I began the writing of Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Southampton, as I do with all commissions. The first step is to decide which cases to include, and even this leads to a number of basic problems.
A writer of true crime has to strike a balance between detailing the circumstances of the crime, but avoiding sensationalism. Many of the crimes in this book were, of themselves, quite sensationalist. For example, the murder committed by Michael George Tatum, left his victim battered beyond recognition. Some of the pictures preserved at the National Archives might well be deemed much too graphic to include in this volume, so had to be omitted.
Another concern is the effect that relating these stories might have on living relatives, not just of the victim, but also of the person accused of the murder. For that reason, I tend to only refer to crimes that occurred thirty or more years ago; a generation ago if you prefer. There have been other murders, in Southampton, that have taken place since 1973, but these were deliberately left out as being a little too fresh in the public imagination.
Once the cases have been chosen, the next part of the book is the research. Much of this can be carried out at the National Archives, at Kew, an establishment well worth a visit for anyone interested in methodical research of any kind. This is, for me, perhaps the most important part of any writing commission. I abhor sloppy research and try to pack as much information into my stories as possible. This can be quite disconcerting when the staff at Kew produce a document which runs to 500 pages or more! Fortunately, I have a great asset in my wife, Yvonne, who helps with this research, often taking copious notes running to many pages.
After a case is researched, I then have to organise the facts into a sensible order. It isn’t enough to simply detail the events chronologically. Imagine, if you will, the difficulties of condensing those original 500 pages of original documentation into say 30 pages or so of notes, and then condensing that again, into a chapter of a few thousand words. It is a truism that some of the cases in the Southampton volume could have been a book in themselves. This is especially true of such cases as William Henry Podmore, James Camb, Michael George Tatum and Stephen Michael Marley.
All writing is fascinating. For me, true crime is especially fascinating, because each story is real. The events I detail actually took place, and each story tells of the end of at least one human life. What fiction could possibly hold such drama?
Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths is published by Pen and Sword Books