A Sense of Place
My Secret Lies With You began with a place.
My family were lucky enough to have friends who owned a house on an estuary on the outskirts of the Snowdonia National Park. Our families (two mums, four kids) spent most of our school holidays from the ages of 7 to 18 piled into one car and making what felt like the most epic of car journeys from London up the M1 and way beyond into deepest North Wales.
It wasn’t unusual to have pets on board (most usually a cat or a couple of hamsters) and for the car to break down en route. There was always some drama and an obligatory stop off at Little Chef, Oswestry. But the real fun was when we arrived. As we came over the brow of the hill and negotiated between us who would get out and open the gate and dodge the angry dog at the farm, the estuary would appear and my heart would literally ease. It didn’t matter that the surrounding mountains were usually covered by heavy cloud; there was always this immediate sense of space and light. It was there in the pale yellow sands when the tide was low and it was there in the fullness of the reflection on the water when the tide was high. And with this sight, as we arrived over the hill, I always had this feeling – one that I can only describe as a grabbing for, or a grasping at, the magnitude of life.
The house we stayed in was vast and had been previously owned by the writer Richard Hughes (High Wind in Jamaica, The Fox in the Attic). You could say it already had a very writerly feel. When it rained, as it often did, we read a lot. My friend and I spent whole afternoons by the fire reading, occasionally looking out the window between chapters to judge when we might head out onto the estuary. Our younger brothers mainly listened to the charts and played football. We often put on disastrous plays. The television barely worked (dodgy, old and a bent aerial) and we’d only turn it on if we got really bored to find Pobol y Cwm and wonder at the weirdness that we heard in the Welsh language. I dreamed here of being a writer, but never thought I would ever be one.
Every visit would include a trip to Harlech. We’d walk on the vast sands of Harlech Beach and skid down the dunes – they were unprotected then – and afterwards drive up the steep hill to the shops. Of course the shops were nothing like London. There was an extraordinary junk shop called Paraphernalia, a shoe shop you couldn’t see into for boxes piled against the window and a Post Office selling cards, maps and books. My friend and I always went to the Post Office to look at the books. I will never forget the day we found a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever on the stand at a time when both of us were desperate to read it and finding it impossible to get hold of a copy. It wasn’t banned at the time, but it wasn’t readily available. We literally didn’t stop smiling secret smiles at each other that day as we snuck it into our bags to take home.
So, My Secret Lies With You started here, in this place, with a wish to try and capture it – the mood, the atmosphere, the drama. Cait is a teenager, a Londoner on holiday, just as I was when I visited North Wales. She is a tourist, not a local, and her own sense of displacement, and the displacement she finds in those around her, is I hope reflected in the landscape of the story – by it’s scale and it’s sometimes harsh beauty. I do think there is an emotion to this place. Or perhaps it is just that I bring it with me. But I do hope that in some way I have done it justice in this story to those who know it well.