recognition they have deservedly received, is your ability to "get the language right." That is, you write as if you were English/British and use idiomatic language correctly and effectively. Are you able to do this because you have spent a lot of time personally researching and studying modern British speech, or do you have staff and editors who help you get it right? (Either way, you're "spot on!")

Elizabeth George: I have indeed spent a lot of time in England since my first trip there in 1966. That's helped me inordinately when it comes to getting the language right. I also watch British television both here in the US and when I'm in England and I read a large number of British novels. All of this helps me stay current.

Additionally, I have three or four slang thesauruses (is the plural of that thesari???) that I use, and I generally know when I need a British word instead of an American one.

My English editor and copy editor read the manuscript and if I go wrong, they put me right too. But most of the language remains as I wrote it.

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Rimini, Italy: Thank you, Mrs. George. I think you have always done this in your wonderful way to describe the feelings of every character!

Elizabeth George: Grazie grazie.

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Derby, England, UK: What are your plans for Azhar and Hadiyyah?

Elizabeth George: Gosh, you really don't want to know, do you? There is a story arc for them and Havers, but telling it would spoil the surprise.

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Arlington, Va.: With a male and female lead in your stories, how did you resist the impulse to develop a romantic relationship between them? The relationship between Havers and Lynley is what makes the series so interesting to me, but I am torn because I frankly (sorry) have never been satisfied with Lynley's love interests and am always secretly rooting for the cliched romantic story line between the leads. Also, how much input did you have in casting for the television series?

Elizabeth George: I wanted to write about a variety of kinds of love when I started this series. One of the kinds I wanted to write about is the non-sexual love that can exist between a man and a woman in close friendship. That's what Lynley and Havers represent. It's easy to resist having them "end up" together because that would never happen in a million years in real life, considering their respective backgrounds.

I had no input at all into the casting of my characters on television.

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Bowie, Md.: I'm addicted to reading and owning every Inspector Lynley novel. The characters and plots are compelling and I thank you for them. I was curious as to how much input you have in the adaptation of your characters and novels to the television series currently running on PBS' "Mystery"?

Elizabeth George: I had no input into the casting or the screenplays done from my novels. Oddly enough, now that the BBC is making their own shows using my characters, I have approval over scripts and over characters, although still not over the casting.

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Houston, Tex.: What about the man in the shadows with the kid who shot Helen? Will we learn more about this person?

Elizabeth George: You will learn all.

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Chappaqua, N.Y.: You are quite particular about, and very effective at, evoking particular settings and, as you put it, landscapes in your novels. Since these are essential parts of your novels, how well do you feel they translate to the mystery series on television? Is it easier or more difficult to achieve the same goal in a different medium? Best regards.

Elizabeth George: I think some of them have translated well, especially when they've gone to the exact location as they did with going to Jervaulx Abbey and Jervaulx Hall in A Great Deliverance and Walton-on-the-Naze in Deception on His Mind. I think the other settings have translated okay.

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Oakland, Calif.: Last night's BBC version of "In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner" was the first I have seen. I could not believe how wrong Helen was portrayed. Doesn't that bother you?

Elizabeth George: Drives me insane. It's one of those situations when you have to raise your hands in surrender and say, "Oh well."

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Derby, England, UK: Do you have any contact with British authors such as Ruth Rendell and P.D. James ? If so, how do you find you all get along ?

Elizabeth George: While I've met P.D. James and indeed took a seminar from her many years ago, I do not know Ruth Rendell. Living as I do in California, I have contact with British authors only when I do an event in England that involves all of us.

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Fairfax, Va.: Ms. George, I have enjoyed many of your books and the Mystery! series as well. I note that the Mystery! version seems to be moving Lynley and Havers together in a much more personal sense than do your books. Is this an intentional departure to heighten the tension between the two characters?

Elizabeth George: Definitely. They know what they're doing. They also know that the television characters will only "get together" over my dead body.

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Beaumont, Tex.: Do you expect to ever write a book with an American setting and characters? Not that I'm complaining -- I love your Lynley books.

Elizabeth George: I have no plans to do that right now. I love writing about England, always have. I was writing about England when I was fifteen years old.

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RE: Derby: Three cheers also from me for Azhar and Hadiyyah! Wonderful characters.

