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Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Elizabeth Redfern - Novelist
Elizabeth Redfern’s fascination for stargazing began on clear winter nights long ago when as a young girl her father pointed out the constellations to her, and she has been starstruck - in a celestial sense – ever since!
`meteoric rise to stardom `in her own write'
That early fascination was rekindled when the fiery comet Hale-Bopp appeared in the night sky and gave Elizabeth the inspiration for her debut novel ‘The Music of The Spheres’ – the success of which has presaged a meteoric rise to stardom ‘in her own write’ for the former librarian and teacher who lives at Over Haddon near Bakewell.
Published in the U.K. by Century, a division of the Random House Group, and in America by Penguin Putnam, ‘The Music of the Spheres’ has also been selling all over Europe since its launch in September, and the paperback is due out this summer. American publishers Simon and Schuster have brought out an audio version of the book – and Elizabeth’s star is even rising along with the proverbial sun in Japan!
Success indeed for the extremely modest yet multi-talented former English teacher who has joined a galaxy of successful authors at Century and has been compared to such legendary fiction writers as John Le Carre and Umberto Eco.
Elizabeth, a graduate in English from Nottingham University, spent almost four years working on her epic 400-page novel which is set in late 18th century London against the background of the French Revolution and which has been variously described by literary critics as `a striking and original period thriller’, ‘richly atmospheric’, and ‘brilliantly realised in all its colourful complexity’. The ultra respected Literary Review goes even further: ‘Redfern’s first novel is excellent. You might even say a star is born’.
This latest star in Derbyshire’s literary firmament was actually born in Cheshire, the daughter of a Manx-born headmaster from whose Celtic influence she presumably inherited her creative and expressive artistic talents. At Penwortham Girls Grammar School at Preston in Lancashire, Elizabeth learned to play the violin and her love of music and burgeoning artistic talent with bow, pen and brush won her a place in various orchestras – and later a place at university.
She graduated from Nottingham University with a BA (Hons) degree in English – and with a husband, fellow student Alan, a Law graduate who later became a solicitor. They have a daughter who is currently in her final year at Lady Manners School, Bakewell, and hoping to earn a university place to study music.
Elizabeth has a postgraduate diploma in librarianship from Ealing College in London and has worked as a chartered librarian in both London and Nottingham. She also has a postgraduate certificate in education from the University of Derby and has enjoyed working as an adult education lecturer, mainly in English, with Derbyshire County Council, and with the unemployed on skills training projects in Chesterfield and Clay Cross.
Elizabeth plays the violin with the Chesterfield Symphony Orchestra and, as I discovered when I called at her home recently, is an accomplished water-colour artist! Her superb paintings, like her writing, are ‘richly atmospheric’ - each powerfully understated in style, and with an intriguing element of subdued passion about them which imbues each with a haunting, almost ethereal and timeless quality.
I found that the same description could equally well be applied to the artist herself, for I deduced that like most classicists, Elizabeth is both a perfectionist and a modest and very private person, who despite her celestial accomplishments in three separate artistic mediums remains a down-to-earth, pragmatic character in both outlook and attitude.
A character nevertheless, who claims to have had an `uneventful and boring life’ – even her choice of favourites is classical:-Dickens as a novelist, Milton as a poet, watercolour as a painting medium, piano and violin as her chosen instruments; English as an academic subject; teaching, librarianship and writing as chosen professional careers; her love of history, and especially the 18th century - all these are the hallmarks of the dyed-in-the-wool classicist.
Elizabeth almost seems to exist within a timewarp; her home is 18th century and comprises two lead-miners’ cottages knocked into one; the original deeds are displayed in a frame on the wall. A long-case grandfather clock and period furnishings surround the living space and create an atmosphere redolent of a past age, and it seems almost inevitable that Elizabeth’s novel should be set in the 18th century. In fact, to a psychological sleuth who is an ardent fan of the television programme, `Through the Keyhole’, it seemed to me that this place was a dead ringer for the home of a historical novelist. Eighteenth century, I’d say!
So how did the author feel about the success of her book?
The response was matter-of-fact without any hint of the emotion or enthusiasm that I had expected:
“Fine. But it was very hard work, with lots of reading and historical research and numerous trips to London for meetings with Oliver Johnson, my editor from Century”.
Elizabeth revealed that prior to acceptance of her manuscript, the market and current reading trends had all been thoroughly researched, the course plotted, and elements and ideas added accordingly. In effect, the book had been specifically targeted for the popular market and the literary strategy and planning involved seemed to me, almost reminiscent of a military campaign! Elizabeth’s research included reading the entire `Cambridge History of Astronomy’ and delving into a host of obscure volumes and archives to research 18th century medicine, mathematics, the British government’s secret intelligence work, the 18thcentury British navy and naval dockyards - and lastly, the science of encryption.
She praises the staff at Chesterfield library -“who have been great in obtaining obscure books and articles for me” - and pays tribute to husband Alan, who after nearly 30 years as a solicitor has recently retired, “ to help me with the business side of things”.
Of her manifold artistic talents, writing remains Elizabeth’s first love and she confirmed this when I asked what the success of her first novel meant to her personally; “It’s great, I love writing”, she said, adding –“and the success of this first book has given me a good excuse to carry on indefinitely. You know,” she mused wistfully, “scribbling, staring out the window, delving into obscure and ancient history books which have no bearing whatever on what I’m supposed to be doing..”
I took the point. It was a rather tedious question. So what of the future?
“I am already hard at work researching my second book which has the working title, ‘Auriel Rising’, a tale of murder and alchemy set just after the Gunpowder Plot in the time of James 1st, and I am contracted to deliver the manuscript to my publisher by December”.
Elizabeth has grown to love this part of Derbyshire and particularly enjoys walking in the countryside. She loves the peace and solitude of her lovely terraced garden, especially in the summer with its spectacularly beautiful views over Lathkill Dale. Perhaps, one might assume, she spends clear winter nights gazing up at the constellations, and with the prospect of Auriel Rising, seeks her inspiration from the Music of the Spheres!