You can’t beat settling down with a jolly good book – unless the novel in question was written in North Wales…
It should perhaps come as no surprise that North Wales is something of a magnet for novelists. The beautiful landscape can provide plenty of inspiration, while the region boasts lots of quiet corners that are ideal for supplying the peace and quiet that a writer needs.
“When the sun is shining there is no place more beautiful than Wales,” says novelist Louise Marley. “When it’s pouring with rain there’s no place more beautiful than Wales either, it’s just a bit harder to appreciate it!”
North Wales has snow-capped mountains that loom out at you from the mist, lush green valleys, and pretty little glens that look as though they’re missing a fairy or two. And you can hardly turn around without falling over a castle.
“I previously lived in a house that had a beautiful view of Penrhyn Castle,” continues Louise. “Although rebuilt over the centuries, part of the castle’s original medieval tower and chapel still remain and I used them as inspiration for my novel Nemesis, about a woman seeking retribution for the murder of her sister.”
Louise loves exploring the local countryside, and it was on one of her walks that she stumbled across a ruined manor house. Despite trees growing through the floors, there were patches of elegant plasterwork still to be seen on the walls and a cooking pot left on the stove.
“It was like Sleeping Beauty’s castle just waiting to be discovered, and inspired my latest book, Trust Me I Lie, about a woman who claims to be a murder victim returned from the dead,” Louise adds. “But then North Wales is the kind of place where it’s impossible not to be inspired, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to live here.”
Another novelist that is inspired by the local landscape is Juliet Greenwood. Juliet’s books are set in Wales and Cornwall in Victorian and Edwardian times, and follow the lives of strong, independently-minded women struggling to find freedom and self-fulfillment.
“The landscape and ever-changing weather of Wales, along with its atmosphere and myths, have always inspired my writing,” says Juliet. “It’s no coincidence that my first novel published by Aberystwyth-based Honno Press, is a modern re-telling of the myth from the Mabinogion of Blodeuwedd, the woman made from flowers.”
Eden’s Garden is a time-shift, with the modern heroine, Carys, uncovering the story behind the mysterious statues hidden in the grounds of Plas Eden, a fading Welsh mansion, and the Victorian sculptress who created them. It’s a thrilling, life-affirming tale of love and redemption, of female friendship and the benefits of growing older and wiser. Eden’s Garden was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize, and reached number five in the UK Kindle store.
Juliet’s most recent novel The White Camellia also focuses on women’s untold history, intertwining a family feud and the heroine’s ambition to become one of the first female photojournalists, with the lesser known story of the suffrage movement, which, in the years before the suffragettes, successfully campaigned, through democratic means and civil disobedience, for many of the rights women take for granted today (including earning a living and being able to walk down the street without fear of arrest!), as well as being instrumental in gaining the vote for all men and women.
Historical novels are also the subject matter of Anne Bennett. Despite describing herself as an “Irish Brummie”, Anne moved to North Wales in 1993.
“I write what they used to call Sagas but are now called Historicals,” explains Anne. “But whatever they are called, the premise is the same in that they are definitely placed in a specific area and historical period. My books often have two, or sometimes more, places of equal importance in the story, and my fans seem to like that.”
Meanwhile Conwy based Trisha Ashley has carved her niche as an author of romantic satire and, despite a few publisher moves, she has found a loyal fan base of readers who enjoy the comedic thread.
“Wonderfully wry, heart-warming and life-affirming, Trisha Ashley’s hilarious novel is perfect for fans of romantic comedies,” says Penguin. “And it contains recipes!”
However, if you are after a darker novel to fill your summer days, then Stephen Gregory is your man. While he has written numerous books, it is his first novel, The Cormorant, that has certainly stood the test of time.
“I was living in a rented caravan in Snowdonia when I wrote The Cormorant,” he explains. “I’d quit a teaching career and moved back to North Wales, where I had been to boarding school, in order to start writing.”
And it was a leap worth taking, for The Cormorant went on to win the Somerset Maugham Award and was made into a BAFTA winning BBC movie starring Ralph Fiennes.
“The Somerset Maugham Award took me to South America for a year’s travelling, into the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador, crossing the Andes in Peru, over the Altiplano of Bolivia to Lake Titicaca, and onwards to the wild pampas of Argentina,” says Stephen. “But I came back to North Wales. I always come back.”
He then spent many long summers working as a tour-guide in Caernarfon Castle, doing the tour as many as 2,500 times over successive years. You could call it research however since his latest book, Plague of Gulls is set entirely in and around the castle and walled town of Caernarfon.
In between The Cormorant and Plague of Gulls, Stephen has had numerous other books published – and travelled a fair bit or the world. He also did a stint in Hollywood, as he was hired by director William Friedkin (notorious for The Exorcist and a double Oscar-winner for The French Connection), to do a year at Paramount Pictures as a screenwriter.
But, despite such travels and experiences, Stephen is now back in Caernarfon again – and regularly contributes to North Wales Magazine! “I’m always drawn back to North Wales, as though somehow magnetically or spiritually attached, since those earliest childhood days as a schoolboy in the 1960s,” he says.
And, as long as the region can continue to make authors feel an attachment, then North Wales should have plenty of good reading material for years to come.