This is the first in an occasional series on Wales as a setting for crime fiction.
Cheryl Rees-Price writes about the inspiration of her locality for the settings of her books.
When writing the first book in the DI Winter Meadows series I could think of no better place to set the book than Wales. A place with bleak landscapes, dark brooding skies, and small close-knit communities. I guess it’s not so different from the settings found in popular Scandi crime fiction.
I grew up in the Amman valley, so I know the area well. Although I base the location of my books on this area I have changed the names of the villages. Firstly, because I did not want to cause offence by using a well-known building or area as a scene of crime, secondly, I could unwittingly ignite some gossip, particularly as there are some colourful characters where I live, and lastly, it gave me more scope when writing, I can create buildings and add roads. Although some of the setting are fictitious readers have commented that they can still recognise the areas featured in my book
The first in the series, The Silent Quarry, is set in a disused quarry. Such a quarry exists and is close to my home. There was a murder there in the 1970’s which gives the place an unnerving atmosphere. There was also speculation that the book was about the historical murder when it was first released. The story however bears no resemblance to the actual murder and I found myself explaining on more than one occasion that the book is just fiction.
Wales has a relatively low crime rate, particularly in rural areas where close knit communities still exist with many families living in the area for generations. People know each other and will pick out a stranger. You can’t go to the post office without stopping for a chat. It’s a safe place to live. So, I thought to set a crime novel in this area would make it seem more shocking than in a city. People find it hard to believe that a crime such as murder could happen in their community and one of their own could be responsible.
This was the case with the child killer Harold Jones. In 1921 Harold Jones aged just fifteen murdered 8-year-old Freda Burnell for no apparent reason. When he was arrested the community was in uproar, they couldn’t believe that a child, and someone from their own community would commit such a heinous crime. They stood by him and when he was acquitted he came home to a hero’s welcome with people lining the streets and cheering.
Just 17 days later he murdered 11-year-old Florence Little. When he was again arrested the community was outraged, but not because they had been duped by Harold Jones, they couldn’t believe the same thing was happening to the poor boy again. They insisted that it must be a stranger, someone from outside the community. This time Harold Jones confessed to both murders, as his 16th birthday was approaching he wanted a quick trial to avoid the hangman’s noose.
I have tried to capture the spirit of the Welsh communities in my books and encompass the shock, speculation, and fear that follows a violent crime. Fortunately for me the only crime to occur in my home village is that in my imagination.