Thursday 22 February 2024

Social, Cultural and Political climate of Victorian England

How the social, cultural and political climate of Victorian England combined to create a perfect storm of crime, murder and sensationalism.

Kim Donovan, author of The Mysterious Mrs Hood, provides the historical backdrop to her great -great aunt’s murder in 1900.

England 1898 --It has been ten years since Jack the Ripper terrorised the streets of Whitechapel, London. Charles Booth and his team of socialists have been working on a project to map wealth and poverty across the city since 1886, and have recently named Stockwood Street, which was home to Mary Jane and Herbert Bennett, as being one of the ‘lowest class’ streets in Victorian London. It was at this point that Mary Jane and Herbert made a choice: to turn to crime to escape poverty. Mary Jane’s desperate struggle for survival had begun.

Charles Booth’s work would eventually result in a colour-coded map of the city, which carved out and demarcated the poorest streets with thick black lines. Booth classified these areas as being home to the ‘lowest classes.’ The notebooks that accompany Booth’s poverty map add vivid detail about the social character of each street, which helps to give us a sense of the conditions in which people were living at the time. Stockwood Street, a dingy thoroughfare off Plough Street, near Clapham Junction, was described as being awash with ‘drunken, rowdy and troublesome people’. It is easy to imagine the danger that may have lurked on the ‘vicious and semi-criminal’ street after dark. It is no surprise, then, that a heavily pregnant Mary Jane would have urgently sought to liberate herself from these challenging social conditions.

The researchers documenting the conditions on London’s streets would at times be accompanied by the police officer for the district in which they were charting. It was a time when officers walked their beats. Forensic science was in its infancy, and the police still relied heavily on clues to solve crimes. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Scotland Yard had been set up ten years before, and plain clothed police officers, who had originally been thought of as ‘spies’ had made significant strides in winning the trust of the public. Despite this more robust police force, Mary Jane and Herbert would successfully evade the scrutiny of the authorities as they travelled across the country, graduating from fraud to theft, and eventually to arson, while leaving a trail of disgruntled people in their wake.

When relations between the couple eventually began to sour, it is unlikely that they would have considered divorce. Although legal by that time, divorce was expensive and brought with it great shame, especially for women. Mary Jane would have been dependent on her marriage for reasons of reputation, and she would have been reliant on her husband for money.

Despite the great swathes of black on Booth’s map of London, social conditions across the country were being to improve. The Bank holiday Act of 1871 had introduced four regular bank holidays, which gave workers more time for leisure activities, and the development of the railways made it possible to travel longer distances with more ease. Seaside resorts had begun to spring up, and Great Yarmouth in particular became a popular holiday destination. It was here, on a holiday with her infant daughter in September 1900, that Mary Jane would meet her tragic end.

This increase in leisure time coincided with a rise in literacy levels and the development of a more affordable and less regulated press, which, in turn, led to a dramatic rise in newspaper readership. The Victorians had a reputation for being avid consumers of violent entertainments, and a new-fangled form of journalism dubbed ‘Tabloid Journalism’, or ‘Yellow Journalism’ (in North America) had started to develop. Articles in this style had a focus on bold headlines, emotive writing and sensationalist stories. They were, broadly speaking, a development of the Broadside, a type of street literature that had been infamously sold at public executions in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The sensationalist reporting of crime was at odds with a legal system that required impartiality, and there were calls at the turn of the 20th Century to regulate the press through fear that sensationalist reporting would prejudice active cases. It was into this press that the story of Mary Jane’s murder found its way, and it was through a newspaper report that her father would learn of his daughter’s murder. The press whipped up such a frenzy around the case that the ensuing trial attracted attention from across the country and Mary Jane Bennett became a household name. She had escaped poverty, and her desperate struggle for survival had come to an end, but not in the way she would have hoped for.

