Every week we feature a Q&A with one of our Crime Cymru authors so that they can tell us a little bit about themselves. This week, Chris Lloyd talks about his influences and his books.
Give us a brief introduction to you.
I was born in an ambulance and my first cot was an old suitcase, which I think explains a lot. Then we went to live in West Africa before my parents decided it was time to come home to Wales. When it was my turn to fly the nest, I lived in France and Spain, spending over twenty years in Catalonia, before returning once again to this country. I write a crime series set in my beloved Catalonia, featuring Elisenda Domènech, a police officer with the devolved Catalan police, and I spend my daylight hours working as a freelance Catalan and Spanish translator. In the meantime, I’m also writing a new crime series set in another of my favourite cities, but more of that later.
Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people?
Although, on the whole, the characters and events are imagined, I like fiction that is anchored in reality. Because of this, I prefer to set stories in real settings, often using recognisable situations, such as an election, so that readers can identify more easily with the action – this is especially important as I set the books in a place that might be unfamiliar to a lot of readers, so I have to make sure that the events and the characters resonate with the reader in some way. Also, because I try to go for this realism, the stories are influenced by real events and situations, even though they’re not necessarily based on anything specific. Having said all that, I’m writing a new series now that very much takes real events – and the occasional real person – as its backdrop, which is essential to the stories and the behaviour of the characters.
If you like to write to music – what do you choose and why?
I can’t write at all with music on in the background. I need complete silence and will even swelter in a room with the windows shut rather than be disturbed by any noise from outside. What I do like doing, though, is playing music before a writing session. I have a piece of music for each main character, which I play before writing a scene with them in to get me onto their wavelength. For the central character, I have several pieces of music, depending on the frame of mind I want them to be in during the scene. Elisenda works well to Sopa de Cabra, a band from Girona. Àlex, her moody sergeant, hates music, so his piece is one of Elisenda’s favourites, which puts him on edge – just how I want him.
Can you visualise your characters? If so – which actors would play your two favourites?
I have a very clear picture in my head of my characters, and they’re sometimes made up of composites of friends or people I know. Visualising them and how they move and their individual gestures helps me understand what makes them tick and how they interact with other characters. What I can’t do, though, is imagine any specific actor playing them – I’m worried that that would mean I’d end up being too influenced by the roles the actor plays and unwittingly adapting the character to suit the actor.
Do you like to reflect a sense of place in your stories? If so, how/where?
Place is extremely important in my stories. My idea is that the books should tell a universal story that strikes a chord with people anywhere, but that the stories themselves and the characters could only be told in that one place. In the first book in the Elisenda series, City of Good Death, the murders are all linked to local legends, which are in turn linked to specific sites in Girona, but in their aberrant way, the killer is using this specificity to try and say something that is relevant to modern culture and society everywhere.
How does the location of the story impact on your characters?
The characters are made by the location. The stories are set in Girona, a small Catalan city steeped in history and with a profound awareness of its traditions and history, and the characters have been formed by the city and their relationship with it. Elisenda represents the dark and mysterious streets of the old town, tradition mixed with a shade of rebellion. Àlex is one of the modern flats in the new town, a newcomer to the city, unaware of the city’s past. Other characters are from different parts of the city: the first wave of labour from Spain living in working-class suburbs, grand old family houses in the highest part of the old town, suburbs that were once separate villages overcome by the spread of the city, the newly-rich in an expansive sprawl beyond the limits. All of this is set within the bigger picture of Catalonia and its desire to maintain its identity and the internal and external conflicts this can create.
Do you do your research strictly online, or talk to professionals in the field or a mixture of both?
I do a variety of types of research. Since I write about places where I don’t – or no longer – live, the internet is really useful for checking up on geography and anything that’s going on locally that might be useful for the stories. Whenever I can, though, I try and spend some time in the settings for my books, as there’s nothing like walking the streets where my characters live to get a feel for them – I like to sense the same things they see, hear and smell. Visiting the places is also very useful for finding minor scenes and characters that add authenticity and atmosphere to the stories. For the Elisenda books, I was in contact quite a lot with the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, who were very helpful and answered all my increasingly bizarre questions about how they operate.
If you’ve spent time researching for your book, how difficult is it to not overload the reader?
There’s a fine line between building on a basis of research and flooding the poor reader with fact after fact. The aim is to use the research to intrigue, not to engulf, which can often be difficult when you’re writing about a different society from your own or your readers’: the challenge is to try and show a new culture without having the characters over-explaining or the reader wondering what on earth is going on. And that doesn’t always work – I wrote 17,000 words of the first Elisenda story before realising I had to scrap it all and start again because I’d thrown in every piece of research I’d ever done. I hope I’ve found the balance since then.
What annoying words do you always use too much when writing and then have to find a way of replacing them?
Whenever my characters aren’t muttering, they’re murmuring. I once counted how many times the two words came up in a draft and I was shocked at how often I used them – I had this image of a bookful of people mumbling quietly to each other, not having a clue what anyone was saying. It took an inordinate amount of time and thought to try and find different ways of expressing it. The other thing they all do is shrug or sigh, usually just before they start their muttering and murmuring.
Can you tell us about your work in progress/next book idea?
That favourite city I mentioned in my first answer… I’m currently taking a break from the Elisenda stories to write a new series set in Paris. Not just Paris, but 1940s Paris, under the Nazi occupation, so I still haven’t made things easier for myself when it comes to research. The first book will be published in September 2020 by Orion and is called The Unwanted Dead – the series features Eddie Giral, a French police detective trying to steer a path through the occupation while still doing his job. In the first book, unable to do anything about the occupiers in his city, he does the only thing he can do – investigate, looking for the murderer of four Polish refugees found gassed inside a railway truck. At the moment, I’m writing the second book, which sees Eddie take on the organised criminal gangs that worked in collusion with German military intelligence.
Read more about Chris Lloyd.
To get some of Chris’s books, follow the link here to his Amazon page.