Thursday, 29 May 2014

Hinterland: Location as Character by Juliet Greenwood

Aberystwyth Pier
Watching Hinterland, the new ‘noir’ crime series following in the footsteps of The Bridge, it struck me once again how essential the sense of place is to a story. It’s something I’ve always known, of course. I’ve searched nooks and crannies for the remains of Dickensian London. I’ve sighed over Jane Austen’s Bath and Lyme Regis. I once even had breakfast amongst the swirling mist at Top Withens, near Haworth, and understood exactly where Emily Bronte was coming from in Wuthering Heights.

Like its Scandinavian cousins, Hinterland’s atmosphere, as well as the drama, is rooted in its landscape. Hinterland is filmed around Aberystwyth, on the West Wales coast. It’s a landscape that has so many resonances for me. It’s where my publisher, the wonderful Honno Press, is based, and it’s also the landscape of my childhood – a little further north, but still the same vast beaches, the wide expanses of moorland that are at once bleak and stunningly beautiful, ever changing with the light. It’s strange seeing such a familiar landscape through the lens of a camera, both familiar and transformed.

I’m used to seeing where I live now, in the heart of Snowdonia, on film. But those are romantic fantasies, like First Knight, which even managed to transform a nuclear power station into Camelot. Hinterland is a contemporary, sophisticated take on stories within the landscape. It’s one of tiny, close knit communities, that both pull together and where old hatreds run deep. It’s the shifting mix of people, moving between the urban and the rural, like the natural flow of language between English and Welsh. And its stories link the old and the new, from ancient myths to very modern tales of abuse, obsession, jealousy and murder.

Mist in the Valleys
Even the rain and the late autumn colours give the brooding atmosphere of the ‘hinterland’ that lies beyond the surface of the people and communities where the crimes are committed, and the past, as yet only hinted at, of the main characters.

Seeing a familiar landscape transformed into a power character in a drama has made me think again about the way settings are so vital to a story. And I’m glad that Hinterland has proved such a success, and has now been sold to Germany, America and Canada. The DVDs are out, and a second series has been commissioned. I can’t wait!

Like most writers, I’ve been told over and over again that ‘Wales doesn’t sell’. The village where I live is one you would pass through without a second glance on the way to the mountains. Its high street is shabby and rundown, with nothing to attract the visitors. But step away from that first impression and here, too, is a hinterland of a strong community that is both very traditional, and also accepting of those who have chosen to make their lives here from all over the world. There are seething feuds and resentments. Outrageous characters. Life in an intensively-lived microcosm of humanity, within a landscape that is both wild, and scared by industry that, in the Stone and Bronze ages, once made this coastline an industrial powerhouse and vital centre of trade, whose artefacts are found all over Europe.

I’m taking notes …


  1. Good blog post. I've lived near Aberystwyth for most of my life, and was really intrigued to see it the setting for a series like this. Glad to see Wales can 'sell.' My current draft is set in and around Cardiff, but you've made me think a bit more about the potential these small towns and villages have for providing deep stories

    1. Hi Daniel! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I loved seeing Aber and Borth and Devil's Bridge as such atmospheric settings. I'm so hoping Hinterland will provide a market for the small Welsh towns and villages - go for it! And good luck. Someone, somewhere, has got to see the Welsh potential. Maybe our time has come ... :-)

  2. We're a little south of Aber, as you know, but pop up there frequently. I loved Hinterland and I'm so glad that it's been a success. I've had a bit of resistance to 'Move Over Darling' for its Welsh setting (even had a negative comment in an otherwise positive review about the Welsh words - of which there are very few and all explained). I'd certainly love to see Welsh settings sell as well as, say, Cornish locations.

    1. Yes, Chris! Here's to Wales being the new Cornwall. One of the comments on Hinterland has been that since the Scandinavian noir the British public has become comfortable with subtitles and different languages - so let's hope Welsh becomes cool too! x

  3. Fascinating post, Juliet. I've just finished drafting a guest blog post (for Sunlounger) which attempts to explain - in 800 words or less! - why Wales has provided the perfect setting for my contemporary fairytales. I couldn't imagine setting them anywhere else, in fact. As you know, I married 'into Wales', I'm not a native, but it always feels to me - and to my characters - that I've come home. My villages might be fictitious but the backdrop of North Wales behind them is real; at least, it is to me. It's an ancient land full of fairytales, and I feel honoured to be inspired to write new ones. My readers seem to enjoy the setting, judging by reviews. About time Wales was the new Scotland/Cornwall. xx


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