Another English immigrant to Wales, Thorne Moore is a fellow Crime Cymru member, who writes some great psychological thrillers and brings a real sense of family, community and of Wales to her writing.
When did you start writing, and why?
I can’t remember the time when inventing stories of imaginary friends and world evolved into attempts at writing books. I know it had happened by the time I was 16, because I was a prefect, preparing to take O levels, when I confided to a friend that I intended to be a writer, and I was so relieved when she didn’t laugh. A couple of years before, we had had what was laughingly called “careers guidance.” Girls were given two options. Lower streams were told to learn short-hand and typing or aim for shop work and girls in the top stream were going to be teachers. I was told I was going to be a teacher, so that was the point when I decided I was absolutely not going to be a teacher. But it was never really an option. Even when I was a child, children terrified me.
The only time when I seriously considered a career other than writing was at infants school, when I was torn between becoming a missionary or being a tight-rope walker. Later, when I was taking A levels, my headmaster, possibly influenced by my argumentative nature, advised me to study law. I rejected it because it would surely lead to a legal career, and I only wanted to be a writer.
So I wrote. It did take me a few more decades to get published, and I did have to do several alternative jobs to deal with the boring matter of earning a living, but I never had any other goal than to write.
What motivates you to write?
I like weaving stories. I am not sure why writing something down makes it more real, but it does. What prompts the stories? All sorts of things. Sometimes it’s just an image, a picture, a derelict cottage, as with my first book, A Time For Silence. Or it could be a news item. That was the source of my second book, Motherlove, when I caught the story of Maria Eugenia Sampallo Barragan on the news. She was an Argentinian girl, taking her supposed parents to court when she discovered the regime had given her to them, as a baby, after taking her from her real political dissident parents. I was intrigued by the question of how people would react if they discovered the people who brought them up were not their parents. In my third book, The Unravelling, the story was prompted by memories of the estate in Luton, where I grew up in the early 60s, and the monsters of my childhood imagination. In Shadows, it was something overheard on the TV again – a ghost-hunter programme, late one night, in which a woman, said to be a psychic, was busy detecting a presence in an old house, and she had such a wonderfully down-to-earth Mrs Miggins attitude. I couldn’t help thinking that if I were able to feel supernatural things that others couldn’t, I wouldn’t feel down to earth at all. I’d feel totally deranged.
But beyond all the triggers that set me off on a book, I always want a theme, something meaningful to dissect. Parenthood, guilt, generational divides, the patriarchy, justice, God… you know, that sort of thing.
Which do you like to write, series or standalones? If you write both, what do you find the difference?
I’ve always said, emphatically, that I only want to write stand-alone books. If I flog a theme to death in one book, it’s done. I don’t want to keep repeating myself. I want to move on to something else. But then I keep thinking not about what would come next, but what came before. Where did a story and its characters come from? That is always more intriguing to me. So I have written two books that work as prequels rather than sequels. The Covenant sets the stage for A Time For Silence, and Long Shadows explains the past mysteries that have left their imprint on a house in Shadows, so they do count as a sort of series.
However, having reached an age of extreme perversity, I now have an overwhelming desire to write an entire Science Fiction series. So ignore everything I said before.
Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?
Leaving aside my science fiction, which has my favourite characters by a long mile, I think my favourite is Leah in my latest book, The Covenant. I like my protagonists to be believable, and therefore flawed, so they all have aspects that I would probably find less attractive in real life, and I think it wouldn’t take Leah long to rub me up the wrong way. She’s a strong woman, denied the right to be recognised, expected to do everything and be credited for nothing, so she is definitely unsympathetic to weakness in others. Were she born today, she would be free to walk away from the chains that bind her, and probably be running a company, if not the country. But it’s an historical novel. She does get a mention in A Time For Silence, but only as a name.
Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?
Least favourite character – that’s difficult. I have created some very nasty people, men and women, but villains always have a certain fascination, or at least interest, even when they are being unspeakable. After all, who gets the reader’s (and probably the writer’s) sympathy in Paradise Lost? Unpleasantness is usually a sign of weakness, and that always grabs my attention as an interesting characteristic to explore. What happened to produce that weakness? Often, they are really just sad.
If “least favourite” means, who would I most like to punch in the face, there are a couple of fathers in Long Shadows that I would happily send to the guillotine. But again it’s an historical novel – or rather a collection of 3 historical novellas – and they are, I hope, men of their age (14th and 17th centuries), which is enough in itself to qualify them as nasty.
Tell us about your last book…
My latest book, The Covenant, is the prequel to my first, A Time For Silence, in which contemporary girl Sarah Peterson comes across Cwmderwen, the cottage where her grandparents had lived, and she discovers that her grandfather, John Owen, was murdered there in 1948. In The Covenant, I follow the life of the aunt, Leah Owen, who brought John up. The story covers the years from 1883 to 1922, and it centres on the farm of Cwmderwen – all twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches of it. It is land rented from a wealthy absentee landlord, but in the eyes of Leah’s father, it is land bestowed on them by a covenant with God, and they are dutybound to hang onto it, no matter what the cost. Tragedy, bigotry and hatred gradually weed out Leah’s relatives, friends, lovers, hopes and dreams, but she is determined to hand on the land to her nephew John. It is the only goal that she is allowed. But how high a price is she prepared to pay to make it happen, and is it really worth it?
What’s coming next…
Well, the first of my Science Fiction books is going to be published sometime this year, but I have two more crime books ready to go. One is set in Pembrokeshire and is as much about grief as about crime. The other is set in Oxfordshire and Cornwall and is, according to my agent “compelling, dark and twisty.” I am waiting to see where it goes.
Anything else you want to share?
I am very much looking forward to the first Welsh Crime festivals, with Crime Cymru: on-line in 2021, and up close, personal and in Aberystwyth in 2022.
Thorne Moore grew up in Luton, and studied history at Aberystwyth. Nine years later, after a spell working in a library, she returned to Wales, to north Pembrokeshire, to run a restaurant with her sister, and a miniature furniture craft business. She took a law degree, through the Open University, and occasionally taught genealogy, but these days, she writes, as she had always intended, after retiring from 40 years of craft work. She has had four novels published by Honno and two by Lume, all psychological crime mysteries and three of them historical.
Thank you Thorne, always a pleasure, and best of luck with all future books, whatever the genre.
Tomorrow we will be meeting Jessica Jarlvi.