Eamonn Griffin explains why Wales is so well suited to dastardly deeds.
It’s a good place for a killing, Wales. And not only because the country’s got more than its fair share of forests, ravines, abandoned mines, quarries and old factory sites, not to mention desolate beaches, that make excellent potential sites for a body dump, neither. Though the country has all of these and more.
No. Part of the reason why Wales can offer excellent settings is in its diversity of Welshness. Rural locations? Check. Cities? Yep. Affluent communities? Yes. Run-down towns? Absolutely. Touristy ruggedness? No shortage. Concrete post-industrial hellscapes? There’s one or two. Wales offers a bit of everything, and often in close proximity.
We’re used in fiction to the usual settings. London, perhaps inevitably, figures large. Ditto other major cities associated with different detectives: the Edinburgh of John Rebus, Harry Bosch’s LA. Wales, though, is comparatively under-used. Cardiff-based folk will chuckle at the ways that Doctor Who recycles the same few locations for different episodes, but that’s about it.
Wales, basically, is open for crime (and other genre) fiction business. The country offers all the locations you might ever wish for, and they each bring with them a little freshness. That helps the reader because there’s a different experience being offered, whether the reader has Welsh connections themselves and is enjoying having that reflected in fiction, or whether they like the idea of somewhere a little off the well-worn path.
Full disclosure: I’m not Welsh. I lived in Wales for a few years in the mid to late 1980s, and I returned to settle a couple of years back. And so when I was thinking for location for a book I’m working on at the minute, I ransacked my own past for a suitable setting. And came up with somewhere Welsh.
A little context. I’m near the beginning of what’ll hopefully be a series of noir thrillers. The first in the sequence, East of England, was published in January 2019. Now, I’m working on two sequels. The books are set in Lincolnshire in the mid-1980s, but one of them takes the protagonist – a debt collector named Dan Matlock – out of the county on an errand he’s obligated to complete. I needed a somewhere for him to go to that represented both a large enough physical distance from home and somewhere very different in feel from the East coast of England. This meant working with what I’ve got as a writer; my own experiences. From this came the ideal setting for the journey’s destination and from that for the intended climax of the book.
It could be anywhere, but it needed to be somewhere both researchable and accessible memory-wise; somewhere there’s plenty of photos online would be perfect. Anyway, it’s somewhere I’ve been in the past and somewhere I can reconstruct for fictional purposes. And yep, as I said above, it’s in Wales.
I’m fond of a run-down seaside resort, and Wales has its share of those too, as well as the ones that have a bit of bustle to them, or – like Abersoch – attract the yacht and jumper-draped-over-the shoulders sort. But it’s peeling paintwork and the lingering smell of over-fried onions that I’m going for. Plus it’s a place that I’ve not seen too often in fiction (it crops up on telly occasionally), and that holds some interest too. So in a few weeks’ time, I’ll be exploring Barry Island for the first time in thirty years when I get to first-drafting the scenes that are set there.
And yep, there might just be a killing.