Liz Combines History and Mystery
Liz Cruwys (English & Religious Studies, 1980, Grizedale) spent three years in Leeds as a police officer, then took a Master’s degree at Durham University and a PhD at the University of Cambridge.
Liz has taught undergraduate and graduate research in both zoology and biological anthropology and has been an environmental consultant to a number of governmental, academic and other organisations. Her other research passion is medieval history and architecture and this, coupled with her years in the police force have given Liz insights that have been valuable in producing more than 40 successful historic mystery novels which have been published under pseudonyms including Susanna Gregory and for which she has been nominated for international awards. Here she explains how her time at Lancaster contributed to her career.
Why did you choose Lancaster University?
Its location! I’d always fancied living in the north, and the campus just looked brilliant in the prospectus – smaller in 1977 than now, of course. It is near the Lake District and so many other places I wanted to see. And there was Lancaster itself, with its castle and priory church. So much history – natural and human – to learn and enjoy.
Oh, and there was the syllabus, of course. I really liked the sound of the options available in the English and Religious Studies departments.
How useful was your LU degree to your current role?
It came into its own with writing medieval mysteries, as the Church and religion played a major role in fourteenth-century society – so my courses in Religious Studies became quite pertinent. I’m not sure how much of it I actually remembered, but at least the degree told me where to go for answers!
How did you end up as a writer?
It was rather serendipitous actually. I just sat down one summer and hammered out a book, just because I felt like it. I’ve always loved history, and I was living in Cambridge at the time, a city I love. It was easy to imagine what the place was like six hundred years ago, so I just wrote a book set in its ancient streets. I wasn’t thinking of getting it published, but I enjoyed doing it so much that I wrote another. Then a friend in the English Faculty at Cambridge read the first one and enjoyed it, so he set me up with his literary agent. The agent sold my books to Little, Brown, and I've been writing ever since.
Have you been back to campus since you graduated?
Just once, perhaps twenty years after I graduated. It was very different – much bigger, and I got rather lost. But the familiar old haunts were there, including my old accommodation block at Grizedale.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Lancaster University?
It’s hard to say, as I enjoyed the whole experience. I was a member of the Revue Group, and although I couldn’t act, they did give me one or two very small roles, bless them. I loved the performances and the after-show parties. I was also a member of the Jewish Society, and loved the Friday evening meals we shared. Learning from them how to prepare kosher food means that my orthodox Jewish friends actually trust me to cook for them when they come to stay, which is very flattering.
Most valuable part of your student experience?
Without a doubt, it was meeting other students, especially those from overseas. I met people from Iraq, Mauritius, India, Algeria, China, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and France. We often cooked together, and I still remember much of what they taught me – I cooked a Mauritian meal only last week for some friends. Meeting people from so many different places was both fascinating and rewarding.
Would you like to be a student again - if so, would you do it differently?
I don’t think I fancy cramming for exams again, although I wouldn’t mind sitting in on some lectures. Learning is always a delight, after all.
Who has been particularly influential in your life/career?
My husband, mostly. He is both a historian and an editor, and he has taught me to be painstaking over research and fussy over grammar and other aspects of my writing.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Chocolate. It would be a sad world without it.
What's a typical day?
Working at home means I need to be fairly disciplined, so I tend to be at the computer by 8.30 am, and I’ll typically work until 7 pm. I rise fairly early, as I have five very spoiled chickens that like to be let out and fed. When I take a break from the console, it’s rather nice to get outside into the fresh air to give the birds a treat of some grain or seeds. We live in a tiny hamlet of five houses, so it’s quiet, and good for working. It can be a bit lonely at times, but that’s a small price to pay for a fairly stress-free existence.
What makes you unhappy?
Watching the news.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I don’t know that I have a great achievement, just lots of little ones. I’m rather proud of the series of seal skulls I managed to collect for the Cambridge University Zoology Museum, as these will be used by researchers for decades to come. I like the fact that the students I supervised at Durham, Cambridge and the Open University earned their degrees. I helped to raise money to restore a medieval church in Suffolk, which means it will survive for future generations to enjoy.