Sunday Times best-selling crime writer Amanda Robson on how her creativity is linked to her beloved Brecon Beacons.
Many years ago, when my husband and I were in our twenties, we won a trip in a raffle, to a B&B in a remote part of the Brecon Beacons.
It was during the 80s, in the peak of the London property boom. We were London yuppies, attending dinner parties, where people bragged about the value of their flats, eyes wide with greed. Competitive conversation bored me in the 80s. It still bores me now.
So, we ran away for the weekend to the Brecon Beacons National Park, and fell in love with it. But we didn’t entirely evade the nation’s property fixation. Walking on the top of the Black Mountain, north of Ystradgnlais, we came across a man, in full walking regalia, waving estate agents details in the air. He asked us to help him try and find the property he was about to view, as he had become totally lost. We couldn’t believe anyone was trying to find a property on top of a remote mountain range. We looked at the map. It was further down the mountain. We walked there with him. The property was a dud. A ruin. And in those days you were not allowed to build up ruins within the national park. But we stood and looked at it transfixed. It seeded a dream. To buy a house in the mountains. To get out of London whenever we could.
It took us a year to find the right place. A small house in Twynllanan, Llandduesant, with a view so beautiful it featured on the front of the Ordnance survey map. We were very proud of that fact.
But the house had issues. First, its outside paint work. Bright pink rendering with bright blue window frames. Not tasteful cottage pink but electric pink that scorched your eyeballs. My husband tells me it had planning permission to build a garage painted the same colours. We didn’t take it up. The house also needed; re-plumbing, re-wiring, a new roof, damp proofing, asbestos removal, a kitchen, a bathroom. It took us three years to do up.
The years rolled on. Our sons were born. We made good friends. We went walking in the mountains with babies in back-packs. Celebrated Christmases, children excited by the snow on the hill-tops. Went wild swimming in the surrounding rivers. Camping wild on local moorland. I was too busy to write in those days.
We eventually moved from Twynllanan and bought a farmhouse outside Talgarth, the house we live in now; equidistant from Hay-on Wye, Abergavenny and Brecon. A perfect location for walking. For cosy pubs and comfortable restaurants. The Black Mountains sit behind us, the Brecon Beacons a short drive away. This is our peace. Our sanctuary. Our secret escape. I began writing here.
I remember that day so clearly. Ensconced in our secret hideaway; one son revising for A-levels, the other for GCSE’s, husband at work. I was upstairs ironing. That was the moment, my light bulb moment, when I realised my life had stopped moving forward. I had been a stay at home Mum for too many years. Everyone else in the family had lives that were moving forwards, but I was simply an enabler.
I switched off the iron and left the house. Walking with my dogs along the bridle path above it. Turning to cross the farmland on the other side of the path. Wind humming in my ears. Surrounded by the blur of green upon green, rich emerald countryside green. The green no fabric or dye, however sharp, can mimic. Gnarled winter sheep with twisted coats eating obsessively. I stopped at the top to savour the view. I could see for miles around. Away from the Black Mountains, right across Herefordshire. Hardly any houses. Hardly any villages. Looking at an undulating carpet of grass and hedgerows. Watching a buzzard rise into the ice pale sky, pan scrub clouds moving towards me. So far from the City. So far from London life.
And I knew it was time. Time to do what I had always dreamt of since I was a teenager. Write a novel. What I had wanted to do since I read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, when I was twelve. It fascinated me. I immediately read it again to try and discover how she had done it, and couldn’t quite fathom it out. Rebecca was the first book I truly loved. I didn’t realise at the time that it was a psychological thriller. So many years on, now I am a published novelist, psychological thrillers are my thing.
I write in a bedroom at the back of the house, my window looking out onto the Black Mountains. The only sound to disturb me is the sound of the river gurgling past, the occasional bleating of sheep, or the cry of a bird. Sometimes I hear the barking of a dog carried on the wind from the small holding next door, our nearest neighbours, half a mile away. Perfect peace for writing.
Walking in the mountains inspires me. It gives me the freedom to open up my mind to new ideas. My favourite walks are Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak for miles so the views are spectacular. It looks majestically Himalayan in snow. And the Black mountains: either Pengenffordd to Crickhowell, or Talgarth via Waun Fach. The views down the valley towards Crickhowell are breath taking. As is the view off the ridge to the low-lands surrounding Hay-on-Wye. The Black Mountains are the best place to go to free your mind. You can walk all day and not bump into another soul. You can walk and walk and just concentrate on yourself.
Walking, searing beauty, peace, freedom. What more could a writer want?
After graduating, Amanda Robson worked in medical research at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and at the Poisons Unit at Guy’s Hospital where she became a co-author of a book on cyanide poisoning. In 2011, Amanda attended the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course and now writes full-time. Her debut novel, Obsession, was a #1 ebook bestseller and her second novel, Guilt, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her latest, Envy, is published by Avon on 4th April, priced £7.99 paperback, £2.99 digital