Elizabeth J. Duncan, On Wales

Murder on the HourElizabeth J. Duncan is the author of the Penny Brannigan mystery series and Shakespeare in the Catskills mysteries. A former journalist, public relations practitioner, and college professor, she lives in Toronto (although her heart lives in Wales).

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Why Wales?

My Penny Brannigan mystery series is set in North Wales.

Why Wales? I get asked that a lot.

Do I have family there? Sadly, no. Friends? Happily, yes, I do now.

In the spring of 2004, I fell in love with the North Wales town of Llanrwst. Situated on the bank of the River Conwy, with its thirteenth century teahouse, three-arched seventeenth century bridge, cobbled town square, and grey stone buildings with slate roofs, Llanrwst (pronounced Clan-roost) struck a nostalgic chord. What a perfect setting this charming place would make for a book, I thought. At the time, I had no intention of writing a book, but then…. A few months later, and out of nowhere, I started writing The Cold Light of Mourning, which became the first book in the Penny Brannigan mystery series. And without giving the question of where to set the story a moment’s thought, I dived right in because I knew exactly where the story would take place.

WalesThat was over ten years ago, and I’ve come to know my bit of North Wales well. I spend five months there each year, exploring those lush green hills and forests, enjoying the natural beauty of the area’s rugged good looks, and looking for the right location to hide a body or stage a murder. Although I’ve fictionalized the town as Llanelen, local landmarks, including Conwy Castle (A Killer’s Christmas in Wales), Gwrych Castle (Murder Is for Keeps), St. Gwrst Church (The Cold Light of Mourning), Wales the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, near Blaenau Ffestiniog (Slated for Death), and Lake Sarnau (Murder on the Hour), to name just a few, have all figured prominently in the novels.

I didn’t know back in 2004 what I know now: how important setting is in establishing atmosphere and mood, bringing stories to life, and captivating readers. But setting is about more than a geographic backdrop: It provides the social context for the characters – so important in the cozy mystery genre where the setting is usually a small town, and the characters all know one another. Llanrwst ticks all the boxes.

WalesLiterary considerations aside, it’s important for an author to like the place where her books are set because one way or another, she’s going to spend a lot of time there, either literally or in her head. Fortunately for me, North Wales has become not just a big part of my writing, but the best part of my life.