Ah! Summer is now well upon us and hopefully for many that means sun, sand and relaxation. But for some writers it also means thoughts of crime, dastardly deeds and plans for future books. Certainly the case for Crime Cymru’s B E Jones ………..
Blame the Famous Five or ‘What I did on my summer holiday.’
Sea view with a spot of murder.
For some reason, holidays seem to bring out the worst in me. Every year, when summer comes and normal people’s thoughts turn to trips to the seaside, what sunscreen to buy and which t-shirts to pack, my mind always turns to murder. I suppose, being a crime writer, it’s lucky that I find inspiration in unexpected places, where other people focus on relaxing, sunbathing and taking happy holiday snaps!
I think the obsession with terrible things occurring on holiday started long before I began to write about dastardly deeds in far-flung places. My childhood breaks to the stupendously beautiful hills and seashores of Wales were largely fuelled by the exploits of The Famous Five, uncovering dastardly deeds and solving crimes before they enjoyed their rather splendid teas. Since then, I’ve never quite shaken the idea that there could be something sinister, or someone up to no good, lurking yards away from the buckets and spades and countryside nooks, every sparkling cove, crumbling castle and quaint holiday chalet making me think, what a grimly picturesque spot for a murder.
Maybe that’s why the endless skies of the Gower and Mumbles, where, as kids, we’d explore the bones of shipwrecks and follow tumbly paths to hidden coves, became the inspiration for Where She Went, my only novel with a contemporary supernatural twist – about a dead news reporter called Mel, trying to solve her own disappearance. And there are some unpleasant surfers and a caravan park, inspired by the one in Porthcawl, that’ll leave anything but sunny memories in my novel Holiday Money/Make Him Pay.
My sixth novel Wilderness followed an actual ‘dream holiday’ of mine, a road trip through the National Parks of North America, including the breath-taking red rock vistas of the Grand Canyon and the Middle Earth-like splendour of Yosemite. Instead of admiring the vistas, I had the germ of an idea while staring down from the granite dome of Glacier Point, for a story about an unhappy couple’s dream holiday turning deadly. I got the sense there was danger lurking behind the beautiful scenery (and I don’t just mean bears or coyotes) but near the precipices and unmarked trails, even behind the familiar face next to you in the car, if you don’t watch your step. That tale of the vast wilderness on the map, but also inside us, is now being adapted for TV by Firebird Pictures, as a six-part series for Amazon Prime. Starring Jenna Coleman and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, filming has just started in the US and I’m hoping to get the surreal chance to go full circle, dust off my passport and take a working holiday to see the series coming to life on set, later in the summer.
Pirates, convicts and explorers.
Of course in 2020, holiday disaster struck when we all spent our summer staying home and saving lives, thanks to the Covid lockdowns. Luckily, I was already a dozen chapters deep into my current novel The Beach House, set in the Pacific Northwest, inspired by another holiday that actually began around 1985, with Steven Spielberg’s movie The Goonies. A love of that film about pirates, buried treasure and villainous escaped convicts, set in northern Oregon, prompted us to fly to Seattle in 2019. There we explored the dinky Oregon Film Museum in the former county jail, from where the villainous Fratelli brothers made their escape, and took selfies in front of the famous sea stacks at Cannon Beach in search of One-Eyed Willy and his pirate treasure. But Goonies nostalgia quickly morphed into something different, as we drove through the dramatic Oregon landscape. There was something hard-fought and hard-won about the communities clinging to that coast, a beautiful yet brutal forested landscape that dips down to the boiling Pacific.
As we continued our journey, we learned about the first western ‘settlers’ of the region, the early pioneers like Lewis and Clarke, literally hacking their way along the Oregon trail through starvation and dysentery. They spent a winter at the marvellously, miserably-named ‘Dismal Nitch’ on the banks of the Columbia River, south of Astoria, searching for the western expanse of the Pacific shore, close by places with equally evocative names, like Cape Disappointment and Knife Creek, just crying out to be included in a crime novel.
Weapons of Choice
As a story took hold, it struck me that the Oregon coast was exactly the sort of place people might end up if they were trying to hide or reinvent themselves. Like Grace, an up-and-coming architect, building a beach house she calls her ‘clean slate’ and fresh start, until she comes home one day to discover that an unexpected visitor has left her three gifts – a knife, a rope and a pair of handcuffs on her worktop, oh, and a body on the kitchen floor.
Since I’ve been grounded for two years, this summer I’ll need to find inspiration for my next novel closer to home. But I’ve already got high hopes for murdering people in the Lake District in Cumbria. Not sure if William Wordsworth would approve of me planning to kill people in full view of his host of golden daffodils, but you never know when inspiration will strike!
You can find The Beach House and Wilderness/The Perfect Break here, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wilderness-B-Jones/dp/1472127943
and look out for the Wilderness TV show streaming on Amazon Prime in 2023.