This week we have another “Six of One” – where authors pick out six things which have influenced their writing or career in some way This time it’s the turn of Crime Cymru’s Thorne Moore
One book: I could name a hundred books that have had a profound effect on me from an early age, and which must have influenced my desire to write and my writing itself. Books like The Silver Sword, or The Tombs of Atuan, or later The Bell by Iris Murdoch. But sticking to crime, the one that really shook me up was A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine. It starts with a girl waking early and watching the clock, dealing with her emotions as the moment approaches when she knows her aunt will be hanged. The rest of the book deals with the complications of family and relationships that culminated in a murder and an execution and then the ramifications for the surviving members of the family through the following decades. Reading it, I first realised that crime fiction didn’t have to be a simple detective novel, dealing with who and how, but could concentrate solely on why, the long gestation and the never-ending human consequences. And it’s a brilliant evocation of a past era of shame and propriety and home baking.
One TV series: My first introduction to Scandi noir and Fair isle sweaters, The Killing (Forbrydelsen), the only time (apart from the film Tampopo) when I have been able to overcome my irritation with subtitles. All good, but especially the first series which, despite being theoretically a police procedural, delves so deeply into the complicated lives and emotions of everyone concerned that I emerged from each episode feeling wrung out, desperate to know what happened next, and unable to stop thinking about it. Plus there was the brilliant acting and the atmospheric filming.
One film: In complete contrast to The Killing, in every possible way, my favourite film of all time falls firmly in the crime category. Kind Hearts and Coronets. Maybe it wouldn’t win an award for cinematography, but everything else about it is exquisite, especially the script written with a scalpel dipped in acid, every line a quotable gem. It’s the perfect black comedy, making mock of class, manners and morals, as Louis Mazzini (played by Dennis Price who also plays Mazzini senior), works his murderous way through the eight members of the D’Ascoyne family who stand between him and the Dukedom of Chalfont (all eight members played by Alec Guiness), only to find himself convicted of one murder he didn’t commit. As a principle, I see murder as a matter of destructive misery, but it is very enjoyable, occasionally, to see it as a matter of ironic humour.
One writer: As a crime writer, who else could I choose but Jane Austen? Well, it has been suggested that Emma was the first detective novel (feel free to disagree on that one.) There’s no one like her. If you slog through the long-winded, rambling verbosity of most of the novelists who came before and after her, through to the end of the nineteenth century, you have to wonder what alien planet produced her. Her vocabulary is simple, her construction so precise that she can say in one sentence what other writers would need at least a paragraph to convey, if not an entire chapter. Her characters are portrayed with swift strokes and little elaboration, and although some are wicked caricatures, others can seem unnervingly similar to people around us today. Without being in the least bit didactic, she holds up human behaviour for inspection, with a genteel, but not at all gentle, irony. Her books are often classed as romances, but they are really about finding compromises between individual desires and social pressures, all founded on brutal economic realities.
As Auden put it:
You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle-class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society…
One incident: I love houses, the older the better. They resonate with the history of everyone who has lived there. And if they predate the hospitals of the National Health Service, they almost certainly resonate with death as well as life. Having spent some time in Kent, I have visited a lot of old houses in the area – including the 700 year old Ightham Mote, which is not to be missed. I usually prefer to wander around such places alone, soaking it up, but on one visit I joined a guided tour. We were being shepherded through from one room to another when the guide remarked, in passing, “And this was where the skeleton of a woman was found, walled up behind the panelling.” I think it was the casual way she said it that struck me most, as if a walled-up skeleton was exactly what you’d expect to find behind any panelling in any old house. The guide hurried on and I wasn’t close enough to jump on her and say “Hang on a minute, you can’t just leave it like that. Please explain.” So I had to do my research later, and sure enough I came across the details. In the 1870s, workmen removed some panelling (or maybe a small door) and found the skeleton of a young woman, crouching (or maybe sitting in a chair). Theories abounded. One was that she was Dame Dorothy Selby who betrayed the Gunpowder plot and who was walled up in punishment by her relatives – slightly improbable, since she’s actually buried, many years after the plot, in the nearby church. Another theory is that she was a servant, seduced by the local priest and walled up to prevent a scandal. Also improbably, since churches have never had any trouble covering up their priests’ naughtiness, without having to resort to burying girls alive. It remains a mystery with all sorts of possibilities and helped to inspire my novel Shadows. On a disappointing note, there is no record of what happened to the skeleton, if it really was found. It might just be a myth. Still good stuff though – except for the woman.
One place: North Pembrokeshire, which is where I live. It’s quite distinct from the southern part of the country, which is not only Little England beyond Wales in terms of language and culture, but even in geography. It’s open country, occasionally industrial (but not a lot), with major roads and railways, proper towns, English churches, holiday resorts. But take a drive up from Haverfordwest, over the hills to Bwlch-Gwynt, between Foel Eryr and the Golden Road along the ridge of the Preselis, and what I call the Kingdom of Cemaes is spread out before you, out to the Teifi valley. All sweeping moorland, deep wooded valleys, a patchwork of tiny fields and forests, Neolithic tombs, little Celtic churches and forgotten Norman castles. And the sea or rather ocean, framing it, the shore a web of towering cliffs, caves and sweeping sand. I used to work for a while in Haverfordwest, and every day, when I drove home, no matter the weather, even in driving rain, I would catch my breath as I came over Bwlch-Gwynt. (This could be my one piece of music too, as I would always be listening to The Lark Ascending). It’s an area isolated physically and temporally. It had industry once, and railways, and ships once sailed to America from Cardigan, but now more recent history seems to have slithered away, leaving the bones of ancient times poking through the surface. This is where the bluestones of Stonehenge came from and they are still humming under the turf. Since I like to give my fiction roots in history, I find it very easy to be inspired why this place, where history is inescapable.
Thorne has had nine novels published in all (two of them Science Fiction). Her crime novels include A Time For Silence, which reached the Bookseller top ten list, and its prequel, The Covenant, two novels, Shadows and Long Shadows, set in the same Welsh house over a period of 700 years, and two books, Motherlove and The Unravelling, set in a fictional version of Luton. Her latest crime novel, Fatal Collision, set in Pembrokeshire again, was published by Diamond Crime, in March 2022
Website and blog: https://thornemoore.com/
Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/thornemoorenovelist
Amazon page: www.amazon.co.uk/Thorne-Moore/e/B00DWY0OZC