The Mysterious Mrs Hood by Kim Donovan (Orion Publishing) Out Now

A true Victorian murder mystery... Great Yarmouth, September 1900: A young woman is found dead on the beach, a bootlace tied tightly around her neck. Despite her death attracting national attention in the press, nobody claims her. Detective Inspector Robert Lingwood of the Great Yarmouth police force declares he will not rest until the mystery of the young woman's death is solved. But it's only once the case has been referred to Scotland Yard that the layers of mystery start to peel away... 'Mrs Hood' was in fact Mary Jane Bennett, and this is her story. Following clues and tracking red herrings leads the police to close in on their one and only suspect. With arson, fraud, an affair and a sensation-hungry press, the murder gripped the nation in one of the most eagerly anticipated trials of the early twentieth century.

Kim Donovan can be found on X @Kim_Donovan_



Tuesday 20 February 2024

Theakston's Special Guest Authors Revealed

GLOBAL BESTSELLERS AND FAN FAVOURITES CELEBRATED AS THE THEAKSTON OLD PECULIER CRIME WRITING FESTIVAL REVEALS SPECIAL GUEST AUTHORS FOR 2024


www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com

Theakston Crime Harrogate International Festivals has announced the Special Guests for the 2024 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, the worlds largest and most prestigious celebration of crime fiction.

Curated by bestselling crime writer and 2024 Festival Programming Chair Ruth Ware, with the programming committee, the Special Guests on this years programme include global bestsellers and fan favourites Chris Carter, Jane Casey, Elly Griffiths, Erin Kelly, Vaseem Khan, Dorothy Koomson, Shari Lapena, Abir Mukherjee, Liz Nugent and Richard Osman.

Returning to Harrogate for its 21st year, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (1821 July 2024) is a highlight of the crime fiction year, offering fans from around the world a unique opportunity to hear from the biggest stars of the genre, discover exciting new talent and enjoy a packed programme of panels, talks and inspiring creative workshops.

This years Special Guests include home-grown talent from around the UK, alongside exciting writers from Canada, Brazil and Ireland, in a thrilling celebration of the genre that highlights its strength, diversity and global appeal. Ruth Ware, bestselling author and 2024 Festival Programming Chair said: "I'm so proud of the incredible roster of special guests appearing at this year's Festival - together they showcase the strength, breadth and sheer excellence of the crime-writing landscape. Harrogate has always been a Festival with readers at its very heart, and there really is something for everyone in this glorious celebration of our brilliant and bloody genre."

Vaseem Khan, award-winning author of the Baby Ganesh Agency series and the Malabar House novels and last year’s Festival Programming Chair, will open the Festival in conversation with Abir Mukherjee, author of the globally bestselling Wyndham & Banerjee series. 2024 Festival Programming Chair Ruth Ware will interview author, producer and television presenter Richard Osman about his multi-million copy bestselling Thursday Murder Club series.

International bestseller Shari Lapena visits from Canada to talk about her latest thriller What Have You Done with Liz Nugent, winner of four Irish Book Awards and fellow Irish crime writer Jane Casey will be in conversation with Erin Kelly, whose highly anticipated new novel The Skeleton Key is published in April.

Big name thriller writers Chris Carter, the bestselling author of the Robert Hunter series, and Dorothy Koomson the Queen of the Big Reveal unveil their latest novels and Festival favourite Elly Griffiths will discuss her new standalone mystery The Last Word.

Simon Theakston, Chairman of T&R Theakston Ltd, said: “It continues to be a privilege to support the worlds best crime writing Festival as we have over the last 21 years. In that time, we have had the great honour of hosting crime writing legends from across the globe as well as introducing brilliant new voices, and I am looking forward to celebrating what promises to be yet another wonderful Festival with my festival friends over a pint of Theakston Old Peculier!

Sharon Canavar, Chief Executive of Harrogate International Festivals, said: The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival turns 21 this year, and we look forward to bringing another brilliant Festival to Harrogate in celebration. Ruth has curated a thrilling programme with every crime fiction reader at its heart. We look forward to sharing the full programme in the coming months and cannot wait to welcome everyone to the Festival in the summer whether its your first time or your twenty-first!

