Dylan H Jones writes about Anglesey, Ynys Mon, the island that inspired his Tudor Manx mysteries.
Anglesey: An Isle of Inspiration
I was attending my father’s funeral on a typically cold and rainy Anglesey day in November that the thought hit me. How, as a writer, the boundaries between real life and fiction become blurred, especially when I’m writing about a place so close to my heart; a place I still call home even though I now live several thousand miles away.
I’d written a funeral scene in my first book, Anglesey Blue, which took place on a similar windswept day. There were some details I’d got right; how the low clouds can press the day into shadow and blunt the peaks of the Snowdonia mountain range; how the wind rattling the chapel door can feel like death itself demanding to enter; how the rise and fall of a hundred Welsh voices singing Calon Lan can still create a fist-sized knot in my throat. There were some details I wish I’d included; the undertaker, top hat cradled in the crook of his arm, walking solemnly three paces in front of the funeral procession; the odd sliver of ghostly sunlight that somehow found a way to break through the clouds; the undertaker respectfully wiping the mud from the heels of our shoes before we stepped back into his long, dark limousine.
As a writer, I live and die by the details. For me, it’s what draws the reader into the story. I’m always on a quest to make my readers feel like they’re right there with me, walking in the same shoes as my characters, breathing the same air, feeling the same sting or elation of emotions. That’s why setting my Tudor Manx Mysteries on the Isle of Anglesey made perfect sense. It was a place I knew well and having lived away for the best part of thirty years I felt I had enough distance and objectivity to do the island and my characters justice.
My protagonist, Detective Inspector Tudor Manx, has lived away from Anglesey for over quarter of a century, and has only reluctantly returned to the island of his birth when he’s exhausted all his other options. He has no place else to go and coming back to face the demons of his past stirs deep emotions for Manx, as does dealing with the familiar family drama of bitter siblings and aging parents. No man is an island; but for Manx, that island is becoming increasingly challenging and precarious to navigate.
In both Anglesey Blue and Doll Face, I wanted to portray Anglesey not as some twee, throwback Welsh idyll, but as a thriving, modern island with its own share of shocking crimes, desperate characters and a thick, dark underbelly. (I’m not expecting a writing commission from the Anglesey tourist board anytime soon).
In my books, Anglesey becomes a living, breathing character; one that shifts and bends with the seasons. Winters on the island can be brutal and wild, the summers almost bucolic as the swathe of tourists occupy the caravan parks, camp sites and beaches. The tension that can sometimes arise between the locals and the holiday makers is something I’m exploring in my 3rd Tudor Manx novel. No spoilers here!
For a crime writer, it’s great material to draw from, but I have the feeling I’ve barely scratched the surface of the island. That’s probably a good thing. Each time I return I uncover something new and surprising–a new location to set a crime, a piece of ancient history that would fit perfectly into a contemporary novel.
Inspiration doesn’t always come easy, but sometimes when I’m sitting in a warm pub on a cold winter’s day looking over the swell of the ocean, or eaves dropping on a conversation, an atom of an idea forms and those blurred lines come back into focus and I ask the biggest, writerly question of them all- What If?
Dylan H. Jones is the author of Anglesey Blue and Doll Face, both published by Bloodhound Books. He was born on the Isle of Anglesey, and lives in Oakland, California with his wife Laura and daughter Isabella. He’s currently working on his third Tudor Manx novel, Shadow Soul.