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Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 at 07:01 AM

Author Elizabeth George pens new Whidbey Island mysteries

By Mary Ann Gwinn
Seattle Times book editor

Lit life |

Whidbey Island author Elizabeth George is best known for her successful Inspector Lynley mysteries, featuring an aristocratic English policeman (Lynley) and his working-class female partner (Havers), both oddballs in the world of law enforcement. Psychologically complex and intricately plotted, the Lynley novels have been adapted for several BBC television series.

But as mystery readers know, everybody has a past, and George's has caught up with her. Before she was a successful author, George was a successful high-school English teacher (she was once named Orange County Teacher of the Year).

Now George has combined her knowledge of the adolescent psyche, her facility with suspense and her affection for Whidbey Island in a new series for teens and young adults. Set on Whidbey, the first book, "The Edge of Nowhere," (Viking, 440 pp., $18.99), features a young woman who, besides the usual adolescent issues, is telepathic (she can "hear" what people are thinking) — a talent that gets her in deep trouble with her murderous stepfather. Becca King goes into hiding on Whidbey, and that is the frame on which George hangs her tale.

George answered questions both on her transition to the young-adult genre and using her home island as the setting for a book:

Q: Before you were a writer, you were a teacher. Where did you teach?

A: Oh, yes, I taught 13 and a half years. I taught English, first at a Catholic school and then at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif.

Q: Why did you decide to use Whidbey as the location for this book, and why a young- adult novel?

A: The Pacific Northwest, and particularly Whidbey Island, is extremely suited to be a location in a novel. Whidbey has so many wonderful, wonderful places. And the places themselves seemed to suggest a young-adult novel ... Smuggler's Cove. The Dog House. The Commons is a real teenager hangout, a combination coffee house and book store. It's an enormously diverse island, and that's what makes it so interesting. You have everything from writers to people in construction to people working the ferries to everything in between. You'll find someone who is an MBA who is a gardener, for that was the work that's available.

Q: When you're writing for a young-adult readership, what do you do differently?

A: The other books I write are rather more convoluted, with many more characters and a more convoluted sentence structure. With a YA novel, I decided that wouldn't be appropriate. I didn't simplify my structure as much as I made it more declarative.

Other than that, the process was identical. I go through a long process that has to do with the creation of character, setting and running plot outlines.

Q: You've said that plot is the most difficult thing for you, and that you usually sketch that out first. Is that true for your YA novels as well?

A: Plotting is difficult for me, and always has been. I do that before I actually start writing, but I always do characters, and the arc of the story, first ... You can't do anything without a story arc. Where is it going to begin, where will it end.

With this story, there's a boy who takes a terrible fall in the woods and this girl, Becca, who possesses this terrible inchoate power. From that point, I can go on and create characters.

Q: What led to your decision to use telepathy as part of the plot? Do you believe in it?

A: I don't have direct experience with it, but I'm a person who always believes that there's more going on than we necessarily know.

Q: Class distinctions play a big part in the Inspector Lynley mysteries. I didn't see class as a big part of the "Edge of Nowhere" world ... will you develop that in future books?

A: You don't really see the kind of extreme class distinctions (on Whidbey) that you do in England, but there definitely are different socioeconomic sections represented here. The next book touches on that.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com. Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW's "Well Read," discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to www.tvw.org/shows/well-read for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma.






MICHAEL STADLER
Elizabeth George is best known for her Inspector Lynley mysteries.








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