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is delivered by the north of England’s leading arts Festival organisation, Harrogate International Festivals and forms part of their diverse year-round portfolio of events, which aims to bring immersive cultural experiences to as many people as possible. Classic Weekend Break Packages, Author Dinners and tickets for Creative Thursday are on sale now. To book tickets, please call +44(0)1423 562 303 or email info@harrogate-festival.org.uk. More information about tickets and packages can be found here. The full programme for this years Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival will be announced in Spring 2024


Thursday 15 February 2024

Murdle Star Joins CrimeFest Headliners

 

CrimeFest, the UK’s biggest crime fiction convention, has announced a headline 2024 event with the Murdle author, G.T. Karber.

Murdle took the coveted Christmas 2023 number one spot, beating Richard Osman, who called it, “an absolute phenomenon”.

The Arkansas author has staged more than 30 immersive whodunits in the LA area, as the General Secretary of the Hollywood Mystery Society, and will host a special Murdle event on CrimeFest’s opening night.

CrimeFest, sponsored by Specsavers, is hosted from 9 to 12 May 2024 at the Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel. Up to 150 authors take part, appearing in over 50 panels.

G.T Karber joins featured guests for 2024’s CrimeFest - Laura Lippman, Denise Mina, Lynda Plante and James Lee Burke.

Karber will also take part in a panel on Columbo, alongside fellow aficionados of the iconic TV show, Laura Lippman, and Vaseem Khan, chair of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA).

G.T Karber’s third instalment, Murdle: Even More Killer Puzzles is published on 9 May by Souvenir Press.

The fiendishly compulsive mini-mystery puzzles challenge readers to find whodunit, how, where, and why. The new book features the deadly secrets of a mysterious manor, the riddles of a suspiciously orderly science institute and the eerie corridors of a tech billionaire’s island retreat.

Adrian Muller said: “We’re really excited that G.T Karber is coming from Hollywood to open CrimeFest on Thursday night. It promises to be a thrilling, fun, and hugely entertaining evening, and with the many crime authors and readers taking part, it will be intriguing to see who cracks the Murdle code.

The convention will also feature a homage to PD James, known as the Queen of Crime Fiction, with the award-winning crime writer and lawyer, Frances Fyfield, the Sunday Times chief fiction critic, Peter Kemp, and the author, playwright, and producer, Simon Brett.

The Welsh-Canadian mystery writer Cathy Ace will be the Gala Dinner’s 'Leader of Toasts', toasting the authors nominated for the 2024 CrimeFest awards. Cathy's Cait Morgan Mysteries have been optioned for TV by the production company, Free@Last TV, which is behind the hit series, Agatha Raisin.

The convention was founded in 2008 and features the annual CrimeFest Awards.


Tom Baragwanath on small-town claustrophobia

Some years ago, I moved from a place where it felt like everyone knew me – and I, in turn, felt I knew everyone – to a place where nobody knows me. From small-town New Zealand to Paris, I exchanged bumping into mates on the walk to the supermarket for bread for a thousand incredible boulangeries where not a single soul knew my name. This sudden anonymity was bracing, and a little thrilling. But soon, I found myself craving a little small-town claustrophobia. When nobody in the street knew a thing about me, I wondered what it would be like if everybody knew everything about me.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but this germ of homesickness was ready to sprout into a book: my debut novel Paper Cage. Naturally, I gave my heroine Lorraine Henry an encyclopaedic knowledge of my rural hometown of Masterton. As a file clerk in the police station, Lorraine would know better than anyone the way stories, facts, and gossip all intertwine and coalesce to form a sense of a person: what they’re like, what they do, how far they can be trusted. As far as it’s possible to know a person, Lorraine would know them – or she would think she did. 

