Crime with a Welsh Twist

Everyone knows Scandi Noir. Scottish Crime Writing is a phenomenon that makes its voice heard loudly. Not so many people know about Welsh crime writing, though they have probably watched Welsh crime dramas like Hinterland and Keeping Faith. But there are a lot of Welsh crime writers (like me) and we have a Presence: we are members of Crime Cymru.

Check us out. Between us, we cover a wide range of crime writing – everything from police detectives to historical crime, international thrillers to psychological mysteries, cosy crime to urban noir.

If you fancy trying some as a taster, why not check out Cal Smyth’s intriguing serial, Like, Love, Kill, or the short stories in the fiction section of our blog – not to mention a host of interviews, essays and festival reports.

Cardiff Trolley bus

I find Wales offers the perfect setting for my sort of crime fiction. There are writers who make full use of cities like Cardiff or Swansea for gritty urban drama, but I don’t know those cities well enough to be able to use them for my books. My image of both is as contemporary bustling shopping and cultural centres, that I visit purely for pleasure (or for shopping, which is not the same thing). I do have slightly grittier memories of Cardiff from the late 50s and early 60, with trolley buses, terraced houses and desolate empty docks, but the only crime I associate with those memories was my great aunt outrageously sampling the fruit on display outside greengrocers on Crwys Road.

So if I want an urban setting for my mysteries, I use Luton, where I grew up – or rather a version of Luton predating 1983, when I left it to move to Wales. What I do know about is rural Wales, especially here in North Pembrokeshire, a gift to a crime writer.

For a start, there’s the complication of the languages, since Welsh is widely spoken (and used in schools) but English-speaking incomers regard it as suspicious and impenetrable. For a crime-writer, it opens up endless scope for misunderstandings. An equally lovely gift is the sense of isolation, of communities that will quite happily do their own thing and keep secrets that the rest of the county, let alone the rest of the world will never know about. Even with today’s communications and transport, isolation is a very evident factor: I have to cross high hills, sometimes blocked with snow, to get anywhere at all. Superfast broadband – ha! Don’t make me laugh.

Meline Church

Villages here are not like English villages, with cute cottages clustered round an ancient church with spire and a peal of bells. They don’t play cricket on neatly kept village greens. Here, if villages have a centre, it’s probably a single brooding street dominated by a dour chapel and a probably defunct post office. Half the houses may stand empty for most of the year, waiting for holiday residents. The parish church, small and probably towerless, will be tucked away on its own somewhere, built to serve a wide scattering of farms that run up onto windswept commons. The roads are narrow and twisting, the woods are thick, the valleys are deep, and mysterious reminders of history sneak up on you around every corner, from Neolithic burial chambers to decaying mansions. Everywhere there’s a sense of something lurking just under the surface. Could very well be a body.

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