In Profile: Edith Pargeter
Better known as Ellis Peters, the author of the Brother Cadfael novels, Edith Pargeter was born in 1913 at Horsehay, Shropshire. From humble beginnings she went on to write novels that have enchanted readers around the world.
She was educated at Dawley Church of England School and the old Coalbrookdale High School for Girls. Through her mother, she grew to love the history and landscape of Shropshire which remained her home for all of her life.
She was a keen writer from an early age, writing verse at the age of seven and contributing articles to the school magazine as a teenager.
She had a varied career before writing full time. Her first job was a temporary Labour Exchange clerk and later, she worked as a chemist's assistant at Dawley. It is from here that she gathered useful information on medicines that she would draw upon later when tackling crime stories.
All her spare time was taken up with writing. Her first short story appeared in a national magazine in 1936, the same year as her first novel Hortensius Friend of Nero, was released.
However, Pargeter was not an instant success. Her first novel was a rather dry tale of martyrdom that was not warmly received. She persevered however and The City Lies Foursquare, which was published in 1939, was far more successful.
In 1940 she became a wartime Wren in Liverpool, for which she received the British Empire Medal. Many more novels appeared at this time including Ordinary People (1941) and She Goes to War (1942), the latter based on her own wartime experiences.
In 1947 she visited Czechoslovakia, and became fascinated by the Czech people and their way of life. This resulted in the novel Fair Young Phoenix. It also led to her learning the Czech language and becoming a translator of Czech prose and poetry. She was awarded the Gold Medal of the Czechoslovak Society for International Relations for her services to Czech literature.
But it's for her mystery stories that she is best known, and she began writing these in 1951 with Fallen into the Pit in which Sergeant George Felse makes his first appearance as investigating officer.
Her other famous character, the one for which she will continue to be remembered, Brother Cadfael, was to follow many years later.
His first appearance at Shrewsbury Abbey was in A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977) which was inspired after the read about the bones of St Winifred.
Brother Cadfael mixed his herbs and solved mysteries in this atmospheric setting for a further nineteen novels. This kept the author busy for the next 18 years until her death in 1995.
The name Ellis Peters was adopted by Edith Pargeter to clearly mark a division between her mystery stories and her other work. Her brother was Ellis and Petra was friend from Czechoslovakia.
She won awards for her writing from both the British Crime Writers Association and the Mystery Writers of America. She was also awarded an OBE and an honorary Masters Degree from Birmingham University.
There is a memorial to her in Shrewsbury Abbey.
last updated: 08/07/2008 at 15:09