Lorraine would have an unerring compass when it came to navigating threats both within the community and outside of it. As the embodiment of small-town collective surveillance, Lorraine would have a sense of the unspoken things lurking between the police reports she’d been writing. Because she’d been watching; because she’d been listening. So when children from marginalised families started going missing, she’d know exactly where to look. 

But because this is small-town New Zealand, Lorraine would quickly run into the emotional miasma that builds up inside so many insular communities. Getting useful information would mean contending with decades-old grievances, obsessions, and spats. It would mean navigating the invisible web of judgement and suspicion, and pulling apart some of the secrets binding people so tight they can barely breathe. 

Working on this novel was more than just a chance to treat my own homesickness – cheaper than a plane trip home, and with a lot less paperwork given the New Zealand government’s near penitential COVID lockdown policy at the time. It was a chance to explore small-town claustrophobia from all sides, and to understand what it is about marginal or forgotten places that writers – especially writers of crime or thriller stories – just can’t seem to escape. 

From Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen to Shelley Burr’s Wake, from True Detective to Fargo, there’s something about tiny communities that lends itself to great stories. For me, it’s the sense of people being so deep in each other’s business: of living, as Lorraine puts it, “cheek-to-jowl”. In a city of millions, it’s easy to disappear into the crowd. In a town of thousands, hundreds, or even dozens, one feels constantly exposed, and constantly judged. And while it’s true that small communities can pull together in miraculous ways to face external threats, it’s just as common for these threats to pit neighbour against neighbour. 

In the vein of the Coen Brothers, I also wanted to showcase the straight-up weirdness of small-town New Zealand. Or rather, I wanted to showcase how our local flavour of weirdness can better illuminate a more universal strangeness. Is it really that odd that the Gull service station in Masterton sells its fried chicken at half-price after midnight, for example? Should it surprise anyone that fights often break out at Featherston’s Underhill Road swimming hole on the hottest days of summer? And isn’t it only natural that gangs of bored kids might spear eels in the gutters with garden forks during a once-in-a-century flood?

I never imagined that by indulging my homesickness and sharing these kinds of hyper-local details I would end up connecting with a global audience of readers. But now that Paper Cage has made its way onto bookshelves around the world, I’ve come to understand that we make sense of ourselves not through sweeping universal stories, but through small ones. 

As I walk the streets of Paris, I find myself still enjoying my mask of relative anonymity. And yet, there’s something about small-town claustrophobia that keeps drawing me back to Masterton, and back into Lorraine’s story. Or maybe it’s only by going back to those streets where my characters feel like they can’t breathe that I’m able to breathe easy.

Paper Cage by Tom Baragwanath (John Murray Press)

Masterton, New Zealand may be a small town, but its residents are certainly not united. Old resentments and the simmering tensions of race and culture divide the Maori and white inhabitants, with everyone keeping to their own patch of turf. But when local children start to go missing, vanishing between the cracks, accusations are hurled, and community relations reach boiling point. Caught in the middle is Lorraine Henry. She works as a lowly records clerk at the police station amongst towering piles of paperwork, quietly making connections and remembering things that the cops would rather not. Solving cases is not part of her job, but when her great-nephew is the next to disappear, she must put her skills to the test as she is called in to help, all before time runs out for the children.

 

 

 


Tuesday 13 February 2024

Murder on the Menu by Orlando Murrin

© Matt Austin

Having enjoyed a career editing food magazines and writing cookbooks, I imagined that making the transition to writing culinary cosy crime would be a snap. How wrong I was.

Now that Knife Skills For Beginners is finally out – it’s been a long time coming – I’m enjoying a short pause to look back over the experience. Which, in the manner of all good meals, has been a succession of delicious surprises. 

