Friday, 15 August 2014

Writing from the heart - location

Menai Suspension Bridge
By Gillian Hamer

A strong sense of location is a key part of the Triskele Books brand. All of the novels published under our collective carry that USP. Whether it be medieval France, 1980s midlands, Roman Britain, cosmopolitan European cities or the deserts of far-flung Palmyra – location and its relevance are vital to our stories.
Crime novel set on Anglesey
You may know that I have so far based all my novels around North Wales and the island of Anglesey, and I’m delighted how many readers mention how much they love the sense of place, that the location comes alive for them, much in the same way a character would.

I truly believe that writing about a place that you love, which inspires you, is a huge part of writing a successful book that will end up being loved by, and inspirational to, others.

Over the years via book clubs and online groups, I’ve met a handful of talented writers who all share my passion for Wales, and choose to set their novels there. Some live there, some were born there, and some are simply inspired to write there. Whether it is the passion of the people, the depth of history or the beauty of its surroundings, it seems we all take something equally important from this small Celtic land. 

I’ve asked a selection of these writers the same question, and I’m intrigued by their answers. Hopefully for writers out there who aren’t sure how to handle the setting of their novels, some of these replies may make you realise just how vital location is in a cross section of genres.


QUESTION: What is it about Wales that inspires you to include it as a setting in your novels?


There’s a theory that first novels are almost always coming-of-age novels in some way. Add to that the First Commandment of the writing class: write what you know … maybe it was inevitable I’d set my first novel in Wales.
The Miners’ Strike was a defining event, but its effects are felt to this day. Until Our Blood is Dry is a novel about loyalty and belonging and choosing sides.
Although the book is set in a very specific time and place, given the austerity and the job losses, the widening gap between haves and have-nots and the rise of parties that blame all these problems on immigrants, these questions remain urgent and valid.

 Wales offers a rich seam of protest and dissent. ‘Until our blood is dry’ refers to the General Strike of 1926 in a line from the poem Gwalia Deserta by Idris Davies.


Short answer: The historic landscape.

Medium answer: The mountains, the churches, the wild ponies, the burial grounds and druids circles, the sky at dusk, the smell of the wild hedgerows, the sound of the language. 

Long answer: Snowdonia kick-started my stalled obsession with writing in a very positive way. I am certainly in my creative comfort zone tramping up the hills on a moody day. There’s no better way of plot busting. The tiny church of St. Celynin (sometimes known as Llangelynin) is a great find for historians, spiritualists, all kinds of artists, and a certain weary walking writer! It’s quite a climb, some 900 feet above the village of Henryd, but sheltered from the Irish Sea by the comfortable bulk of Tal-Y-Fan. It proclaims to be the most remote church in Wales and due to its location, it is actually better accessed on foot or on horseback, but that’s just me wearing my whimsical hat again. I guess you could ride a quad bike or get a 4x4 along the green lanes and tracks up from the village, but that would spoil the experience considerably. Someone said that ‘The centuries of men’s hands on the same stones put the feeling into a place’. I can relate to this and there’s no better way of making that connection than scrambling over those very same walls and finding a way across the hills. Even the names of the mountains are laced with enough magic to fuel the effort.

The church is named after a 6th Century prince, Celynin, and it is a widely held belief that the remains of the settlement close by was also his home. Inside, there are inscriptions on the white-washed walls of The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer, and strangely enough a skull and crossbones. The Welsh language, being the oldest (still spoken) language in the world, lends so much more romance and intrigue to any story, even though I don’t understand all the words. One of the well-preserved benches is dated from 1629 and dedicated to Reverend Owen Bulkeley, former rector. Oh, I’d love to go back to those times just for a few hours, to maybe listen to the man reading his sermon and sit with the congregation. Instead, we have to be content with mere historical recordings and the remnants of those times, in whatever form they present.


The coastline, the countryside. Nature. The innate pride of the people resonates with my own pride of my roots. I understand the dignity of it.

Wales can be used as a wonderful backdrop to literature; the detailed descriptions of the lure of its mountain and coastal scenery, its castles and great houses, ancient cathedrals and ruined abbeys, modern museums and centres of industrial technology. And, although not in my books (yet!), the history of the mining valleys, where, despite the social injustices, the resolute nature of the people shines through even today.


The remoteness of the Island (Anglesey) in the winter months when the winds and rain are horizontal and the sheer awesome beauty of the mountains touch my soul. They are settings, which are perfect as backdrops for my writing at times.


new Triskele associate, author of forthcoming novel, RATS

Its beauty. When I was young, visiting Barry Island, Porthcawl and Penarth were my holiday delights. When my children were young our holiday destinations were the unbelievably beautiful island of Anglesey and every nook and glorious cranny of the Gower Peninsular. Who could ever forget being the sole walkers on Rhossili beach in an early Spring snowstorm? Magic, pure magic.


The history of Wales is not widely known the other side of Offa’s Dyke and I think it should be. The castles and tiny medieval churches are dripping with history and, if you are adventurous enough to turn off the main road, the ancient pathways are still visible. It is very easy, especially in rural Wales, to stumble on the past when you least expect it. Some areas are timeless, and the countryside is so gorgeous, so lush and green and fragrant, you can’t help but use it as a back drop for a novel. It would be mad not to.


My fictional locations are entirely made up, although Penmorfa in Move Over Darling is inspired by the romantic rugged landscape where I live. The same location also features in my work in progress.


Wales has everything I need to tell a good story. Beautiful countryside, stunning coastline, historical features, a great variety of characters to draw from, the list goes on. But the setting is less about placing the story geographically and more about mood and emotion. There are parts of Wales that, for me, are incredibly atmospheric. Snowdonia, of course, is stunning and where I live, the Pembrokeshire coast is quite spectacular. If ever I’m stuck for ideas, or I’m at a crossroads in a story, a walk with the dog along the coastal path clears my mind and most definitely inspires.

Snowdonia National Park


  1. Loved reading about all the others authors. Fascinating about all the different ways we view Wales. Thanks Gill

  2. Loved reading about all the other authors. Fascinating about all the different ways we view Wales. Thanks Gill

  3. Thanks Judith, and thanks for taking part. I loved finding out how much Wales inspires other writers too.