“I think that writing about somewhere real – however fictionalized it becomes – means that you know what it smells like, looks like, and how it feels to stand there”
“Place plays a huge part in my novels. I can’t think of anything I’ve written where location and environment hasn’t been a major factor not only in making the story work, but also in how the characters themselves act and react. That’s always been true of my horror and fantasy work, and it was even more the case with my debut thriller, The Hunt (Avon, 2015).
In The Hunt, most of the action takes place in the Welsh mountains, a place I know quite well and an environment that excites and thrills me. I like nothing more than a day walking, running, or biking in such wild places. Writing about it came naturally, and I think the intimidating, wild, windswept locale of that novel was as much a character as the people.
In my new thriller The Family Man (August 11th), the location is quite different – suburban and rural – but in a way it is even more personal. I set this new novel where I live in Monmouthshire. I made use of my local village, Usk, and the nearby town of Abergavenny. I took huge liberties with these locations, changing some of the geography, landscape, and place and business names, and for that I apologise profusely. But I found that having places and areas in mind whilst writing tense, action packed scene really helped. Even if I changed those places, they were already solid and fully-rounded in my imagination when I started writing. I think that helped immensely.
This past weekend I went on a long bike ride and took a few photos of the places that inspired some of the action and set-pieces in The Family Man. I’ll talk about them a little below, but fear not … no spoilers here.
The plan for the heist in the novel is hatched and talked about by my main characters Dom and Andy on the banks of the Usk.
This is the pub I had in mind when I wrote that scene. It used to be that you could sit right down by the river, although that area is fenced off now. But I used to spend long summer afternoons whiling away the day with a pint watching the river flowing by … never once thinking about doing over a local post office.
I’m surrounded by lovely countryside, and the opening of the novel features Dom and Andy out on a long bike ride. This is one of the descents I had in my mind’s eye when I was writing these early scenes.
I must admit, I’m more of a cautious Dom than a reckless Andy when I’m out on my bike. When you read the novel, you’ll realise that’s no bad thing. I think it’s a strong, important scene as it introduces the two men and explores their respective outlooks on risk and chance. Throwing your bike headlong down a steep hill is a really good way of assessing your take on both.
If you know where to look, there are a large number of pillboxes from World War 2 in the countryside close to where I live.
I can think of at least three within a 5 minute walk from my village. Many thousands were built across the UK due to the fear of a German invasion, designed in long defensive lines that would slow down and disrupt any enemy advance. I’ve always thought that if ever used in anger, their occupants would be committing a form of slow suicide. Nowhere to run or hide. I’ve been intrigued by these places since I was a child, and even now I often venture inside for a look around. Of course, all they contain are empty booze bottles, litter, and perhaps a dead rabbit or two. But that doesn’t mean to say they’re all empty. And the reckless characters in The Family Man had to think of somewhere to hide their loot.
A very tense footchase in the novel takes place through the streets of Usk, and this is one of the lanes I had in mind.
In the novel it’s narrower and darker, but it still provided a temporary escape for Emma and Daisy when they’re being pursued by one of the bad guys. Most of the other geography of that chase is a mish-mash of locations I know in the village, but this lane provided a very definite escape route.
And when the baddest of the bad guys, Lip, meets the hired help, this square is where it happens. Writing that scene I knew exactly where Lip was standing, what he saw, and where the guys he ‘d gone there to meet were parked.
In a chapter called ‘Windy Miller’, there’s a confrontation at a windmill out in the countryside. This windmill actually exists.
Although in reality it’s a beautifully refurbished and maintained example. In the novel the windmill is run-down and dilapidated, and just the sort of place where a thrilling and deadly set-piece can take place.
Knowing the place you’re writing about doesn’t mean that you have to describe it in any great detail. But even if your description of a location is only a line or two long, I think that writing about somewhere real – however fictionalized it becomes – means that you know what it smells like, looks like, and how it feels to stand there, and this will hopefully shine through in the writing.
I love Usk and Abergavenny. I’m glad I only inflicted these bad guys on those places in a work of fiction.”
The Family Man
11th August 2016
You take ONE risk. Now, those you love must pay …
Dom Turner is a dependable husband, a loving father.
A man you can rely on.
But it only takes one day to destroy a seemingly perfect life.
Emma thought she could trust her husband, Dom. She thought he would always look after her and their daughter Daisy…
Then one reckless act ends in two innocent deaths – and Dom’s family becomes the target of a terrifying enemy.
There’s nowhere to hide. They’re on the run for their lives.
And if Dom makes one more wrong move, he won’t have a family left to protect.