Amuse-bouche

When I was growing up, the family hero was my maternal grandfather, William Skardon, who started life as a copper on the streets of Pimlico, later becoming a detective then crack MI5 interrogator. Among his celebrated successes, he caught and arrested Lord Haw-Haw in Germany, exposed the Portland Spy Ring and extracted a confession from atomic spy Klaus Fuchs. After defecting to Moscow, Philby declared, ‘The only man I feared was Skardon’. The Daily Express called him ‘England’s Most Famous Pipe-Smoker’ and the Sunday Times spent years stalking him in Torquay, in a vain attempt to get him to ditch the dirt on an ex-boss at MI5.

Granddad was forbidden to talk about his exploits as a spycatcher, so he used instead to regale us with stories of gruesome murder cases from his detective years, and the clues and tells that enable him to solve them. Ever since I’ve found whodunits and murder mysteries fascinating and dreamed of writing one of my own.

Starter

I left it late to write my first novel – in my early 60s – but that’s because I was doing other things. I’ve had several careers – restaurant pianist, advertising copywriter, features writer, magazine editor, cookery writer, chef, hotelier – and threw myself into all of them; there simply wasn’t time.

A few years ago, I decided the moment had come and booked myself on an Arvon course taught by Andrew Taylor and Laura Wilson; they were so inspiring. Another turning point was being asked to write a column for Waitrose Weekend newspaper, through which I polished my style and learnt how to make readers laugh. (I hope.)

Main course

Three years ago, I wrote a half novel, then another full one, at which point disaster struck. I’d assumed I’d be spared the horror of the slush pile because I already an agent (for my cookbooks). Imagine my dismay when she announced that for conflict-of-interest reasons, she couldn’t represent my fiction.

I stuck a note on my computer - I AM IN DEADLY EARNEST - then spent fifty days and nights in submission hell, waiting for agents to respond. Finally, I had a glimmer of interest from a couple, followed by a send me the whole manuscript from the most covetable of all, top crime agent Oli Munson at AM Heath. Knife Skills For Beginners is the result.

It’s a culinary cosy crime story set in a posh but shabby-round-the-edges London cookery school, where our hapless hero, Paul, is summoned to teach a course at short notice.

There’s something a bit rum about its proprietor, Rose, to say nothing of the eight eccentric students who gather to learn the finer points of haute cuisine. On the first night something terrible happens, and Paul finds himself embroiled in a grisly crime.

While the police investigate, the students are told to stay on the premises, and Rose - anything rather than offer refunds - insists Paul continue teaching. He uses lessons in bread, pastry and sauce making as covert operations, watching the students for clues whodunit, unaware that meanwhile someone is framing him for murder…

In classic cosy crime tradition, clues and red herrings abound, including six ‘killer’ recipes, which provide hints to the killer’s identity. I should add that these are real recipes, which combine to form a sophisticated dinner party menu. My dearest wish is that a fan somewhere will throw a Knife Skills For Beginners dinner party – minus, of course, the dastardly crime.

Side dish

I’ve heard the publisher-author relationship can be a tricky one, but I have no complaints – quite the opposite. We’re all on the same side: trying to sell books.

Initially I was shocked by the amount of re-writing I was asked to do, and I recall a somewhat embarrassing meltdown when my third set of structural edits came in (I didn’t realise this was normal). I’m now at work on a second Knife Skills Mystery and there’s no question that, with each draft, the book gets better. I’m in total awe of my editor – Finn Cotton at Transworld – who in an odd way reminds me of my grandfather: courteous, patient and charming, but with a deadly eye for detail.

Dessert

My cookbooks have always been well publicised and marketed, but working with Transworld has been whole different experience. A lot of activity seems to happen as if by magic, with no effort on my part, but there’s still social media to manage, proofs to drop, enjoyable articles (such as this) to write, booksellers and reviewers to schmooze, events to be confirmed and diarised… to say nothing of keeping my orlandomurrin.com website up-to-date (with the help of the world’s best web manager, Heather Brown) and begging everyone I know to post reviews on Amazon. True, most of this is optional, but with my publisher evidently pulling out all the stops, I feel I must as well.

