This week we have a special Q&A with Gwyneth Steddy, winner of the English-language competition in the Nofel Gyntaf Crime Cymru First Novel Prize
Congratulations, Gwyneth, on winning the English-language competition in the Gwobr Nofel Gyntaf Crime Cymru First Novel Prize! Your winning entry, Do Sleeping Dogs Lie?, has gone on to be published by Diamond Crime which is a fantastic achievement. Can you tell us a little about the story?
It’s essentially a cold case story. My main protagonist, Malcolm Bell, has retired from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He was a DI and worked in Omagh for all of his career. He is now living in Portrush with his wife, but he is bored. Retirement isn’t quite working out the way he thought it would. He is asked to investigate something in the past that has been bothering another retired couple, who also come from West Tyrone. Along the way he is assisted by people that he wouldn’t ever have come across in his professional career. However, the more Malcolm investigates, unbeknown to him, the greater the danger into which he is lead.
The novel is set in present-day Northern Ireland and explores the impact of violent crime on a small community. What inspired your choice of setting?
It is set in my home town of Omagh, Co Tyrone, a small, rural, and sometimes over-looked place, but full of great people and a lovely part of the world. Through an entertaining (I hope!) crime story, I wanted to introduce the reader to West Tyrone, a place with a vivid history, some wonderful characters who have a resilient approach to life. I hope that interested readers will take the opportunity to visit the real place – they won’t be disappointed!
Retired Detective Inspector Malcolm Bell is a fascinating character. He experienced some traumatic events in his career in the Police Service of Northern Ireland during The Troubles but he’s still struggling to accept the change of pace that retirement brings. How did Malcolm take shape when you were writing the novel?
For all my characters I tend to take inspiration from the real people of Tyrone. That’s not to say that they are based on any specific individuals, but I try to draw on the culture of the county, the generosity of spirit of the people and their ability to have great craic. For Malcolm in particular, I took inspiration from the many Tyrone men of that generation who enjoy a slice or two of cake, dislike technology, but are committed to doing the right and decent thing. I also wanted to show Malcolm’s difficulties with transition, and his developing appreciation – much to his surprise – of the skills of those outside his previous professional orbit.
The title of Do Sleeping Dogs Lie? suggests buried secrets coming to the fore and hard truths needing to be faced. But there’s another important angle to the title which is an actual dog! Without giving too much away, how does Billy the canine companion feature in the novel?
Billy, the Cairn terrier, came into Malcolm’s life as part of the retirement dream – a house on the north coast and a wee dog to take for walks. But Malcolm finds, much to his annoyance, that Billy takes centre stage in his wife’s affections, and there is essentially a battle of wills between Malcolm and Billy. So not quite the docile, loyal companion Malcolm had anticipated.
Do Sleeping Dogs Lie? is the first book in a planned series set in County Tyrone. Will we be seeing more of Malcolm Bell in future books?
Yes. I have a follow up book in first draft stage and a further one in the planning stages. I have certainly kept Malcolm Bell involved, but I have given other characters an opportunity to shine as well. In book two, Alfie Hammill, the newspaper editor of the Tyrone Chronical with whom Malcolm Bell has had an up and down relationship, is one of the main characters, and this time is having help from Malcolm to get him out of trouble. Who could let such a great team go to waste!
As a winner in the Gwobr Nofel Gyntaf Crime Cymru First Novel Prize, you’ve been awarded mentoring by Crime Cymru member Chris Lloyd. Can you tell us what you’ll be working on with Chris?
Given Chris’ great expertise, I have chosen a historical crime novel as a project to work on with his support. It again is based in Tyrone, but this time my inspiration has come from a family story. In February 1922, my grandfather was kidnapped by the then IRA from his farm and creamery, which was situated between the village of Clady and Strabane. This was a year after the Free State of Ireland and Northern Ireland were created. They actually drew the border around our family farm! We had relatives on both sides of the newly created border, as many families did. There was general upheaval in and around the border and I have discovered a number of linked events in the village of Clady and the townland of Urney. I have used these “trig points” to create a story. There is very little written about that part of Tyrone and the events that occurred during that period, so I have the freedom to “fill in the gaps” myself!
Do Sleeping Dogs Lie? is published by Diamond Crime and available to buy here [link: https://diamondbooks.co.uk/book/do-sleeping-dogs-lie-the-tyrone-mysteries-volume-one/]
Gwyneth Steddy is originally from Omagh, Co Tyrone but has lived in Bridgend, South Wales for the last forty years. She has worked as an occupational therapist in social care for more years than she is willing to admit. Gwyneth hopes, through the medium of contemporary crime stories, to introduce the reader to West Tyrone, a beautiful, friendly, overlooked place, and the extraordinary people who live there. She examines how the past in that part of the world, continues to impact on the present. In her free time she runs (slowly) and mountain bikes (even slower).