A dark and pacy thriller; The second novel from Wales-based author Rebecca Griffiths, A Place to Lie, is tense, intriguing and full of satisfying twists, writes Jenny White... AUTHOR'S NOTES.
It tells the story of two sisters, Caroline and Joanna, whose childhoods are marred by a dark and tragic event. Based alternately in the present day - in which Joanna is trying to unravel the cause of her sister's sudden death - and in the 1990s, during a long hot summer when the sisters holidayed with their aunt in the Forest of Dean, the mystery of their past gradually unfolds.
It's a highly atmospheric book in which 1990s rural Gloucestershire brilliantly teeters between picturesque and sinister, and secrets simmer just beneath the surface of the outwardly conventional lives. The tension between picturesque beauty and grim tragedy reflects a very specific starting point for the story.
"My primary inspiration came from John Everett Millais' iconic painting Ophelia - one of the most popular Pre-Raphaelite works in the Tate Gallery, London," says Griffiths. "Millais' image of the tragic death of Ophelia is one of the best-known illustrations from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, and the surrounding story, namely the themes of madness and grief evoked by the symbolism Millais uses in his painting, gave me the starting point on which to base my book."
In harking back to the girls' childhoods, the book also explores the way in which early experiences and choices can impact our adult lives. Griffiths creates a convincingly complex picture of Caroline - a lonely, troubled woman haunted by a cruel mistake she made as a girl. There is much to dislike about Caroline and her behaviour, but also plenty to pity and empathise with. Griffiths has painted a believably complex character whose bad behaviour is framed, and in a large part explained, by the troubles of her childhood.
"I love creating flawed characters, as they are the most interesting people to write about," says Griffiths. "All of us are complex beings and it's interesting to emphasise, and sometimes exaggerate, these complexities, as the more intriguing characters are, the more enjoyable the reading experience is."
The setting for the tale - beautiful, lonely and full of secret places - is equally believable, perhaps because Griffiths has embraced the country life herself. Born in Hampshire, she moved to rural Carmarthenshire when she was 12. She left the area when she was 17, only to return to mid Wales 11 years ago, where she now lives, as she puts it, "with my husband, a prolific artist, our four black cats and pet sheep the size of sofas". (Her husband, Steven Allan Griffiths, is a successful watercolour painter.) "I loved growing up in Wales and always planned to come back here," she says. "Living within such a beautiful landscape - the peace, the sky, the ever-changing weather - has helped my writing, in that living out in the wilds gives me the space I need in my head."
Before becoming a novelist, Griffiths gained a first-class honours degree in English literature, and pursued a business career in London, Dublin and Scotland. Her return to Wales prompted her to start writing in earnest.
"I have always been an avid reader, and as a child I wrote poetry and short stories, but it wasn't until I sold my business in Scotland, returned to Wales and met my husband Steven, that I began writing for real," she says.
"The reason I felt able to do this, was the magnitude of ideas and creative energy Steve and I generated, and continue to generate, between us. With his inspiration and encouragement, I began writing short stories again, but quickly realised that to find myself an agent, with the view of one day being published, I needed to produce a novel.
"I didn't set out to write psychological thrillers and didn't realise my debut, The Primrose Path - the story about a woman who flees to rural Wales to escape her violent past - was a thriller. For me, the plot isn't particularly relevant; what's of interest is the characters and the emotional journey they take you on. Obviously, there is going to be some kind of skeleton in the cupboard, some mystery to be solved - all good novels contain this, whatever genre - but who cares about unravelling secrets if you're not invested in the characters who have the secrets? And while I don't necessarily want to be labelled as a thriller writer, I've learnt in the doing of it that I can actually tell any story I want in this genre."
A Place to Lie is certainly more than just a thriller. It's a convincing dip into the darker side of the human psyche, a portrait of a rural community full of secrets, an exploration of sibling relationships and an examination of the reasons that can lie behind harmful actions. It's taut and pacy, consistently intriguing and has a very satisfying final twist.
"What I hope people get out of reading A Place to Lie is an enjoyable read from start to finish, with some great twists and turns and an ending they wouldn't have anticipated," says Griffiths.
She's certainly achieved that.
| A Place to Lie is out now, published by Sphere
<B Author Rebecca Griffiths
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Feb 9, 2019|
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