Sunday 9 November 2008

Setting again

P.D. James is one of a number of writers whose imagination is sparked by setting. Many of her novels have sprung from a striking image of a distinctive and memorable place – The Black Tower and Devices and Desires are good examples, and I imagine that The Private Patient, about which I shall post before long, was also inspired in part by the image of an ancient stone circle, such as features in the book.

In the past, my ideas from stories didn’t tend to originate with a specific geographical location or feature. But this has begun to change, not least as I’ve absorbed thoughts about developing stories from other writers. The panel on settings at Bouchercon was quite thought-provoking – one question from the audience about where else we might set a book caused me to suggest Wales as a location I’d like to use (although I don’t know South Wales too well, I’m a lifelong devotee of North and Mid Wales.) This led to a mixed reaction (one fellow author commented that crime novels set in Wales tend not to succeed, though I don’t share that view) but the discussion was certainly interesting.

In one sense, ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ is the most successful thing I have written, because it won the CWA award - yet it is rare among my stories in having been directly inspired by a trip to Venice and a few moments spent gazing into the window of a musty bookbinder’s shop.

So although, when I went to Barcelona, I didn’t have a plot in mind, I had been there for less than twenty four hours when the idea for a short story set in the city came to me unbidden. Not quite sure when I’m going to write it, though. Or whether I will be able to resist the urge to call it ‘Gaudi Night'….


Philip Amos said...

Martin, I'm trying to bring to mind crime novels set in Wales, and I must confess I can't think of any. What I do remember is the television series A Mind to Kill, which starred Philip Madoc. He's a fine actor and I had hopes of the series, but I recall being rather stunned to find how relentlessly depressing it was, not because of the story lines, of course, for why should they be cheerful, but because there wasn't a really pleasant character to found in the whole shebang, and the whole lot of them seemed to suffering from terminal depression. I have no idea how popular it was, but I found it very strange.

Anonymous said...

Philip, you need to visit CrimeFicReader of It's a Crime blog.
She is the world's Welsh crime fiction expert and features many reviews and interviews on her superb blog. (Not exclusively Welsh, more of a predisposition, perhaps).
Kitty Sewell is one author but there are others, for sure.

Martin, lovely post as ever - like your proposed title;-) When are they going to finish that cathedral, do you think?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

I don't think you should resist calling it "Gaudi Night." What fun!


Philip Amos said...

Sure now, Maxine, CFR is part of my daily crime fiction devotions, but I still can't myself recall any crime fiction set in Wales. But your mention of her blog did remind me to look at Euro Crime. There we have 37 writers listed for Wales. Of the seven known to me, only Bill James, writing as David Craig, has set any novels in Wales, and just a random sampling of the other thirty turned up only one who has remained at home, as it were, the others setting their novels in more exotic and far-flung locations -- Bristol, in one case. But now I have a yen for a crime novel set in Wales, so I might try the James/Craig and then check out that list of 37 more thoroughly. Kitty Sewell is not on that list, by the way, perhaps because she is Swedish, though she now lives in South Wales, perhaps because of her two books, only one has a Welsh setting, and that only in part, it seems, the rest of the story taking place in Canada. I should say on the evidence so far that Martin is right -- Wales is not favoured as a location. We need Rhian to weigh in on this.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm glad 'Gaudi Night' hasn't met with too many groans and the throwing of vegetables at me!

As for crime writers setting books in Wales, there are quite a few of note, though I hope room for me too one day. One writer not to be forgotten is the late David Williams, who had a series featuring a cop called Merlin Parry.

crimeficreader said...

Have there actually been that many crime novels set in Wales? Welsh crime authors tend to set their books elsewhere.

Two no longer being published, who have set in Wales are Alison Taylor and David Williams. Katherine John has novels set in Wales and elsewhere. Newcomer (with Accent Press) is Roger Granelli whose Risk and Losing It are set in Wales. His Dead Pretty covers London, the Midlands, south Wales and Amsterdam. Lindsay Ashford (not Welsh) started her Megan Rees series in the Midlands, but a later novel had an Aberystwyth setting, probably reflecting the fact she is now based there.

But the others that I can think of, off the top of my head:

Bernard Knight - Devon (although the protag's mistress is Welsh).
Matt Beynon Rees - Palestine.
Robert Lewis - has a bit of south Wales, but the protag is Bristol based.

For Dick Francis and Ken Follett, I believe they have settings all over the place.

Tobias Jones has a novel out in 2009 - he's of (half?) Welsh ancestry - setting is Italy.

