Henriette Gyland grew up in Northern Denmark but moved to England after she graduated from the University of Copenhagen. She wrote her first book when she was ten, a tale of two orphan sisters running away to Egypt, fortunately to be adopted by a perfect family they meet on the Orient Express.
Between that first literary exploit and now, she has worked in the Danish civil service, for a travel agent, a consultancy company, in banking, hospital administration, and for a county court before setting herself up as a freelance translator and linguist. Henriette recently began to pursue her writing in earnest winning the New Talent Award in 2011 from the Festival of Romance and a Commended from the Yeovil Literary Prize.
Henriette is married to the grandson of the illustrator Edward Ardizzone, and lives with her family in London.
Below is a Q&A with the author.
How would you describe your novel?
It's a hybrid between crime and romance, sometimes known as romantic suspense or psychological thriller. There's an element of why-dunnit as well as who-dunnit, in addition to love and loss. The heroine Helen suffers from epilepsy so the story also deals with feeling isolated and ostracised, but the main theme is one of memory. This is reflected in the reference to elephants, both in the title and the book itself – the myth about elephants is that they remember everything, which provides a contrast to Helen's own fragmented memories.
What gave you the inspiration for the story?
The story is partly inspired by a real-life crime. In the book Helen is present when her mother is murdered, but she's a young child at the time and suffers an epileptic seizure while this is taking place. This gave me a chance to explore the theme of the unreliable witness. How much did she actually see, and can her interpretation be trusted? Can she even trust herself?
Where and how do you write?
I concentrate best away from the computer and distractions such as email, and write in long-hand. Technically that means I can write anywhere, although I do have a few favourite places, often the sofa when everyone else is out of the house. In spring, summer, and early autumn I sit in the garden, usually wrapped in a fleece or a long cardigan. This summer I've been wearing my cardigan a lot! Then there are local cafés and the library where, strangely, the hustle and bustle enables me to switch off from the world.
Who do you base your characters on?
I never base my characters on real people, although the hero in my first novel bears a striking resemblance to our window cleaner! I tend to “hear” my characters in my head, their voices and thoughts etc., and then piece together a mental picture of them. However, the hero Jason in this book popped into my head complete with a Musketeers-style goatee. Helen I pictured in her Goan setting at the start of the main story, and by coincidence – or perhaps a subliminal message? – she ended up looking a little like Franka Potente in The Bourne Supremacy. I think it was the setting which did it.
What three things would you take if you were to be stranded on a desert island?
I couldn't do without pen and paper (I'm taking the liberty of including two items into one category here). I would also bring my well-thumbed copy of Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. I read this book every 2-3 years or so and always discover something new in it. Perhaps my copy magically rewrites itself between reads...? Also, I'd take lots of Earl Grey tea which would provide a link to civilisation. As long as there's tea, I can live on fish stewed in mango juice, no problem.
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