This means that – like a Victorian lady – I find the first hour or two of the day is spent answering messages and dealing with ‘stuff.’ I tell myself this is a warm-up exercise before the actual writing of the day begins, but if it expands much further, I will need a personal assistant. (Just joking). 

Petits-fours

The surprises keep on coming, even after launch…

·         How peculiar to find my favourite fountain pen – which has autographed countless cookbooks over the years – can’t be used to sign a novel because the ink runs. (Oh, the days of glossy paper.)

·         How touching to hear my words brought to life as an audiobook. (Warm thanks to Sebastian Humphreys, the man of a thousand voices.)

·         The most amazing thing of all, however, is discussing your story with someone and discovering that it no longer belongs to you – it’s out in the world. (‘You just don’t understand her,’ a fellow author told me about one of my more dislikeable characters; ‘She’s got a heart of gold.’)

Despite everything, I am beyond thrilled to have written something from my imagination which gives people pleasure… If it sounds your sort of thing, I hope you’ll give it a go, and that it will make you SMILE, SALIVATE and SHIVER.

 

Knife Skills for Beginners by Orlando Murrin (Transworld Publishers) Out Now

A recipe for disaster. When chef Paul Delamare takes a job teaching at an exclusive residential cookery school in Belgravia, the only thing he expects his students to murder is his taste buds. But on the first night, the unthinkable happens: someone turns up dead... The school rests on a knife-edge. The police are convinced Paul is the culprit. After all, he’s good with a blade, was first on the scene – and everyone knows it doesn’t take much to push a chef over the edge. To prove his innocence, he must find the killer. Could it be one of his students? Or the owner of the school – a woman with secrets and a murky past? It all boils down to murder. If Paul can’t solve the mystery fast – as well as teach his students how to make a perfect hollandaise sauce – he’ll be next to get the chop.

More information about the author can be found on his website. You can also follow him on X @orlandomurrin on Instagram @orlandomurrinauthor and on Facebook.





 

Saturday 10 February 2024

CFP: Literatures and Laws

 




 

CFP: Literatures and Laws online one-day symposium

A one-day symposium hosted online by Bournemouth University, UK, held on 13th April 2024. 

Department of Humanities & Law, and Narrative, Culture, and Community Research Centre

‘Literatures and Laws' considers law as literature, and law in literature. The first considers how law constructs narratives to make sense of and process non-legal events and experiences. Thus personal experiences of an event or dispute with another have to be translated into their legally relevant features so that a legal narrative can be constructed. Additionally, barristers when presenting a case in court seek to build a narrative to persuade juries. The second explores how law, courtroom spaces and rhetoric, justice, and legal systems and infrastructure (and their associated politics) are represented in (or excluded from) literature.

At a time where legal frameworks and understandings are increasingly contested, it is important that we consider how storytelling enables to the law to operate and how storytelling represents law and affects our understanding of law. An important component of a successful judicial system is the general trust the public have in that system. We want to explore both legal and literary perspectives on how that trust relates to storytelling and fictionality, and how both fictional literature and law construct stories about us as participants within a legal system. 

At Bournemouth University, literature studies and law sit within the same department; inspired by this contiguity, we are inviting research and/or creative papers that explore the ways storytelling and narrative intersect within representations of law, justice, and legal systems. 

Broad themes considered within the symposium, then, may include but are certainly not limited to

  • Law and literary genre, for instance papers that focus on representations and significant instances or structures of law and legality in crime and detective fiction, Gothic and historical fiction, procedurals, ecological fiction

  • Inventions of law and legal systems in speculative fiction

  • Courtroom drama

  • Law, politics, and the state in literature

  • Historical case studies

  • Precedent and storytelling: Cases as links in a storytelling chain

  • Lay terminology to legal terminology: Lay and legal understandings

  • Genres of law: Conceptualising law as genre

  • Storytelling conventions in strands of law: Criminal, civil and human rights

  • Fictionality and media framing of law: Sensation, celebrity and perception

    Please submit a 200-word abstract for a 15-minute presentation and a brief biographical note to swalker@bournemouth.ac.uk no later than February 22nd 2024. You may direct general queries to the same address.

