A Pilgrim's Progress and other novel adventures

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bigamy, theft and murder - ‘the Rainhill Murderer’

I’m just getting into my stride on ‘Beasts to the Slaughter’ (the working title for my second Pilgrim novel) and I’ve been casting around for inspiration for the antagonists.  To my surprise I found a generous dollop just a few streets away from where my husband grew up in Rainhill, Merseyside.  Frederick Bailey Deeming murdered his first wife and his four children in Dinham Villa in Rainhill. and buried them all under the hearth.  Shortly afterwards he killed his second wife Emily in Windsor.  The murders were only discovered after Deeming was arrested for another murder in Australia. Police in London considered him a key suspect for Jack the Ripper.

Deeming’s smooth manners and good looks made him a hit with the ladies, but he was as bloody a psychopath as any crime writer could invent.  I’ve decided to base one of Pilgrim’s adversaries in the novel – Frederick Arthur Denning – on him. No need for a spoiler-alert on this one – Pilgrim’s pretty certain that Denning is up to no good right from the start.

‘Frederick Arthur Denning rented a terraced house in Webb Street, South of the river, with his new wife Dorothy and her younger sister Helen Whitaker.  The house was narrow and grubby, with plaid curtains and a dirty doorstep.  Denning owned a Boston Terrier called Flit, preferred tea to coffee, worked as a gas-fitting salesman, and rarely took strong drink in public.  Pilgrim knew all of these things within half an hour of arriving in Webb Street, thanks to some careful questions in the nearest butcher, coffee shop and tavern.’

Will Pilgrim get his man?

There’s a great Australian website all about Deeming’s misdemeanours here

Thursday, 12 March 2015

From the screen to the page. The metamorphosis of murder.

What’s the difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?  It’s a question I’m often asked, being someone who earns a living doing both.  The answer isn’t as easy to pin down as you’d think.

 ‘An Act of Mercy’ began as a screenplay – ‘Pilgrim’, a speculative pilot episode for a TV series, or ‘spec script’.  I first had the idea for the story after reading an article about Charles Dickens, who was a massive fan of the newly-created detectives, often writing about them in his journal ‘Household Words’.  Unfortunately, his enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the public–at-large, especially the middle- and upper-classes, who thought there was something ‘sneaking and un-English’ about the concept.  Even the Police Commissioners believed that crime prevention was the key to successful policing: detection after the fact was an admission of defeat.  

I thought it was a great starting point for a story.

Shortly after finishing the screenplay for ‘Pilgrim’, ‘Ripper Street’ hit our TV screens.  I was gutted.  No-one was going to commission another Victorian crime series now!  But I’d enjoyed the company of Detective Sergeant Harry Pilgrim so much that I really didn’t want to abandon him.  I decided to turn the screenplay into a novel.

I started out with the dialogue and action of the script, and gradually built setting and internal monologue around them.  What I also had, right from the start, was structure (as any TV writer will tell you, a sound story structure is crucial if you’re going to sustain an hour-long TV episode). The only problem was that I only had enough structure and story for half a novel!

Turning ‘Pilgrim’ into ‘An Act of Mercy’ was a fascinating and occasionally frustrating challenge.  But I’m so glad I stuck at it.  Thanks to HarperCollins Killer Reads I can now share Detective Sergeant Harry Pilgrim with other lovers of crime fiction. I can also answer that tricky question with some authority.  What is the difference between a writing a novel and a writing a screenplay?  Six months hard work! 

This post will be a guest blog at KillerFest 15 - come and join us!

Questions, Questions.

My first ever Authorial Question and Answers!