Today I’d delighted to welcome B E Jones onto my blog but before we get cracking on hearing about her story she’d like to tell you about something very exciting. The first CRIME CYMRU FESTIVAL.
Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival
I hope my stories, which deal with the dark side of human nature, are ones that anyone could relate to, but I think ‘Welsh crime’, as a genre, has a long way to go to reach the levels of awareness and glamour that, say, the booming Scandi Noir, or Scotland’s Tartan Noir scene, has experienced. We still need to convince readers (and publishers) that there are a huge number of Welsh crime writers now, producing everything from unsettling psychological mysteries to brilliantly atmospheric historical thrillers. To address this, the Welsh crime writing collective Crime Cymru, which I’m a member of, is launching Wales’s first crime festival, the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival in Aberystwyth, in spring 2022. We have some international names on the books, not just Welsh writers, at the weekend-long event that is already in the works.
This year, because of COVID 19, we are launching a ‘taster’ festival online, Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol, completely free, from April 26 – May 2, 2021. If you’d like to book a ticket then pop along to the website, www.GwylCrimeCymruFestival.co.uk to see the emerging line-up of guests. Or join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @GwylCrimeCymruFestival and @Crime.Cymru.
Don’t forget to book your place! Now back to hearing a little more about Beverley…
A Country of Contrasts
I grew up in the Rhondda Valleys during the post-coal slump of the 1980s, so my Wales is a landscape of contrasts and complexity. It’s definitely played a huge part in the texture and emotional flavour of my novels.
As a bookish kid, living in a small terraced house where every penny counted, it was hard to feel that being Welsh was anything but something to be glossed over, not celebrated. As I, like many of the inhabitants of the old coalfields, don’t speak Welsh, it was easy to feel excluded from the cultural life of a country whose poetry and literature I couldn’t understand. In many ways I had to go away in order to appreciate just what a beautiful and inspirational country I was born into.
My gritty psychological crime stories are inspired by the places and circumstances I often felt trapped by as a child, as well as my career as a journalist and police press officer. But the remarkable landscapes of Wales, from the rugged beauty of the Brecon Beacons to the stunning heritage coastline of the south, is present in every one too.
For years, my husband and I have been hiking the stupendously beautiful hills and seashores of our homeland, most recently with our high-energy wire fox terrier Erin (aka the mini monster), an avid explorer in her own right.
There are so many places that hum with energy and possibility here, little spots among the weather- worn panoramas of Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons especially, that spark ideas, suggest stories, secrets and subterfuge. With my novel Halfway, it was a wintry drive through the old droving heartland, to the stately market town of Llandovery, that made a scenario jump into my fiction-obsessed brain. At the bottom of a narrow, tree-strung valley was a sign that said ‘Halfway’, close to a faded lady of a boarded-up chapel and a frost-furred war memorial – nothing else. I was fascinated by the idea of a place that exists to let you know you’re between two other more important destinations, and it’s just as far to go back as to go on. It made me think of a turning point, perhaps a choice and also, what a grimly picturesque spot for a murder!
In the same way, the endless skies of the Gower, where we explore the bones of shipwrecks and follow tumbly paths to hidden coves where Erin digs sand pits for Britain, became the inspiration for Where She Went, my only novel with a contemporary supernatural twist. There’s always something sinister lurking yards away from the stunning sunsets, especially when jealousy and ambition are involved.
My latest novel Wilderness starts in one of the grimier housing estates that sprawl outside Cardiff, but is set mainly in New York city and the National Parks of North America, where an unhappy couple’s dream holiday might turn deadly. The title is a nod to the emotions the mercurial landscapes of home (urban as well as rural) always bring to the surface in me, the sense of feeling awed but also insignificant, and an awareness of the danger lurking behind the beautiful or familiar if you don’t watch your step.
Most weekends, when we’re not in pandemic lockdown, you’ll find me in my walking boots, pockets full of chicken chews for the fur face, tramping new trails. While my husband navigates, carrying the coffee and sensible spare jackets in his rucksack, just in case, I draw on the inspiration of the landscapes to formulate dastardly plots.
In this way, my Wales is a collision of the wild places outside and the wild places inside us all, that we try so hard to hide.
My Writing Life
Write What You Read
I started scribbling stories when I was about seven years old, though my first efforts tended to feature precocious children from the Home Counties solving mysteries, or plucky Victorian orphans escaping conniving relatives.