Elizabeth George: Thanks so much. I like them too.

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Derby,England, UK: Just to thank you for two things :

Firstly for setting a novel, and hence an ILM episode in Derbyshire, and secondly for answering tonight (yes, it's evening here) every single question I had.

Elizabeth George: Derbyshire. What a gorgeous place! When I first drove through to see if it would work for me as a setting in a novel, I spent the whole time going around curves in the road saying, "Oh my God!" at one sight after another.

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Eugene, Ore.: Love your books -- you're one of my favored few I buy in hardback rather than borrow from the library.

I enjoy the character of Barbara quite a lot. She speaks for a lot of us who aren't among the "beautiful people." I'm wondering if there's a romance on the way with her Pakistani neighbor. If so, would this be Barbara's first such romance?

Elizabeth George: Someday I hope to be able to fit more of Barbara's backstory into a novel so that readers can know more about her love life. As to romance with Azhar....you just keep reading.

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Oakland, Calif.: Given what happened to Helen, and the direction the BBC series appears headed, it seems prudent for Azhar to be sure his estate plan is in order. Any comments?

Elizabeth George: Everyone should have an orderly estate plan in my universe.

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Houston, Tex.: Will Tommy return to New Scotland Yard? What are your plans for him in your next novel?

Elizabeth George: He will return.,

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New York, N.Y.: I'm a guy and have read all of your books after my mom recommended them. I wonder if you write for a particular audience, women for instance? Sometimes I do feel that the perspective is "feminine," I guess, interesting but at odds with my perspective.

Thanks for the books and the chat.

Elizabeth George: I'm not actually writing for any particular audience. I just write the novels as I see them.

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Houston, Tex.: Tell me more? This person in the shadows, is it someone from Tommy's past, or someone he has put away??

Elizabeth George: No way! You will have to keep reading. But I'm thrilled to know that you observed something in need of further exploration.

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Washington, D.C.: If Barbara gets promoted, will that affect her partnership with Lynley?

Elizabeth George: Not really. In reality, it would. But this is fiction.

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Taipei, TAIWAN: Is there any possibility in the future for Lynley to develope romantic interest towards Havers?

Elizabeth George: Never!

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Wall, N.J.: I have read all of your Lynley books and feel that I personally know each of your characters! Your characterization is brilliant. Thank you for the years of wonderful reading adventures.

I'm always amazed when I read of the fact that you're an American -- you write such "English" novels! What do you attribute your Englishness to?

Elizabeth George: I guess I attribute my "Englishness" to hard work, research, many trips to England, a respect for their culture and traditions (despite the way I sometimes have a laugh at their expense), and a love of the countryside.

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New York, N.Y.: If you are sitting down to write A great Deliverance today (or your first book involving Lynley et al.), what if any would you do differently?

Elizabeth George: I think I'd opt for a simpler vocabulary in that first novel. I got a little carried away. I do love language, but sometimes I probably needed to restrain myself.

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Washington, D.C.: It took two readings of A Traitor to Memory to figure out that there are two mysteries in that novel: the one that occurs during the course of the novel and the death of Sonia. Did Richard kill Sonia? Also, was Richard III the inspiration for Richard in A Traitor to Memory?

Thanks

Elizabeth George: Richard did not kill Sonia. The last sentence in the novel tells you who did. No Richard III wasn't the inspiration for RIchard in the novel. They just have the same name.

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La Spezia, Italy: Dear Ms George,

In your last novel you took a shocking decision. Eventually why didn't you try to link it in some way to the case?

Elizabeth George: I've been to La Spezia! Viva Italia! Che bella!

Anyway. The obvious thing would have been to link it. I hate to do the obvious thing. Instead I chose the terrible irony of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Dallas, Tex.: Barb M. here from Maui Retreat 2004. Just want to thank you again for being such a marvelous teacher. My book is nearly finished. Hoping to attend MWC Retreat 2005

Elizabeth George: Barb! You rock! I am delighted to know you've worked through the tough stuff. It is a great story.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'd be interested in knowing if you watched the BTK killer on TV today. Creepy!!

Also, could you describe how you research your mysteries? For example, do you ever talk to people like Mr. BTK?

