A short interview about the Fiona Griffiths series
Tell us about Talking to the Dead, the book which kicks off this series
Well, I can’t say that much. It’s a detective novel, except that it has three mysteries wrapped up in one. So at the heart of the book, there’s a regular mystery type story: a crime, an investigation, a denouement, plus a few surprises along the way. But then, as you start to read the book, you start to realise that Fiona Griffiths is a mystery all of her own. You don’t just want to figure out the crime. You want to figure her out too. (And you won’t guess what her story is – even though she pretty much tells you in words of one syllable. And when you do discover her secret, the very first thing you’ll do is head for Wikipedia to check if it could possibly be true.)
Three mysteries, you said.
Yes. But I can’t tell you about the third one. It explodes out on you in the final chapter.
You’re a guy writing in the first-person as a woman. How come?
Most mystery stories have tough, middle-aged men as their heroes – people of weight and substance. I wanted the opposite. Fiona is a woman, she’s physically small, she’s very junior in rank. She works for the South Wales Police, which is hardly right there at the centre of things. I wanted, in a way, to pick the most marginal figure I could and use her to explore themes that are right at the heart of how we live today.
That all sounds very practical. How does it feel to write about her?
Good question. I LOVE writing Fiona. She came storming into my head with an intensity I’ve never felt from a character before. I pretty much dreamed Talking to the Dead before I wrote it. Literally, I mean. I’d finish a day’s work, wonder what the heck would happen next, then went to bed and dreamed the next couple of chapters. So basically, I just write whatever Fiona tells me to. She’s the boss. I’m just the guy who gets to hold her pen. It’s a brilliant, brilliant job to have. And Fiona is the very best person to share a brain with. She’s awesome.
And the other books?
Well, I just love writing them. There’s a wonderful snowiness in Love Story, With Murders and a scene up in the Black Mountains that is my single favourite thing I’ve written. But I also love, love, love The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths – that plunges Fiona into a relentlessly unglamorous series of roles, and leaves her in a situation of extraordinary peril . . . then sees her blast her way out, despite everything. As for This Thing of Darkness – well, that a love poem to a particular private passion of mine, and contains the best, most exciting denouement of anything I’ve ever written.
It’s just a privilege to have as my day job doing something I enjoy as much as this. If you’re wondering where to enter the series, then you can get a quick overview of the books here.
And why did you choose to write about Wales?
I’m not Welsh, exactly, but I spent huge chunks of my childhood there – and it’s where my mother now lives full-time. Wales is in my blood. I love it. (The photo, left, is pretty much the view I had out of my bedroom window as a kid. Awesome, no?)
But if my heart drew me to Wales, my writer’s brain did too. Cardiff has this brilliant double-life. It’s the capital of Wales, but in a British context it feels like a provincial city. Cardiff itself is relatively new – it expanded massively in the nineteenth century – but Wales is also a place of medieval castles, of ancient battles, the land of Arthur and Merlin. Wales is also intensely urban – the bit that Fiona patrols is all city – but just beyond the coast, you’re in remote countryside.
I believe your father might have had something to do with the justice business.
You could say that! I just sit around making up stories. Dad – Lord Bingham of Cornhill – was one of the most important judges of his generation. He was Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord. Also a member of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. You can check him out on Wikipedia here. Dad died of cancer before Talking to the Dead came out, but he had read the manuscript and was very proud of it.
Do you know anything about how to write and get published?
Oh yes. I run a business, The Writers’ Workshop, which offers manuscript assessments and editorial advice to budding writers. We also offer some really good creative writing courses. And the best writers’ festival in the UK. If you want to know more about any of that, just contact the Writers’ Workshop team who’ll be able to help. (I won’t be able to, so please don’t contact me direct on these issues.)
If you want my words of wisdom, however, you can have 250,000 of them – just get hold of my books on How to Write and Getting Published. You can get the How to Write book in the UK and in the US. The Getting Published book is also available in Britain and America. They’re both really good books by the way, so it’ll be money well-spent.