    Keynote speakers:

    Professor Hywel Dix (Bournemouth University, NCCR member)

    Hywel is interested in the relationship between culture and social and political change, especially in relation to political devolution in the 4 nations of the UK, as well as autofiction and cultural memory. Recent publications include Compatriots or Competitors: Welsh, Scottish, English and Northern Irish Writing and Brexit in Comparative Contexts (University of Wales Press, 2023). 

    Dr Caroline Derry (Open University)

    Caroline Derry joined the Open University in April 2017. She is a senior lecturer in law, teaching subjects including criminal and evidence law. Her other roles include Law School EDI Champion.  Caroline qualified as a barrister, practising in criminal defence law, and as a solicitor in a large, central London legal aid practice. She then taught for fifteen years at London Metropolitan University, where she was a senior lecturer in criminal and evidence law and gender & law, and course leader for the LLB Law. She has been a visiting lecturer in criminal law at SOAS and at Paris Descartes (Masters in Common Law).

    Symposium organisers

    Dr Rebecca Mills is Senior Lecturer in English and Communication at Bournemouth University. Her publications include work on crime and detective fiction, particularly of the interwar era. Please contact Rebecca if you have any questions about developing a literary topic for the symposium: rmills@bournemouth.ac.uk

    Dr Samuel Walker is Senior Lecturer in Law at Bournemouth University. He researches the notion of embodiment in law, and how literature explores our understanding of law and justice. Please contact Sam if you have any questions about developing a topic on law-focused topic for the symposium: swalker@bournemouth.ac.uk



Thursday 8 February 2024

Ajay Close on What Doesn't Kill Us.

I was 15 in 1975 when Peter Sutcliffe killed his first victim, and 21 when he was caught in Sheffield, about a mile from my home. My teenage years were coloured by the folk culture that sprang up around the 13 murders: graffiti, urban legends, football terrace chants, sick jokes. A young woman in the north of England who walked home alone at night, I was his target demographic.

 

Although Sutcliffe died in 2020, those years live on in the memories of countless women. Many of us have stories to tell. As a novelist, I often use personal experience as the starting point for my fiction. But fiction inspired by the Sutcliffe case is a sensitive matter. There’s a risk of trampling over private tragedy, or even being accused of exploiting it. These days we see fame as the ultimate prize. A twisted individual like Sutcliffe doesn’t deserve to be remembered. Then there’s the whole question of why – why write about it, why read it? No one wants to pander to the sort of person titillated by attacks on vulnerable women.  

Even that nickname is controversial. In the late 70s the term ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ was everywhere: on television and radio, in newspaper headlines and on newsagents’ bills. Now It’s suspect because of its ‘dark glamour.’ When ITV was making a seven-part drama about the police investigation and the impact of the murders on victims’ families, members of those families lobbied to prevent ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ from appearing in the title. The series was broadcast last autumn as The Long Shadow.

However understandable that decision, I wouldn’t want to see the term added to our list of taboo vocabulary. This is about much more than Peter Sutcliffe. The words ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ are an evocative shorthand for a social history we’re not yet ready to forget.

Millions of women across the north of England lived through the 70s. Plenty of us were enraged by the incompetence of the police, the curfew effectively imposed on single women, the sexist attitudes of the detectives who appeared on the nightly news. (Memories refreshed by the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 and ongoing reports of police abusing their power over women.) Domestic violence was rife. Some wives were so frightened of their husbands they shopped them to the Ripper tip-off line. Any woman who didn’t own a car and couldn’t afford taxis had to make a choice. She could stay in night after night, letting a man she had never met put her under house arrest. Or she could insist on her right to a social life, accepting that walking home alone was akin to playing Russian roulette.

