Crime writer Sally Spedding published her first novel Wringland in 2001. Since then she has written six more titles, as well as several short stories and poems. Last year Sally was winner of the Welsh Poetry Competition. Her latest chiller Cold Remains, which was released this February, is published by Sparkling Books and is set in the spooky Carmarthenshire countryside.
When did your desire for writing start?
I began, aged eight, combining my love for drawing with words – creating my own ‘newspapers’ – up in the attic of my Dutch grandparents’ house on the Blorenge, near Abergavenny. An escape, to make sense of this world, yet hearing the mighty rows raging down below.
Why crime fiction? What is it about this genre you enjoy?
My problem is I can’t equate ‘fiction’ with what is made up. What I put on the page is as real to me as what I can see, touch and smell.
Explorations of the dark side of my characters and places are driven by an intense curiosity to unravel who and what they really are. To quote a maxim, which is so true, ‘people don’t change, they simply reveal themselves.’
I feel the crime genre box needs to be broken. The best crime writing includes horror, the paranormal and other elements so many readers have actually experienced. Johan Theorin is a good example of this, as is Pierre Magnan.
How has Wales inspired and influenced your work?
Wales, like France, is a country of unfinished business. Living here, even as a Welsh-born, but non-Welsh speaker in a small, rural community in the late 1970’s, was like facing a furnace. That sense of exclusion – despite teaching at the local comprehensive school for 15 years and making some good friends – is hard to forget. However, we came back here four years ago, because it’s still home.
In France, the far right is, yet again, gaining ground. In our village in the Pyrenees, an Arab family is openly ostracized. Etrangers find it hard to get work, and not so far away, amidst the lovely vineyards and mountains, is a former military camp – the Sahara of the Midi -used for the zealous deportation of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.
As a writer, nothing is wasted.
What was your inspiration for Cold Remains in particular?
In Cold Remains, it was the silence of the disused lead mine workings, just outside Rhandirmwyn, which inspired me to research further. Below the marshy ground lie treacherous caves with their secrets. Just like the silted-up swimming pool at Heron House. Just like those who live there…
Why is the country just as scary as the city? What’s the scariest place you’ve been?
The Rupert Bear books and cartoons are to blame. They always have an ominous speck on the horizon, or someone popping out from behind a bush. At least on a street someone will hear you scream…
The scariest place was around The Wash near Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, where my first chiller Wringland is set. Here, as Hilaire Belloc so aptly says, ‘the mud and tide commingle’ and the air seems full of unhappy ghosts.
Would you agree that horror can give a more realistic representation of today’s world?
Yes, of past and future worlds. Have you ever visited an abattoir? Seen what’s happening in the area of genetic engineering in innocuous looking laboratories? True horror is a close neighbour of reality.
Have you seen a rise in the popularity of crime fiction since you began writing?
I’ve seen a rise in the detective series certainly, it’s a rather overcrowded marketplace now. Anyone starting out needs to have a fresh vision and steer clear of stereotypes. For example the cop with a drink problem and a wayward teenage daughter. Also, young girls and women as murder victims. These have literally been done to death.
As an author, whether in novels or the short story, I’ve kept the blinkers on and in doing so, am proud to keep pushing at the boundaries of conventional crime writing.
What has your experience of being a writer working in a world of changing technology been like?
Exciting. Twitter and Facebook keep me connected to those on this same, strange road. However, I love writing in longhand first, then editing while transferring the work to my computer. I can draw my characters’ faces, create maps and generally feel the flow through the pen. It’s a long process, but I won’t change now. I have, however, become obsessive about saving work and taking my memory sticks with me everywhere.
As an experienced author, do you find the writing process goes more smoothly?
Having had a wonderful editor in Peter Lavery (Pan Macmillan) I find making things clear to the reader easier than I did. Sentence structure can make all the difference, I will always be grateful for his advice. I become suspicious if things go too smoothly. The most challenging aspect is when a main character evolves in a previously unplanned way.
Every novel, every short story or poem has its own challenges, but without these life would just be merely an existence.
Sally has her own website which you can see by clicking here.
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