Talking Location With author Graham Hurley: BAKU
Can Setting Ever Be A Silent Character?
3rd May 2021
A stimulating Zoom/You Tube (2 May 2021) session organised by Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival, the inaugural virtual festival held in Aberystwyth in Wales. Can Setting Ever Be A Silent Character? On the panel were authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Alis Hawkins, chaired by the founder of Newcastle Noir, Jacky Collins (aka Dr Noir).
The notion of ‘setting’ for Yrsa is about setting the scene, providing a good sense of atmosphere, and she admitted that she tends towards using the Winter months because nothing bad can happen in the Summer months (only, of course it can!). Alis concurred that Winter provides a much better and darker backdrop for crime. Alis felt her stories arise from where they are set – her chosen area, to wit West Wales, has been very much moulded by the sea over the centuries and that comes through so strongly. Her chosen era, the mid 1800s, was at that point on the cusp of major change, with steam power coming to the fore and the industrial revolution foreshadowing societal change on an industrial scale.
Yrsa feels that everyone in Iceland is influenced by the setting and the nature of the island – she herself can see a volcano from her house (how amazing is that!). Heating and electricity are generated from nature, and the oceans/fishing are a big part of the economy. Both stories, in fact are influenced by their unique littoral setting.
Dr Noir was curious about how all this death and doom was affecting the Iceland/West Wales from a visitor perspective. Had the Icelandic Tourist Board, for example, got in touch with Yrsa, asking her to tone things down? Murder isn’t really very good for business! Yrsa demurred and both authors in fact felt that reading novels – and specifically crime novels – raises interest in a given location, and thus, as Dr Noir summed up reading a (crime) novel is “an excellent way to see a place” …especially nowadays where travel is limited.
If you choose to visit either West Wales or Iceland, what are the author’s top tips to get a real feel for the sense of place? Yrsa suggests going to Gallows Rock (and yes, it was used as a place of execution) which is overlooked by the official residence of the President of Iceland at Bessastaðir, 15 miles from Reykjavik. Alis recommends Tresaith Beach, and her absolutely favourite beach is just a couple of coves further along. It is a fabulous and beautiful coastline, says Alis and it can really give Cornwall a run for its money.
A viewer posed the question that if a film company were to option the authors’ books and change the setting, how would that feel? Both authors were adamant that any change would deeply affect the feel of their work and it simply wasn’t an option. Of course there are precedents – The Girl on the Train was set in London in the novel but moved to the East Coast of America in the film; Alis mentioned what an unacceptable prospect it would have been for filming of the Roy Grace novels by Peter James to be moved from Brighton to Aberdeen. And Alex Michaelides’ new novel The Maidens is firmly set in Cambridge but will move to California when it is filmed: when the author was talking about it in a recent Zoom interview, he seemed quite wistful and sad about the proposed change of setting, which would make a fundamental change to his story.
So, it seems that setting is integral to so many novels and very much part of the story. It is not a silent character… But then, all of you who support TripFiction knew that along, didn’t you!? 😉
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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