Crime fiction is more popular than ever. And across the UK, writers have been busy arranging a wide number of events for the coming National Crime Reading Month (NCRM). These include book signings at independent and chain bookshops, book displays at libraries, and talks to writing groups and book clubs, to mention just a few.
So with that in mind, why not support Welsh crime writers this June? There are plenty of us, covering every possible aspect of crime fiction. If you like murder mysteries set in the age of Sherlock Holmes, but with a Welsh twist, then I’m your man. Allow me to transport you to … Pontypridd.
A perfectly imperfect setting
It started when I began to take an interest in genealogy. My grandmother’s family were originally from Trowbridge. Her parents moved to South Wales in the middle of the 19th century and she was born just outside Pontypridd. My grandfather was born in Rapallo, Italy and arrived in Cardiff in the 1890s. Their wedding took place in Pontypridd in 1898 and my grandfather worked in a colliery as a ‘stoker-above-ground’. I started to think about what sort of place Pontypridd must have been then.
Pontypridd only existed as a town due to the industrial revolution. The population of the Rhondda Valleys exploded in a very short space of time. It was a time of great migration, but not everyone headed to America. Some saw the chance of a better life closer to home. People came from all over England, other parts of Wales, Ireland, Poland, Germany, and elsewhere. They weren’t necessarily directly involved in heavy industries, though Pontypridd had an ironworks, a steelworks, a chainworks, mills, and collieries.
When people earned money, they of course wanted to spend it. On the back of this, the market in Pontypridd became famous in its time, drawing thousands to the town on market days and encouraging high quality shops to become established.The social impact was immense. Many of the issues of immigration we see today were reflected then. There were unscrupulous landlords, low pay, and poor working conditions. There were also great acts of charity and human endeavour. The Welsh language suffered immeasurably, though incomers often took some Welsh words and phrases to their hearts, and established their own dialect.
Heartbreak and humour
Industrial unrest and intense pressure on the social class structure were also a feature of the age. Pontypridd had a beautiful theatre, an active music hall, a state-of-the-art shopping arcade, and an almost endless number of pubs (both reputable and disreputable). It was vibrant and exciting, with contrasts of temperance and drunkenness; wealth and poverty; law and violent crime.
I had considered writing a Victorian crime novel with dastardly deeds carried out in dark alleys beyond the gaslights, and hansom cabs galloping through the fog. But I felt that to go down the Whitechapel road was too much like going over old ground. Finally, I realised that what I had been looking for was right under my nose: Pontypridd.
I wanted my central character, Thomas Chard, to be an outsider dropped into this strange, bewildering, chaotic backdrop. I also wanted him to be someone with whom the reader could identify. Not a detective genius, just someone who tries his best and keeps going even when everything seems against him.
Chard is very fallible and has a sense of humour. One thing that the Valleys has to this day is an underlying warmth. Humour is never far away, even in adversity; perhaps especially in adversity. I like to think that my series of Inspector Chard Mysteries reflect that. In the latest book, Sabrina’s Teardrop, most of the action takes place in Shropshire, but the inspector relies heavily on his friends from Pontypridd to save him from the gallows.
Welsh crime fiction
If you prefer other historical crime fiction, contemporary thrillers, cosy crime, police procedurals, or true crime, then go to the Crime Cymru website and look at the incredible range of books, all by wonderful Welsh writers. There’s something for all tastes, guaranteed.
Some of our authors will be well known to you, others less so. If you wonder why that is, it’s important to recognise the realities of the publishing world.
The centre of UK publishing is London, where the vast majority of large publishing houses and agents are based. Wales has never, until perhaps recently, been seen as ‘cool’ where crime fiction is concerned. It is one of the reasons why Crime Cymru was formed – the brainchild of Alis Hawkins, Matt Johnson, and Rosie Claverton – to raise the profile of Welsh crime writing.
This year Aberystwyth hosted the first in-person Welsh international crime fiction festival, the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival, which was a great success, and the intention is to build on this. When it comes to crime fiction, Wales has at least as much atmosphere as Scandinavia. And as much talent. From being nominated for and winning major awards to gaining Netflix contracts, our writers are seeing success.
Run by the Crime Writers’ Association in partnership with national charity The Reading Agency, NCRM is a festival that takes place throughout June across the UK and Ireland, culminating in the prestigious CWA Daggers award ceremony at the end of the month. It aims to promote and celebrate crime reading across the genre through exciting events and activities in bookshops, libraries, museums, theatres, and online.
So hop on board, buy some books and be part of the journey. Support Welsh writers. And look out for National Crime Reading Month events near you. Welsh history is still being made.
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