Simon Lewis of Bad Traffic was born in Wales but grew up elsewhere - setting includes England and China.

Maxine, Kitty Sewell's an interesting one. She's actually Swedish, spent a lot of time in Canada, ended up in Wales and married a Cardiff NHS consultant, and now spends a lot of time in Spain. A trully international gal!

Actually, it is quite hardgoing to think of crime novels with Welsh settings. But I don't think there are too many out there. I don't think there are that many Welsh crime authors, either.

Philip, I remember that series for Philip Madoc too - an excellent actor, who also once played Lloyd George. It was very dark. And literally dark, as I remember many scenes shot at night time!

crimeficreader said...

Philip, Thanks for confirmation of Karen's Welsh page. I remembered sending her details of some authors when she put it together, but I couldn't find it earlier. I have done so now.

I had completely forgotten about Linda Davies - who has now given up the thriller world, I believe. I should have remembered her as her father was a prof at my uni... Her settings were not Welsh as her novels concentrated on the world of finance, so the settings were the City or elsewhere in the world.

Sally Spedding has a mix, but mainly elsewhere.

I had completely forgotten Malcom Pryce's comic crime novels set in Aberystwyth too!

crimeficreader said...

Dennis Lewis was one of the names I passed on to Karen at the time. His novel (Accent Press) - The Corrupted - has a Cardiff setting and is loosely crime. Apart from a short story collection, I've seen nothing else published by him.

crimeficreader said...

Phew, you guys are delaying my bath! I shall be back later to see what else you've added.
And thanks for your kind comments.

Philip Amos said...

David Williams is "the only one who has remained at home" I was referring to in my previous post, Martin. So I'm still stuck at two, with a marginal third, and I'm getting ghostly messages from my Welsh great-grandma telling me I've been remiss and need to get with it, which I shall do when someone furnishes the names of writers -- good ones, mind you. It would be fine thing if the author of The Arsenic Labyrinth, chapter nine of which I am about to begin on this rainy Sunday, were to add his name to that, so far very short, list.

Martin Edwards said...

Well, we are assembling a few names and books now! Thanks, Rhian.

A few observations from me. A book I might mention is Cat and Mouse, by Christianna Brand, which (if memory serves) has a Welsh setting.

Lindsay Ashford has written two or three books set in and around the appealing resort of Borth, where she lives. We visited here there a couple of years back and had a great day.

I am sorry to hear Alison Taylor is currently not being published. It's not so long ago that she seemed likely to become one of the major figures in the field of psychological suspense.

Philip Amos said...

I knew Rhian would come to our rescue! Thank you muchly. And thanks also to you, Martin, for mentioning Christianna Brand's Cat and Mouse. I am particularly fond of her novels, but I do not recall that one at all -- perhaps I read it decades ago, in which case it is high time I read it again, assuming I can lay hands on it. She is one of many whose books deserve new editions.

crimeficreader said...


Alison Taylor seems to have dropped off at the time of the new millennium.


I had no idea that you had some Welsh ancestry! Great to learn it!

As for my suggestions for this list, I think I have scoured both the recesses and weird angles in my brain. Right now, I can think of no one else and Martin has more than filled in my gaps with others who are now sadly not of this world and others I'd never come across before.

Conclusion here for me: Wales is not that strong on crime fiction.

But I hope that readers in Wales are like their counterparts in the rest of the UK, as I'm organising a night of historical crime fiction in Borders Cardiff right now!

lyn said...

The only Welsh series I can think of is Rhys Bowen's Constable Evans novels. My Dad loved these cosies, all of which had Evan in the title, eg Evan Blessed. I'm not sure if RB is Welsh because she has another series of historical mysteries set in New York with a female sleuth. There was also a wonderful TV series some years ago with Amanda Root as a coroner in Wales or on the border. It was called Mortimer's Law.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Lyn. I think Rhys does have Welsh origins, though she's lived in the US for quite a while. I have a vague recollection of Mortimer's Law, but I think I can only have seen one or two episodes.

crimeficreader said...

Rhys Bowen was born in Bath, is half Welsh.

There is also Leslie Thomas's Dengerous Davies series - set in Wales.

I've recently read Mike Ripley's comic crime novel Angel on the Inside and this is partly set in Wales. (Good humour and excellently accurate observations the Welsh.)

Anonymous said...

Barcelona is a great city and has fired my imagination in several directions - none of which I've been able to craft into a story yet. Good luck with "Gaudi Night", I look forward to reading it!

Cornflower said...

You must call it Gaudi Night!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks. I'm glad there haven't been too many groans about the 'Gaudi Night' title!