Elizabeth George: I had no idea the BTK killer was going to be on tv today or I probably would have watched.

I don't talk to killers as research since there are plenty of books available out there to read up on them.

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New York, N.Y.: Is Barbara going to come to terms with her weight and appearance?

Elizabeth George: I don't know. That woman is just ungovernable, isn't she? Put her in the vicinity of a carbohydrate and she is a goner.

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Boston, Mass.: How does your perspective as an American help (or hinder) your treatment of the very British themes and locales covered in your books?

Elizabeth George: I think I have a bit of distance that allows me to notice and react to things that someone living there might not notice or react to. That acts as a help in my novels. The fact that I'm so far away when I have a simple question about a location makes it tougher.

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Derby,England, UK: Having read your latest book, With No One As Witness, I am struck by some of the similarities in it to the plots of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries episodes which are not based on any of the novels.

This leads me to wonder whether you give the BBC -- or whoever is producing the TV series -- foreknowledge of your intentions for the characters.I also wonder how much say you have over what they do with your characters.

I am the moderator of the UK yahoo! Inspector Lynley group and a member of the Elizabeth-George-Mysteries yahoo! group. We discuss many aspects of your work and of the BBC series. This is something about which we have been speculating and we would all be glad of your answer.

Thank you for your creation of such interesting people.

Elizabeth George: The BBC knows where the characters are heading. We are in contact. I read the treatments for the episodes and then the screenplays as well. I comment on them and control what happens to the characters on film.

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Oakland, Calif.: Regarding your response to Taipei about Lynley and Havers, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Elizabeth George: Welcome.

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La Spezia, Italy: In WNOAW there are many moments where Winston Nkata remembers Lynley -- Havers notes this similarity and "tells" it to the reader. But a very strange similarity is that the behavior of Winnie remembers so much that of Lynley in his first time with Helen ... the last phone call between Winston and Yasmine is very like that between Tommy and Helen at the end of Missing Joseph. Have you noticed this? Have we to read, in next novels something more lower class instead of the aristocrat lives you described until now? Don't you think that the force of your series is the contrast between the privileged world of Tommy and that one of colleagues and friends?

Elizabeth George: Lynley is an enormous influence on Winston Nkata because he is older, successful, respected, and everything that Winston wants to mold himself into being.

I actually don't think there is too much similarity between the phone calls you mention. Lynley knows Helen loves him and just wants her to admit it, which she does obliquely. Winton doesn't know that about Yasmin and, indeed, Yasmin is not in love with Winston. But she knows he's a good man, not like her husband and not like many other men she's met.

Lynley isn't gone from the series, if that's where you were heading about reading about the lower classes in my books in the future.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: I'm curious as to why you portray Havers as so appallingly unattractive (at least so far in those I've read). Her awful family is an interesting touch, but why describe her as so unrelentingly ugly?

Elizabeth George: Gosh, I never think of her as unremittingly ugly. She's not doing anything with herself, it's true. But I think that's what makes her an interesting character.

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Rimini, Italy: Which of your main characters is your favorite? You told time ago that at the beginning Simon was the dearest to you. During these years have you changed your preference, and in case, how many times?

Elizabeth George: Simon is always the character dearest to my heart. Havers is the easiest character to write.

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Sheboygn, Wis.: Deb and Simon have had many struggles with trying to have a child. Are we ever going to see resolution to this, with adoption or advances in technology.

BTW, love your books and thanks for the postcard. It made my day!

Elizabeth George: Deborah cannot have children due to a genetic problem, which is explained in A Traitor to Memory. As to the rest of it....you'll have to stay tuned.

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La Spezia, Italy: Dear Ms George,

The inspector Lynley is the most complicated of your characters because you may never anticipate how will interact with relatives and colleagues. But in this late investigation, Tommy's behavior is really contradictory. Since the beginning he seems more weak and irresolute compared with previous novels and he takes some arguable decisions. Why this change?

Many thanks for your attention.

Elizabeth George: As far as him being weak and irresolute, I disagree. He's in a terribly difficult position because of how his superiors are behaving with regard to the serial killings. He's not in a position to put his foot down. Should he do that, he gets fired and exposes his entire team to the lunacy of Hillier et al.

