Monday, 4 July 2011

Turner - an exercise in suspense

Cover used for my Authonomy draft

I haven't yet done a blog post about my novel Turner. It is time to make up for that oversight.

Turner is a tense rural thriller which follows a single night in the lives of a small group of people trying to survive an apparent outbreak of insanity on a remote island which has a history of disappearances. The suspense builds up until terror bursts out, from which point onwards it is a non-stop thrill ride. However, the subtext of the novel is about the power of words and names (the novel's title being tied into this), and issues of cultural invasion and control. Or, as the blurb says:
An isolated Welsh island seems the ideal place for four unconnected individuals to seek refuge from their own demons and to escape from the rat race. However, on Ynys Diawl they face a night of horror and madness. If they don't work together none of them will see the light of day.

The novel was carefully designed so that the reader would be compelled to keep reading in order to discover what happens next. I tried to mix in tension; characters you care about; hopelessly dangerous situations; events flying towards inevitable conclusions you both look forward to as a reader but dread as a sympathiser. Turner is a lovingly constructed homage playing with classic horror tropes such as implacable killers, madness, isolation and xenophobia. Whatever fiction pigeonhole you want to place it in: popular, genre, horror, thriller, suspense: the primary value at stake is survival.

The Ynys Enlli connection
Ynys Enlli, more commonly known as Bardsey Island, has a connection to Turner.

Although Turner is set on a fictional island East of Anglesey I wanted to go to an island in order to write it, to inspire my descriptions of the setting. Therefore I took a pile of notes and handwrote Turner during a week on Ynys Enlli, working by gaslight at night since there was no electricity, with animated shadows and draughts and strictly rationed spirits for company. A lot of the details in Turner came from that experience e.g. the seals' haunting cries, Manx shearwaters calling at night, the lighthouse, the tunnel to an underground chamber - it really helped me immerse myself in the atmosphere. Having said that, it was quite scary to go to bed at night in a house with no locks on any doors, even the front door, after writing some of the most tense chapters of Turner! My imagination gets carried away with itself sometimes. I barricaded the door and kept a Japanese wooden sword (bokken) by the bed, for close encounters.

The weather was great for the first few days but soon turned stormy, so much so that I was stranded on the island for a few days at the end because the weather was too bad for a boat to come out. I was low on supplies and morale by that point and wanting to get the novel typed up in case my only copy got blown away or swallowed by a shark. It was all certainly an experience but most of the island was a big disappointment, since it is one huge cattle and sheep farm, rather than some natural haven of wild meadows and woods.


Turner has a scene in a subterranean crypt. The setting was based on this crypt on Ynys Enlli. The entrance is a tight squeeze. I didn't want to go into it, way too claustrophobic. I just stuck in my arm with a camera to get a pic of it, below.

The rear wall has a gap where you can see into the crypt. I couldn't resist using this in Turner. Imagine getting stuck in there? You'd be screwed for a rescue. Spot the slugs and snails.

Ynys Enlli seems to be popular with writers. Fflur Dafydd spent time there and was inspired to write Twenty Thousand Saints. Recently Niall Griffiths went and stayed there too. He told me in an email:
"A strange coincidence - a few days before I went some nuns from Massachusetts were there and when they went they left behind a copy of Sheepshagger, the American edition. Then I turned up. Bit of Enlli magic."
You can buy Niall's Sheepshagger in various places, whether or not you are a nun.
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1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed. Almost 4000 words and no mention of the Z word....