In this feature, we ask our Crime Cymru authors to name six things that influenced their life and shaped them as a writer. This week Chris LLoyd gives us a fascinating insight into his background and chooses what I agree is the greatest film of all time
I was in a car crash. My parents were driving me to the airport when a horse box we were overtaking on the motorway ran out of control. Our car was trapped at 70mph between the central barrier and the horsebox. As the vehicle got nearer and filled my vision from where I sat in the passenger seat, I didn’t expect to survive. The only thought I remember having was that I hoped it wouldn’t hurt too much.
But we survived. Not just survived, we were completely untouched. Our car was a write-off. The front axle had snapped in two and both the front and rear wings were mangled. The door handles had been ripped off, but the doors had stayed shut. The door panels had risen fifteen centimetres up the windows, but the glass hadn’t shattered. Even the roof was dented. But we were untouched.
The police came and went, and my mum and dad and I sat on the grass verge for an hour looking at the wreck, waiting for the car to be towed away and us to be taken home. It was a beautiful day. We spoke of all things but the accident and I still remember it as one of the closest moments I ever had with my parents. And as we spoke and I missed my flight, I took my watch off and I’ve never worn one since. So if I often don’t seem to know what time it is, now you know why.
I lived in Catalonia for over twenty years and it formed me as an adult. I studied Spanish and French for my degree, and I knew France fairly well from family holidays, but Spain was a complete unknown quantity to me. And when I went to Girona as a student on my year abroad, I had even less of an idea about Catalonia, its language, its history and its culture. But I went there when I was twenty and I felt like I’d come home. There was an immediacy to the welcome I received and a passion in their own culture, denied to the Catalans for so long under Franco, that captivated me. I found a spirit and a pride in being a small nation that I felt we’d lost at that time in Wales, and I fell head over heels in love. I was supposed to be learning Spanish, but I fell under the spell of the Catalan language and spent all my time mastering that. Two months after graduating, I was back in Girona, then after a brief spell in the Basque Country – which I also loved – I moved to Barcelona, and the start of a love affair that has still not diminished all these years later. It was my city. It was unique and universal. Even at a distance, it still feels like my other home, a place where I found a truer, less inhibited, version of myself, where living in another language allowed me to hide my self-doubts and where a world opened up to me in my mind and my writing. An exiled Catalan president once called me an adopted son of Catalonia, and a friend dubbed me a ‘Catalan from Wales’, which are two of the finest compliments I treasure. And Wales? I’m so glad to say that I now find that same spirit I fell in love with in Catalonia all those years ago here in Wales. Crime Cymru is a powerful reflection of that.
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
If I had to pick out the moment that I decided I wanted to be a writer, it would be when I read this wonderful book. My mum gave me a copy when I was about ten and I was hooked. Hooked on reading even more than I already was and hooked on writing and the idea of writing. If you don’t know the story – and without giving too much away – it’s about the various members of a Polish family who are split up when fleeing Warsaw in World War Two and their struggle to find their way back to each other and the people they meet along the way. Looking back, I think that what affected me about the book was the way it told a powerful and universal story through the individual tales of its protagonists. How a bigger picture can be explained through a careful choice of the tiny component parts. It’s a lesson every writer learns.
Between house moves and life, I lost my copy some years ago, which was heart-breaking. Except, on our last house move in August of last year, I suddenly found it again tucked away behind another book on a shelf. I hadn’t seen it in years. It was a genuinely calm and happy moment amid the tumult of selling a house in lockdown. And where is it now? It’s in a box somewhere in our new house. I don’t know which one, but I know it’s here and I know it’s safe, and that’s good enough.
Amnesty International – Barcelona, 1988
I’ve been lucky enough to be at some great concerts with some great bands, but for the sheer event and venue, the gig of a lifetime has to be the Amnesty International concert in Barcelona’s Camp Nou football stadium in 1988. I was on the pitch, less than twenty metres from the stage – it was so near that the screens either side were too high and too close to see. One of the most extraordinary experiences was simply looking around at the stands, filled with people, towering above me – I could see how both uplifting and intimidating it would be to the players on the opposing team at a football match. Some of the acts weren’t my favourite, some were. One, at least, was one of my all-time favourites. There was Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, Sting and Tracy Chapman – I’ll let you decide who my favourites are. There was a Catalan band that I love – El Último de la Fila – who were on top form that day, and there was the final act… SPRINGSTEEN. In case you hadn’t guessed, he’s the all-time favourite. By the time Bruce and the E Street Band came on, we’d been there in the Barcelona May heat for eight hours and we were fading. They’d turned the hoses on us earlier and I’d never felt so grateful at being drenched – you could see the steam rising off the people around you – but eight hours are eight hours. Only, that’s when Springsteen came on and played another three hours that went by in a flash. Even drenched and steaming, I could have stayed for more. If you’ve ever seen Springsteen live, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, there’s still time.
This was one of those noir classics that I used to watch every year, but I’ve recently realised that that’s not the best way to savour every sublime moment. For some reason, I hadn’t watched it for a few years, and when I finally got around to it last Christmas, it felt like seeing it almost for the first time. All the powerful and unique scenes were still there and still familiar, but I’d forgotten to appreciate just how word-perfect they were, just what a unique and wonderfully-written, -directed and -acted film it was. The distance had restored all of its beauty to me – the emotional tension between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the witty cat-and-mouse between Bogart and Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt, the throat-catching La Marseillaise scene, the despair in Paris. And as for that ending… There’s a perverse part of me that hopes it will never be bettered.
You know when you were a kid, you’d always save the best till last? Well, last in this list, but always first, is my wonderful wife Liz. The first book in any series I write is always dedicated to her and the last acknowledgment in every book is always devoted to her. So much of my ability to write is thanks to her support and belief in me. She’s my rock and my island, my safe home and my reckless adventure. We met when I lived in Barcelona and she lived in Madrid. She was my trans-Iberian crush, but then my job took me to Madrid and she asked me out because I would never have plucked up the courage to ask her out, and I have never been so grateful for anything before or since. We’ve been together for thirty-one years and worked from home together for over twenty of those and the highlights of the day are still coming together for a cup of tea or glass of wine to talk about how our day is going and a long walk in the evening to dust off the cobwebs and say hello again. She reads every piece of writing I ask her to and gives honest opinions, she tells me off when I’m worrying too much and picks me up when I need it. And she always knows instinctively when wine or a cwtch is called for. She’s my first and last.
Chris Lloyd hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia and stayed there for over twenty years. He has also lived in Grenoble – researching the French Resistance movement – as well as in the Basque Country and Madrid, where he taught English and worked in educational publishing and as a travel writer. He now lives in South Wales and is a translator and award-winning novelist.
He writes the Eddie Giral series, featuring a Paris police detective under the Nazi Occupation. The first book, The Unwanted Dead, won the HWA Gold Crown Award for best historical novel of the year and was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger Award for the best historical crime fiction.
The second book, Paris Requiem,will be published in August 2022.