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Derby, England, UK: You've said that you don't like the way the BBC portrayed Helen. I agree that they have rather brought out the worst in her, with all her uncertainties and vulnerabilities, but apart from that I think they've done very well, actually. As Lynley is portrayed as more and more of a wimp, TV Helen is the only one who would ever put up with him. She suits his TV personality better than the sweet Helen we saw in A Great Deliverance and read about in the books. And he puts up with her of course.

Elizabeth George: You may be the only person out there willing to defend the characterization., As they say down under, Good on ya.

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Las Vegas, Nev.: Ms. George, I enjoy the Inspector Lynley series very much. Aren't you being too hard on Havers? She was trying to save somebody, when she wounded the inspector with the flare gun. I think she should get a break. Also, how did you manage to master the English mystery genre? You do it awfully well.

Elizabeth George: In the novel it wasn't a flare gun. It was a weapon and it was attempted murder. She was lucky not to have a hell of a lot worse done to her, the mad woman.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: You are a marvelous writer. I tend to grit my teeth when I buy one of your books because your stories make great emotional demands upon your readers, but, so far, the effort has always been worth it.

Do you ever find it difficult to write about horrid things happening to your characters?

Elizabeth George: The challenge for me is to write about difficult things with restraint. No melodrama, no milking the scene. Just to write it simply but in such a way that the reader is caught up in and moved by it all.

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Leverkusen, Germany: If Tommy returns to Scotland Yard, will he ever learn to deal with Hillier?

Elizabeth George: You'll have to keep reading. That Hillier is a pill, isn't he?

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New York, N.Y.: Rather a silly question but here goes ... my husband is English and we travel to the UK quite a bit but what was this thing about sweet corn in the book? Is this some new fad going on? My husband also reads all your books and we were wondering. P.S. I know the Brits eat lots of weird stuff!

Elizabeth George: Sweet corn is what they call American corn, like the stuff we buy in cans. Corn on its own refers to wheat.

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Richmond, Va.: When you wrote "A Great Deliverance" did you know from the start that you actually wanted to continue with these characters and make a series about them?

Elizabeth George: Definitely.

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Marquette, Mich.: Ms. George, what is it like to see your characters be portrayed on the screen? After seeing all these episodes of the LYNLEY mysteries, do you now picture your characters as Nathaniel Parker and Sharon Small?

Elizabeth George: It's a little strange to see actors doing my characters although I'm relieved to say that when I write about Lynley and Havers I don't see Nathaniel Parker or Sharon Small. I don't say that to demean them, by the way. I think they're doing great in capturing the essence of my characters. But my Lynley and Havers look very different from the BBC's.

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Richmond, Va.: What is your writing schedule like each day -- do you create outlines for each of your books?

Elizabeth George: I get up at 5:00, work out, and then sit down to write. i write five pages a day, five days a week, until the novel is done. I create characters in advance as well as a step outline and a running plot outline.

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Richmond, Va.: I'm so excited to talk to a published author, which I've never done before. How do you feel about your books being filmed on TV? Do you think the actors/actresses are faithful to the characters that you wrote and how do you feel if a plotline is changed or omitted from the film?

Elizabeth George: TV and books are entirely different media, with very different demands. I knew that the films could not capture all of the stories in the books without being six hours long. Since the BBC didn't want to commit that much time to them, I was prepared to see them reduced to crime only. I think the actors and actresses are doing a great job with the parts, especially Sharon Small as Havers.

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Anonymous: Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books? Do you like movies and TV or mainly reading?

Elizabeth George: The author who's had the biggest impact on me as a writer is John Fowles. The author whose career trajectory and artistic growth I most admire is John LeCarre. My favorite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

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New York, N.Y.: How did it feel to see your novels adapted for television? Are you surprised by the results? Are Lynley and Havers what you expected?

Elizabeth George: Physically Lynley and Havers are very different from the Lynley and Havers in my head. But I do think they've captured the essence of the characters quite well. It was thrilling and odd to see my work on the screen. I giggled a lot. I had a big "opening night" for fifty people when I got a copy of the first film. I had it at a local hotel, and it was black tie. What fun.

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Elizabeth George: I now have to sign off as I have another appointment in 45 minutes. Thanks to all of you who participated. Elizabeth

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