by Ripley Hayes
In 2016 my employer made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – a large sum of money to quit my job. My partner and I thought about it for maybe as long as thirty seconds before I signed the paperwork.
We spent the money on an almost derelict wooden cabin on a holiday park in our favourite bit of Wales. The cabins are scattered amongst mature trees, and you see trees out of every window. In the day, there are birds and squirrels. At night, owls, foxes, and bats.
Now I had no excuse not to write the books I had been meaning to write ever since I read Little Women forty years before. A perfect and peaceful place and unlimited time. A writer friend told me that the first novel would take “about three years,” and she was right. I call it my apprenticeship book, and I fell in love with writing along the way.
My second book took a year to write, and it’s set, inevitably, on a Welsh holiday park, amongst the trees. It’s a murder mystery and a love story rolled into one, and when it was done, I realised that I wanted to write more about the characters, especially about the detective, Daniel Owen. I also wanted to write more about Wales. Not just the famous bits, but the everyday life, the small towns, the intimate and unexpected landscapes. It seemed to me that Daniel’s story didn’t start at the holiday park, it started earlier. So I wrote a novella, Undermined, took a deep breath and pressed publish in early December 2020.
Undermined is a murder mystery split between the north and south of Wales. In south Wales, the action is set in the Valleys, once the heart of Welsh coal mining. The loss of employment hit the Valleys hard, but there is so much natural beauty, too often overlooked. The bodies in the novel are found in the woods at the top of one of the valleys – back to the trees again.
In north Wales, I invented a small town Melin Tywyll (Dark Mill), using bits of all my favourite Welsh towns – woods, a river, houses painted in different colours, a regular market, half timbered buildings, independent shops, and cosy cafes full of cake and gossip. And then I started murdering people, and set Daniel to work finding out whodunnit, and get some kind of control over his attraction to DCI Mal Kent.
Melin Tywyll is the setting for the next in the series Dark Water, and once again, the woods are where lots of things happen. The story is set in the autumn, and it’s raining. Wales is green and beautiful because it rains a lot, but every few years things get out of hand and we have floods. The events in Dark Water take place as the river rises inexorably towards the town. Daniel also has to cope with the reappearance of Mal Kent.
Lockdown means no more trips to the cabin in the trees for the time being, so I’m living in imaginary forests, with imaginary murders, and imaginary detectives. I hope you can join me.
Dark Water is released on 31 January, and Undermined will be free on the same day.
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