Like most women I knew, I was terrified after dark, constantly looking over my shoulder, suspicious of every man I passed. Writing about that time is a longstanding ambition. I have absolutely zero interest in the psychology of Peter Sutcliffe, but I’m fascinated by how society reacted to his crimes. Sutcliffe was a stick that stirred up a lot of very nasty sediment.

So yes, I’ve written a novel, but no, the killer is not Peter Sutcliffe, and the victims are not ciphers for the women he murdered over those six years. PC Liz Seeley and her superiors are not the actual Ripper Squad detectives, even if the plot borrows aspects of the bungled police investigation. (You couldn’t make it up!) Likewise, the militant separatists who fight back against male supremacy and offer Liz a refuge from her violent boyfriend are not the real Leeds Revolutionary Feminists. What Doesn’t Kill Us is a historical novel set in a very different Britain – but not all the evils it depicts are safely in the past.

What Doesn’t Kill Us by Ajay Close (Saraband) Out Now 

A killer stalks the streets of Leeds. Every man is a suspect. Every woman is at risk. But in a house on Cleopatra Street, women are fighting back. It’s the eve of the 1980s. PC Liz Seeley joins the squad investigating the murders. With a violent boyfriend at home and male chauvinist pigs at work, she is drawn to a feminist collective led by the militant and uncompromising Rowena. There she meets Charmaine – young, Black, artistic, and fighting discrimination on two fronts. As the list of victims grows and police fail to catch the killer, women across the north are too terrified to go out after dark. To the feminists, the Butcher is a symptom of wider misogyny. Their anger finds an outlet in violence and Liz is torn between loyalty to them and her duty as a police officer. Which way will she jump? What Doesn’t Kill Us combines the tension of a police procedural with the power and passion of the women’s lib movement. By turns emotional, action-packed and darkly funny, it reveals just how much the world has changed since the 1970s – and how much it hasn’t.

More information about the author can be found on her website . You can also follow her on X at @AjayClose and on FaceBook.


Wednesday 7 February 2024

First Blood. Writing your debut crime novel.

 

In-person, at our home in Goldsboro Books 

22b Ship Street Brighton. BN1.



Writers on this intensive course will develop their ideas and their writing craft, hand-in-hand with an understanding of the market and industry trends today. Throughout the course, you’ll learn to stress-test your ideas by pitching them to writers and industry professionals.

The Course

Eight evening sessions (Mondays, 18:30–21:30) in person. April 15th – June 3rd 
Two hour-long, one-to-one sessions with course director P. D. Viner. The first will be scheduled before Monday April 15th to build a personal plan, based upon your experience, and where you are in your writing process

Monday evening sessions will include:

  • Crime writing and its subgenres—developing an understanding of the marketplace and where you want to position your novel — with GWA founder P. D. Viner.

  • How to develop the hook of your novel, giving it a story structure and a plot that thrills and excites — with top thriller writer Simon Toyne.

  • Character development and relationship-building, for creating suspense and incredible twists and turns — with bestselling psych thriller writer Araminta Hall.

  • Insight into police procedures and how law enforcement works. Ideas and strategies for developing contemporary crime stories with real-world characters and issue-led storylines — with retired Chief Superintendent and best-seller Graham Bartlett.

  • Creating multi-level story-worlds with recurring characters and ensemble casts. From TV writing to gangland thrillers and edgy police procedurals — with hybrid author Susan Wilkins.

  • Understanding the agent-author relationship. Considering the wider rights possibilities of your novel (TV, Film, Games etc). How to pitch your idea (and get immediate feedback) — with top agent, and founder of the Capital Crime festival, David Headley.

    For all ability levels. Only 10 spaces available.

£399 (£349 early bird if booked by March 15th)

Application form at our website: https://goldsborowritingacademy.co.uk/courses/

For more information email: phil@goldsborowritingacademy.co.uk