So meanwhile, about Shadows… I write about crimes that have repercussions down the years and families in crisis, as I always do, but this one has a slightly Gothic twist, and a setting that is slightly more Gothic, to match. I have returned to North Pembrokeshire, my home, having had a ramble out to the Home Counties in Motherlove and The Unravelling and once more I am centring my story on a house. Not a derelict cottage, as in A Time For Silence. No, no, this time I’m doing something entirely different. This time it’s a derelict mansion, Llys y Garn.
In fact, the story features several houses, because, in case you hadn’t noticed, I really do like houses and all the history wrapped up in them: the mystery under the wallpaper.
Llys y Garn, the house at the centre of the book – in fact you could call it the main character in the book –is mostly a Victorian house that has slowly decayed around its former owner, an elderly recluse. When I first moved to Pembrokeshire, in the 1980s, the countryside was littered with such slowly decaying mansions, hidden from view, just off the road and lost in deep woods. They conjure up a lost world of squires and county society with hunt balls and croquet on the lawn. A world where peasants doffed their caps and respected their betters. That’s a world long gone, and the grand houses are now either totally derelict or have been put to new uses as nursing homes, hotels or art centres. One that was just up the road from me back then, empty after a serious fire, was Rhosygilwen, which has now been transformed into a thriving centre for cultural activities, weddings, concerts and the Penfro Literary Festival.
There were dozens of others around me – Coedmor, Cilwendeg, Ffynone, Cilgwyn, Glandovan, Llwyngwair…
They may appear to be Georgian or Victorian, but study the records and they all have roots going back to the Middle Ages. Here and there, among more modest houses in the area, you still find relics of older times. A farmhouse still has a massive Tudor door. Another has Jacobean panelling and plasterwork. A youth centre has a barn that was once a Tudor gatehouse.
My fictional Llys y Garn has a past too. Adjoining the Victorian house is a Mediaeval great hall, with panelling (oh, definitely panelling), and an undercroft that might, just might, once have been a dungeon.
There’s also a lodge cottage. Well, Llys y Garn is a mansion and all mansions have lodge cottages, where one of those cap-doffing peasants can usher the master safely back to his property, and slam the gates on the great unwashed outside. The lodge cottage I really had in mind is somewhere in Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire. Mini-Palladian – I used to pass it on my way across country to Aberystwyth university. But round here in Pembrokeshire, there are plenty of them, usually quaintly pretentious, or just quaint.
And then there’s a roundhouse in the book. A reconstructed iron-age roundhouse, which I can envisage without any trouble, because there happen to be some reconstructed iron-age roundhouses just around the corner from me, at Castell Henllys. It is my firm belief that they move around at night, when no one is watching.
Oh, and there’s a yurt, because this is Pembrokeshire and it’s the sort of thing you might find in a wood round here.
I haven’t included a castle, of which Pembrokeshire has many, some still lived in, but as Llys y Garn stands on the slope of a valley adjoining the Preselis (totally fictional, but picture the Gwaun valley if you like), there are, naturally, ancient standing stones on the hills above.
Seriously, anything could happen here. And probably has.