The writer I mentioned yesterday as having been born in Abergavenny was Ethel Lina White. It’s fairly safe to say that Ethel’s is not a household name – yet perhaps it should be. For she was the author of the books that sourced two extremely successful films. Some Must Watch became the movie The Spiral Staircase, while The Wheel Spins became one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated films, The Lady Vanishes.
White was born in the Welsh town in 1876. Apparently, her early work was mainly in the short form, and she wrote three non-crime novels, before moving into the genre at the age of 55. She gave up her job in the Ministry of Pensions to write full-time, and the gamble ultimately paid.off.
Her work is (roughly) in the tradition of the American Mary Roberts Rinehart, sometimes unflatteringly known as the Had-I-But-Known school. Her main focus is on women in jeopardy, and in that respect at least, you might say that she was a literary forerunner of fine modern writers such as Nicci French and Sophie Hannah.
Despite the success of some of her novels, others remain obscure, and I’m quite interested in hunting them down. Even though it is very different from Hitchcock’s great film, The Wheel Spins is a very good story. White, who died in 1944, was skilled at building suspense, and although her work is, perhaps inevitably, rather dated, I think she deserves to be better known. She is one of the most successful Welsh crime writers of all time.