A few years ago, a scavenger hunt sent me and my missus to the top of Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak. The summit itself wasn’t much to write home about, but we were surrounded by spectacular mountains with countless paths snaking amongst them, and we swore we’d come back one day to leave the crowds behind and properly explore.
Flash forward a couple of years, and, not counting one rained-off attempt, we still hadn’t managed our return-to-Wales hiking trip. I’d finished the Dark Peak series and was mulling over an idea for a standalone novel. That standalone became Alias, a thriller with a deceptively simple premise: a crashed car, a dead woman, a seriously injured woman with no memory, and a detective (Bronwen Pryce) who’s trying to pull all the clues together. It’s a classic Who dunnit? Why dunnit? How dunnit? All I had to do was decide upon a Where dunnit? and I was ready to roll. I knew I wanted to move beyond my usual stomping ground of the Peak District for this one, so I opened a map of Snowdonia and began to cross-reference with online images and a guide book…
Ultimately I chose two central locations for the novel – the area around the Glyders mountain range in Snowdonia, where the car crashes, and the city of Manchester, where the bulk of the mystery unravels. Despite working in and around Manchester for years and considering it the closest thing to my home city, I’ve never actually set a book there, so it was lovely to write about streets that I know like the back of my hand, to namedrop institutions like Affleck’s Palace and the Northern Quarter, and to set a scene along Canal Street in the heart of the Gay Village. When one of my leading ladies laughs and says “I fucking love Manchester,” she’s speaking for the both of us.
Selecting the novel’s locations was far easier than untangling its damn plot, and the beauty of knowing where the book was set made our eventual day trip to the mountains a no-brainer. By then I had a tick-list of places I wanted to visit and we spent a gloriously sunny day hiking in the Glyders Range, just off the A5 road, with great views of Tryfan, and a swim in Llyn Idwal on the way down. We never did get to eat a laverbread cake, but we’ve pencilled that in for a future visit, or perhaps we’ll stay at Pryce’s cottage, shamelessly pinched from an online rental agency because I work far better when I have a picture of something in my head.
We’re still in Wales at the end of the book, across the Menai Strait on Anglesey’s Llanddwyn Island. My wife and I went there looking for red squirrels and found perfect blue seas, golden sands, a ruined monastery, and views across to the mountains. We’ll go back one day, maybe for a dip in one of the coves or a picnic by the lighthouse. Life imitates art, art imitates life. It all comes full circle in the end.
Alias will be released in paperback and e-book via the Bold Strokes website on June 1st, and is scheduled for wide release (i.e. kindle etc) on June 12th. Preorder here (US) and here (UK). The audio book (narrated by the wonderful Nicola Victoria Vincent) should be also out hot on the heels of the print release.