This might seem odd, considering it was the 1980s in the South Wales valleys, but I was reading a lot of Enid Blyton and plucky girls’ annuals then. Your writing life is often influenced by your reading life, and, by my teens, as well as bingeing on Stephen King, I was delving into the queens of crime, Patricia Highsmith and PD James, masters (mistresses?) of the style of writing that creates a sense of self- serving unease beneath a civilised exterior. Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, was the genius of the ‘psychological thriller’ decades before it became a popular buzzword. A Fatal Inversion, which I read when I was 16, had a huge influence on my own work.
Write What You Know
At 17, I was blown away by Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Mesmerised by her truly horrible group of students at an isolated New England college. Perhaps it’s no surprise that my first novel, Lies You Tell, published in 2014, after eight years of writing around the insane hours of my journalism day jobs, featured a young journalist who suspects one of her former college friends might be involved in a missing persons investigation. During my work with the police, I was right in the heart of this daily world of crime and human frailty. What fascinated me most was how people rarely think they’re the villain of the piece, we just find rationalisations for the terrible, selfish things we do until we step over a line. Everyone can justify almost anything, and believe me they’ll try, in that interview room or courtroom. That’s why there are no serial killers with complex rituals and fetishes in my novels. My characters operate in that grey area – they’re people like you and me, and they’re closer to us than we like to think.
Write However You Can
I’m not a planner – usually I know exactly where I want to end up and often write the last scene first, because I’ve seen a snapshot of a situation I know will make a great finale. Sometimes I hear a few lines of dialogue that trigger a prologue loaded with a taste of the crimes to come. I like to drop a reader right into the middle of the action if I can, then take them backwards and show them how the characters got there. Though I don’t always know the exact route I’m going to take between the stops, things seem to come out alright in the end.
Wilderness – Book Blurb
Two weeks, 1500 miles and three opportunities for her husband to save his own life. It wasn’t about his survival – it was about hers.
Shattered by the discovery of her husband’s affair, Liv knows they need to leave the chaos of New York to try to save their marriage. Maybe the road trip that they’d always planned, exploring America’s national parks, just the two of them, would help heal the wounds. But what Liv hasn’t told her husband is that she has set him three challenges, three opportunities to prove he’s really sorry and worthy of her forgiveness.
And if he fails? Well, it’s dangerous out there. There are so many ways to die in the wilderness. And if it’s easy to die, then it’s easy to kill too. If their marriage can’t survive, maybe he can’t either.
Halfway – Book Blurb
There’s a killer behind and trouble ahead
The Halfway Inn is closed to customers in the inhospitable, wild countryside. One winter’s night, Lee, a student hitching home for Christmas, and Becca a local nurse, end up knocking on the door as a blizzard takes hold. But why is the landlord less than pleased to see them? And what is his elderly father, upstairs in bed, trying so hard to tell them?
At the local police station PC Lissa Lloyd holds the fort while the rest of her team share in the rare excitement of a murder at an isolated farmhouse. A dangerous fugitive is on the run but how can Lissa make a name for herself if she’s stuck at her desk? When a call comes in saying the nurse is missing, she jumps at the chance to escape the boredom and heads out into the snow.
Meanwhile, as the strangers at Halfway wait out the storm, they soon realise they might have been safer on the road, especially when Lee finds something interesting in the cellar – which is nowhere near as interesting as what’s under the old man’s bed. If everyone is lying, who do you trust? Available here
Where She Went, 2017, Little Brown
Fear the Dark – 2018 Little Brown (previously Dreamcatcher, 2014, Yolk Publishing, Oxford.)
Make Him Pay – 2018 Little Brown (previously Holiday Money, 2013, Cutting Edge Press, London.)
Beverley, thank you for popping by and telling us a little more about your Wales, your writing and all about the Crime Cymru Festival.
About B E Jones
Beverley Jones (B E Jones) is a former journalist and police press officer. She was born in a small village in the valleys of South Wales and worked as a print journalist with Trinity Mirror newspapers, before becoming a broadcast journalist with BBC Wales Today.
She also worked as a press officer and media manager for South Wales Police, participating in criminal investigations, security operations, counter terrorism and emergency planning. She channels these experiences of true crime, and her insight into the murkier side of human nature, into her dark, psychological thrillers.
Her most recent novels, Where She Went, Halfway and Wilderness are published by Little Brown. Wilderness has recently been optioned by Firebird Pictures for development into a six-part TV series.
You can follow Bev on Twitter and Instagram @bevjoneswriting