Hyperactive Elizabeth Revill has packed much into her life, but still found time to write. Now a successful author, she talks to Alison Jones.
Elizabeth Revill bumped into an old school friend recently. The two began reminiscing, as old schoolmates do, over their years spent at Bartley Green Girl’s Grammar.
Elizabeth’s pal had been the studious type, too intent on her studies to make time for much else.
“Not like me at all,” says Elizabeth. “I was singing with the band, in this play or that play. I was always doing something. I belonged to the choir, played in the school teams.
“She said ‘I always envied you in school. You always had so much fun’.
“And I did. It was a great school. I loved the teachers and made fabulous, lifelong friends.”
This hyperactivity is a trait she has carried through to adulthood. She carved out a career as an actress but when motherhood demanded a more stable lifestyle than that of the theatrical gypsy, she switched to teaching.
However, she continued to add more strings to her creative bow and took up writing.
She started with a thriller called Killing Me Softly, which became the first in a trilogy set in her native Birmingham.
Though she now lives on a farm in north Devon, with her husband, she often returns to the city to see friends.
Elizabeth’s most recent book, Shadows on the Moon, is the second in another trilogy, which started with Whispers on the Wind and will conclude with Rainbows in the Clouds.
The heroine is Carrie Llewellyn, a young Welsh girl who loses her mum, sees her dad turn to the bottle before burning half his face on hot coals, suffers horrific abuses at the hands of the farmworker who manages to con her father into signing away the family acres, and finally leaves to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, training first in Birmingham and then working in London.
It is probably Elizabeth’s most personal story, as much of her insight into nursing comes from her own mother’s experiences. Her father was consulted to ensure the Welsh colloquialisms that pepper the text were correct.
“My family is Welsh on both sides and are Welsh speaking. My dad took a teaching job in Birmingham and that’s where I was born and brought up.
“My mother was a great raconteur, as is my father. I remember hearing so many things at their knees and thinking ‘Gosh, I must write this down some day’ and they crept into Shadows on the Moon.”
Her mother started her training at Aberystwyth Maternity Unit before moving to Birmingham’s Dudley Road Hospital.
She then relocated to war torn London, which will feature heavily in the next novel.
“My mother was one of six nurses who was bombed during the Blitz.
“She was buried under the rubble and protected five other nurses who were beneath her. She was on top. A patient dug them out and got awarded the George Medal for saving their lives.”
Elizabeth taught history when she was raising her son and was able to draw on that when writing about the outbreak of war. Although a number of her parents’ anecdotes have been incorporated into the tale, it is largely fictional. The protagonists endure torrid times and tragedy, though the tenacious Carrie rises above it all.
“Whispers on the Wind is a burning passionate story, “ says Elizabeth. “I don’t know where it came from. It just poured out of me. It was an adventure for me as well as the reader.
“The second part, Shadows or the Moon, was a little bit more controlled and disciplined.”
Some scenes are difficult to read and were tricky to write but Elizabeth defends the explicit paragraphs as being necessary to illustrate the darker side of the characters’ natures – which includes Carrie’s brother’s incestuous feelings towards her.
“I think all these issues are important, having taught and been the confident of a number of pupils. There was a girl I knew who was abused very badly at home and she confided in me.
“Things get buried, get forgotten or get twisted. It is important to be aware there are these problems in society.
“I never shy away from anything like that but I never put anything into my novels unless it is absolutely essential, not gratuitous.”
One of the characters in Shadows on the Moon becomes an actress, entertaining the troops, and Elizabeth used her own experiences in theatre to guide her words.
She grew up in Egbaston and, after training as a teacher in London, returned here to attend Birmingham School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art.
“I have done masses of TV and radio. I had a contract with the BBC and was with the radio repertory company, so we were churning out plays. I did stage work at the Birmingham Rep, the Belgrade in Coventry, Second City First – a fringe company in Birmingham. I also did tours.”
Her Welsh heritage led to her being cast in a Welsh sitcom called “What The Hell Do You Want Lavinia?” with Ruth Madoc and Stan Stennett, as “a busty featherhead” called Desdemona.
Other roles saw her playing a temptress in Fearless Frank opposite Leonard Rossiter and the White Witch on stage in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
“Most of my television life I was told I couldn’t be boxed. I had a director who if ever he was stuck for casting someone he would call me because he knew I could play anything.
“He told me ‘You are too versatile for your own good. No one thinks of you and thinks of one specific role’.
“I think the theatre training helps when I write. It means I can be all the characters and direct it as well.”
She has also written a number of plays under her married name, Liz Spear.
When her son Ben – who is now 30, a trained actor and who has also written his first book – was a baby, she could take him with her on tour. After he started school, she decided to return to the classroom as well and accepted a teaching post.
She still yearned to be creative and took up her childhood passion for writing, initially writing stories for her pupils’ projects.
“I was hooked! I just had this burning desire to write and once I started I couldn’t stop.”
They say we all have a book in us but Elizabeth seems to have entire library.
She took a break from the saga of the Llewellyns to dash off a historical novel, Against The Tide. Set in 1796, it is about a riding officer bent on avenging his father’s death at the hands of cutthroats. She is part way through a suspense thriller and has started Rainbows in the Clouds.
“I always have more than one project on the go. If I do hit a brick wall, which isn’t very often, I’ll switch to one of the others and then suddenly things slot into my head and I can go back to the original.
“Some of the stories never get finished and just get tossed to one side, but I find it helps.”
A New York producer has optioned a number of her screenplays and persuaded her to adapt Whispers on the Wind into a feature film.
Now though it is being pitched to the BBC and Elizabeth is hopeful, following the success of similar period drama Call the Midwife, that it will be picked up.
She is already toying with the idea of casting, though she accepts that her first choice to play Carrie’s duplicitous Aunt Netta – Catherine Zeta Jones – might be above the BBC’s pay grade.
“I rather fancy Rob Brydon as Carrie’s father, Brynley.”
But does she see a part for herself?
“I would be more than happy to play Aunt Annie, the down-to-earth, warm character part. They were always my favourites.”
* Shadows on the Moon by Elizabeth Revill, Belvedere Publishing, £8.99 Available online at Amazon.co.uk and by order from all good book retailers.