Writing Crime Fiction as a Local Author

Bolt From The Black is my second Oswestry-based murder mystery and my thirteenth book. It follows Each Slow Dusk, the first Inspector Probert novel, in which a body is discovered at the foot of the statue of Wilfred Owen in Cae Glas Park in the middle of our town.

In Bolt From The Black a body is found in the moat at Whittington Castle, another well-known local landmark. The body is that of a property developer who had been seeking permission to build a large estate of exclusive houses near Wat’s Dyke on the outskirts of Oswestry.

Both novels have strong local themes. Wilfred Owen, probably the most influential English language poet in the first half of the twentieth century and whose work is studied all over the world, was born in Oswestry. I read two of his best known poems at the unveiling ceremony of his statue in Cae Glas Park in 2018. That year, I’d also written a brief biography, Wilfred Owen: Poet of Oswestry, as part of the centenary programme of events to commemorate his death, shortly before the end of the first World War. The title Each Slow Dusk is part of a line from his most famous poem.

There has been consistent local – and national – opposition to a proposal to build houses near Old Oswestry, one of the best preserved hillforts in Britain, for some years now. When I started writing Bolt From The Black, I believed that the issue had been settled. But it’s still ongoing. I have my own views about it and I felt that a parallel situation – involving another nearby ancient monument – would be a good vehicle for exploring some of the issues involved. First and foremost, though, Bolt From The Black is a murder mystery, not a commentary, and doesn’t take sides – I don’t think!

In Bolt From The Black, suspicion immediately falls on outspoken opponents of the proposed development. An internet troll using the pseudonym Avenger Anarchist, who has been sending threatening messages daily, is top of the list. But there are others in the frame too, including a prominent church figure and members of the deceased’s family.

I’ve been taken completely by surprise by the response to Each Slow Dusk. Whenever you start a book, you can never know whether it’s going to prove popular. But I’ve received a huge number of messages and comments from readers. Most of them tell me how much they’ve enjoyed reading about familiar places. Some even tell me that they’ve followed the journeys Inspector Probert made around town as he was trying to solve the case.

I’ve also had comments from former Oswestry residents now living in places as far away as Canada and New Zealand, who have said that Each Slow Dusk reminds them of home and their younger days. It’s really gratifying.

Although I know the town and the surrounding countryside well, I still needed to visit and revisit many locations while I was writing Each Slow Dusk and Bolt From The Black. For the first novel, I particularly needed to be thoroughly familiar with Cae Glas Park and its environs. I walked around and through it many times, trying to decide which route the murderer would have to take. It was great fun and even though it was time-consuming, it was vital research. Readers can be quick to point out mistakes and inconsistencies, so I was determined to get these details absolutely correct.

In the case of Bolt From The Black, I walked through the site of Whittington Castle – and also nearby housing estates – many times. I wanted to be able to see it all through the eyes of the murderer, who had to know their way around the castle grounds by night and escape without being seen.

I’m from Wrexham – another border town – originally, but I’ve been living just outside Oswestry for over thirty years now. As a writer, it’s important to me to project a positive image of our town and the area around it. One reason I made Inspector Probert an outsider was because people who move into an area often see the good things that we locals sometimes take for granted. Probert, like me, is from a Welsh background and enjoys living in an area where two languages and cultures have mixed for centuries. This is another facet of life in and around Oswestry that I like to highlight in my writing.

I’m Reader/Writer in Residence at Oswestry library where I give talks on various aspects of English and Welsh literature and organise events and courses for writers. I enjoy being involved in the community via my role and, as writing can be a solitary pursuit, I find meeting other writers stimulating and rewarding. I also feel, as a local writer, that walking around town and absorbing its atmosphere, and meeting local people, continually feeds into my creative side. After all, I write – ultimately – for a local audience. It’s our town’s people who I generally think about while I sit at my desk.

  • Dave Andrews