The Penfro Book Festival, held last week-end, was the third to be held at Rhosygilwen with some enjoyable and adventurous happenings. One of them which was outstanding was the talk given by Steve Wilkins and Jonathan Hill, on the subject of their new book ‘Pembrokeshire Murders – Catching the Bullsey Killer,’ just out from Seren Press, which relates the exciting, yet painstaking detection work, leading to the capture of the serial killer and rapist John Cooper.
When Detective Chief Superintendant Steve Wilkins headed up a team, to review the two unsolved double murder cases from the 1980s, that of the Dixons on the Coastal Path, and the other of the Thomases of Scoveston Park Farm, Operation Ottawa was born. It did not take long for the team to recognise that they were looking at the work of a dangerous serial killer. Whether he might strike again, or indeed whether there were other cases that might link to those original murders, was something they needed to maintain a constant awareness of. At first the collecting of evidence was slow to come together but John Cooper had already appeared early on in the investigations for a number of reasons, though there had never been sufficient evidence to prove any of the suppositions that hung around him. Thanks however, to the passage of time, forensics, including DNA testing were now available to the investigators, and played an enormous part in the final collecting of the evidence, all pointing to Cooper. The guilty man attempted to throw them off again and again with excuses, and even with physical violence, but in the end he was brought to court and the evidence put before the judge and jury was such that he was convicted for life, on the stern command from the Judge that life would mean life and he would never be released. Steve Wilkins tells the story from his perspective, even giving background on his own career in the police force, and why this case became so important to him. Jonathan Hill, as much an investigative journalist as a newsreader who presented Crime Secrets for ITV Wales, brought his skills to bear on putting the story into book form. He worked on the television version of the Bullseye Killer, for which he won a BAFTA (Wales) for Best Current Affairs and from the first meeting with Steve Wilkins, both men realised how much they could benefit by working together to write the book, telling how a cold case which had haunted Pembrokeshire for decades was solved and justice finally seen to be done.
Pembrokeshire Murders – Catching the Bullseye Killer is published by Seren Books, and for sale in bookshops price 9.99 or from www.serenbooks.com
The feedback on Literary Festivals this year in the press suggests that it is time perhaps that they offered something more active than sitting listening to people talking about their books. Funny how things can get a bit samey over the years. It isn’t that long ago that people would have been thrilled to hang on every word spoken by John Mortimer or PD James, in the flesh as it were. But that has grown a little familiar, so something new is required. I have come up with my own something new for the Penfro Book Festival this year, and seeing as the most popular form of novel is a mystery (even romance is usually a mystery of some kind) I’ve built a mystery game. It’s an idea which might go really well or fail miserably. I’m hoping that families who come to the festival will enjoy it. It begins with me telling the brief story – how an item came to be stolen and the thief attempted to escape, and how, after running across the fields he ends up in the middle of a book festival where he hides his precious stuff somewhere not so far away! The audience are then drafted in as deputies and given clues to finding both thief and the stolen item. There is a prize of a token to spend at the festival, but the real fun, it is hoped will be in taking part in the game itself which of course all takes place in the beautiful gardens of Rhos y Gilwen Mansion which is where the Penfro Book Festival happens over the weekend of 13-16 September. It’s a vintage year this year with Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Lucy Gannon, Jim Perrin and many others. So whether my little mystery game is going to be a success is not of major import in the scheme of things, but it is just so good to be doing something that can involve parents and kids together in something active and fun, and I for one, am really looking forward to it.
It sometimes strikes me as curious that ‘mysteries’ are so prevalent in our reading matter, most particularly in our choice of novels. Whether we’re reading on Kindle, or on the printed page of a battered old paper back from the charity shop, mysteries are not only among my favourite reads but those of my friends and students too. So some years back, I came to the conclusion, that since I loved to read them, it might be an enjoyable exercise to try my hand at writing one. I created a female accidental detective – a retired astrologer, living in West Wales – and brought a young woman to her door whose father had disappeared. The novel grew to completion over a period of about a year, and I called it The Rules of Heaven, my first Grace de Savira mystery. I had loved writing it, and was confident that it was a page-turner, a good read. Then came the endless months of sending it off to publishers, during which time I wrote the second one, A Thorn in the Flesh. By the time the first one had been roundly rejected by every publisher I could think of sending it to, I was half way through the third book, From High Places. My disappointment about the first one meant I never sent the next one out, and none of them was ever published. I wrote the Dreamstealers trilogy for children, which did get published (YLolfa), then historical novels, also published (Llanerch Press), but the mysteries remained in the filing cabinet. Until recently when the first two Grace de Savira mysteries became available on Kindle, and to my great pleasure people have found them, and have actually bought them and read them. So I am now in the process of working on the unfinished book. The biggest mystery in the world of literature is how the choices are made to publish or not publish. And I have an even more exciting mystery up ahead, and this will come to light at the annual Penfro Book Festival. More of that again.