Snowdon Shadows is a series of mystery novels set around Snowdonia in North Wales, and featuring Sparkle Anwyl, a Goth policewoman – or Heddlu as the Welsh police are called. There are three novels currently being written in order: “Fates Maelstrom”. “Seeking A Knife”, and “Ruined Retreat”.
“Fates Maelstrom” is the first in the ‘not so cosy’ series. Accused of murdering her grandfather and condemned by her Romani blood, Twyla Locke faces prejudice, family tradition, a mysterious double and declining health as she fights to prove her innocence and save her eviction-threatened community. How far can she trust Detective Constable Sparkle Anwyl when she claims to suspect that Twyla has been framed? The arrival of Brogan Keyes, an American journalist offering his assistance, seems too contrived, especially when he claims to know about the Lockes’ past. Twyla fears that she is the victim of a scam that can only end in her death.
In June 2014, I did a blog post on Twyla as the novel’s main character: https://rolandclarke.com/2014/06/02/my-main-character/. However, that was before I created the character of motorbike riding Sparkle Anwyl, who feels that she is seen as an outsider by her colleagues, not because of her sex but because of her Goth appearance – and some thorny issues that haven’t been resolved. Sparkle needs to prove herself, and Twyla’s case is a chance to apply her own brand of detection, with some assistance from American journalist Brogan Keyes.
Since then I have done some interviews with the other main characters, starting with DC Sparkle Anwyl: https://rolandclarke.com/2015/11/12/sparkle-anwyl-sleuth-or-sidekick/
The first draft of “Fates Maelstrom” was written in spring 2012, and set on Dartmoor, in the West of England. The new version will be set in the fictional Snowdonia village of Craig-o-Niwl – Crag of Mists – near where Sparkle’s maternal grandparents have a sheep farm. So the Goth policewoman will appear in the new draft as a secondary POV character that will have to exist alongside Brogan, who played a key role in draft one.
Here is an early description of the Snowdonia setting:
“Lined with low rock walls, the road snaked through a tunnel of trees and alongside a rocky riverbed. On the far bank, small fields of grass hugged the water and the distant forest of oaks and pine. Clinging to the hillsides like a mantle of mottled green, the trees climbed until they gave way to sparser vegetation – grass broken by the crags that were just glimpsed among the trees.
Mist shrouded the mountain peaks and tendrils wisped down into the valley. Isolated white farmhouses with dark stone outbuildings were joined by other buildings, as the village grew nearer. Rising vertically above the grey buildings was a cliff of greenery and the rock formation that gave the settlement its name, Craig-o-Niwl – Crag of Mists.”
This is the Welsh side of the river but on the other side is a parkland setting that seems transplanted from an English village. In fact, when the English family bought the land encompassing the village and built their stately home on the opposite bank, they had intentionally copied much of what they had enjoyed across the border.
The cultural interactions are central to the plot. Romani gypsies, as opposed to Irish travellers, have become gradually accepted as a part of Welsh life, especially as musicians, whereas the relationship of the Welsh with the English has been troubled – not surprising when the oppressing power builds castles everywhere. So both Twyla and Sparkle are at odds with the English landowners when they attempt to exert their authority. But how will the Romany girl cope with having a controversial drop of English blood herself?
Although I had already researched the Romani gypsies for the first draft, I knew that there could be a problem once I relocated the story to North Wales. Luckily the guy putting in our new wheelchair ramps resolved this potential problem, recommending “The Welsh Gypsies. Children of Abram Wood” by Eldra Jarman & A.O.H Jarman. Although I have only just started reading the book, it has a wealth of invaluable information.
In “Seeking A Knife”, the second novel in the Snowdon Shadows series, Sparkle Anwyl is now a detective sergeant and located in Porthmadog, a real town, which lies beside the sea on the Llŷn Peninsula. After the death of a researcher, Sparkle is tasked with tracking down a scam artist. But her investigation reopens a century old cold case that exposes two local English families’ intertwined histories. Is a stolen antique naval dirk from the War of 1812 a murder weapon? Or are the Memoirs written by Talcott Wendell, the naval officer that owned the knife, the secret behind his death? But the Memoirs were sent by the dead researcher to Nita Palmour, a young Native American journalist, who traces Talcott’s struggle to survive the War of 1812 and remain true to his beliefs. Her path leads via Canada to North Wales, where Sparkle is preparing to confront a scam artist that knows about the knife. Two worlds and two eras are pulled together as their actions impact on those around them.
Most of Sparkle’s plotline and POV scenes have been written, and as a result, the character has been fleshed out – although “Fates Maelstrom” will impact as backstory yet to be developed. Nita Palmour’s plotline exists only as an outline, as does Talcott Wendell’s memoirs. For his account of the War of 1812, I have been researching the period, and even found an excellent book, “Four Years On The Great Lakes 1813-1816. The Journal of Lieutenant David Wingfield, Royal Navy” by Don Bamford & Paul Carroll, which is becoming central to my research. My A to Z Challenge posts during April 2015 was themed ‘The War of 1812’ and is linked to this page.
However, the first complete draft of “Seeking A Knife” will have to wait until the revision/rewrite of “Fates Maelstrom” has been completed, and that is put to one side to simmer. During that period I hope to find some brave alpha readers.
The third Snowdon Shadows novel, “Ruined Retreat” arose from a conversation with some neighbours in our residential park in North Wales – in fact, we had a similar one in our park in England – but both were around writing about a murder in a residential park, where the rivalry makes for victims aplenty.
In November 2017, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote the first draft of “Ruined Retreat” in which the body of a woman is found in the shadow of Dolbadarn Castle, gazing out across Snowdonia. DS Sparkle Anwyl is assigned to the case, and the woman is identified as a writer that lived in a Pwllheli residential park. When two more bodies are found at castle ruins in Snowdonia, and all three are shown to be unfortunate suicides, Sparkle disagrees. She suspects that someone is eliminating retired English ex-pats with artistic flair. Why? Are the victims connected? Why do they all choose to kill themselves at Welsh-built castles? The case takes a new twist when a body is found at a fourth castle – a Welsh victim and at an English-built castle. Copycat or revenge?
So what’s next? Well beyond the interview with Sparkle Anwyl, at a point before she got embroiled in proving that Twyla Locke is innocent – but after she has bought her first cool bike – I need to do more research. I had to do the interview in English as my Welsh is still limited to phrases like ‘Brysur fel morgrig’. So I am liaising with a member of the North Wales police and checking that I’m going down the right path.
Meanwhile, I will plod on with the current draft, weaving along the Snowdonia lanes towards an ending.
Spring 2018 update: While working on Sparkle Anwyl’s backstory, two short stories have emerged that might even get released first – Goth Patrol, which sees the end of Sparkle’s first relationship and leads her into joining CID; and Face Trash, which is her first case as a detective constable, fresh from police college.