Novelist Alis Hawkins introduces Crime Cymru, a new consortium of Welsh crime writers.
Name a Welsh crime author. No, sorry, you’re not allowed ‘the person who wrote Hinterland’. That’s a TV series. Come on, one Welsh crime author… No? Welsh crime fiction is a vibrant and rapidly-growing genre but, unless you’ve got your ear to the corpse-strewn, crime-fic ground, you may not have heard much about it.
But that’s about to change. Because, now, we have Crime Cymru.
Crime Cymru was born when I met up with two other crime writers – Rosie Claverton and Matt Johnson – at the inaugural Cardiff Book Festival last year and asked if they’d like to be part of a movement to promote Welsh crime fiction. Over subsequent months we recruited other authors, started talking to festival organisers and worked out what it was that we wanted to do.
We were keen to keep things snappy and do-able so we agreed three aims:
- To support crime writers with a real and present relationship with Wales
- To contribute to the development of new Welsh crime-writing talent.
- To promote Wales, contemporary Welsh culture and Welsh crime writing in particular, to the wider world.
Crime Cymru, as an idea, came about because those of us who live and set our work here are determined to challenge the notion that ‘nobody who wants to be read sets their books in Wales’. As Welsh writers, we believe that Wales is simply under sold: by publishers, by booksellers, even by authors and readers. And we’re determined to change that. Crime Cymru authors are proud to set our ambitious fiction in Wales. We don’t feel the need to move our characters to London, or to make up fictitious cities to police. We set our characters – contemporary and historical – in real contexts. Welsh contexts. We believe we have something unique to offer the world of crime fiction, that the social issues which crime fiction naturally explores have a different flavour in Wales because of our very particular history.
Not all of Crime Cymru’s members set their work here, but those authors whose fictional settings lie outside Wales are proud to live and work here and to contribute to our nation’s literary identity. Some of us have ties with Welsh universities and cultural institutions and we are determined that Crime Cymru will play a real and tangible part, alongside those higher education and cultural bodies, in raising the profile of Welsh writing in general and crime fiction in particular.
Crime Cymru felt like an idea whose time had come because we find ourselves in a (largely) Hinterland-inspired period of unprecedented literary and cultural opportunity. At last, it seems that TV is encouraging us throw off a long-standing lack of self-confidence in our own abilities. Because, apart from a few stand-out superstars – RS Thomas, Dylan Thomas, and now Ed Thomas’s team (note to self: change name by deed-poll) – historically, we’ve tended to assume that anything coming from Wales must be less noteworthy than its English equivalent; that if people had really succeeded they’d be in England, specifically London, though one of the other major conurbations would do.
In other words, we’ve been self-sabotaging.
Think about it. If even Welsh booksellers have found Wales to be a hard sell (and I’m reliably informed that that’s true) are we not all, partly, to blame?
Together, the readers and writers of Wales can make a difference. We can drive the sales needed to get Welsh books into the bookshops of Britain, and to see our culture on the radar of other nations. Because if British publishers and booksellers start to take Wales seriously as both a setting and an incubator for crime fiction, translation rights will follow.
As Gandhi said, we need to ‘be the change you wish to see’.
And that’s what Crime Cymru is doing. We want to see Welsh crime celebrated so we’re celebrating it, and asking others to join in the celebration with us.
Crime Cymru was recently represented at Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s premier crime fiction festival and, in coming months our authors will be at Cardiff Book Festival, Crickhowell Literary Festival and Cardiff Library’s “Open Spaces”. Crime Cymru is also Cardiff Central Library’s primary partner in the development of their first Coffee and Crime Weekend on the 1st and 2nd of June 2018.
And we have other plans for public engagement and debate. We have a Facebook page where anybody can come and find out who we are and speak directly to us about our – and their – experiences in reading and writing Welsh crime. We also plan to hold a live online event in the coming months for more immediate engagement. And, next year, our second objective – to promote the development of crime writing in Wales – will see us holding a crime writing competition, details of which will appear on the Crime Cymru Facebook page in due course.
So, if you’re out and about at the events in which we’re appearing throughout the autumn, or indeed online, we look forward very much to meeting you.