There are some horrors which embed themselves in your memory and won’t be exorcised however hard you try. One of those was the news my eldest brother brought back from school at the beginning of the spring term. He told me that two brothers, one in his form, the other younger, had been slaughtered by their mother when they came home for the Christmas holidays. He graphically described how the two had tried to escape: one was found in a passage with his throat slit, the second was discovered huddled in a corner of the garage, where he’d tried to hide from her. A bloodied cricket bat was lying in the hall when their father came home from work that night.
The incident haunted my own schooldays. I thought often of those two boys, the terror they must have felt as their mother came at them with her knife, the father’s extreme horror at finding the slaughtered bodies of his sons, the fact that this all took place so close to Christmas. I never saw any mention in the newspapers, and wonder now if our parents deliberately kept the papers away from us. So I was left with only the cruel images my over-active imagination conjured up. Much later, I learned that the mother had been sent to Broadmoor, where she eventually died.
I grew up, married, and had sons of my own. Bizarre though it might seem, for a while they even attended the same school as those two lost boys. As a mother, it seemed unimaginable to me that a woman could so brutally murder her children. Not just kill but actually hunt them down in order to do so. What had they done to deserve so awful a death? Or had, for some reason, a vital maternal spring snapped inside her head. I imagined the screams as the children tried to get away, the terror they must have felt, the blood.
For years I have wanted to write about it, expunge it from my mind, but until now, could never find a way to approach it. In any case, did I have the right to use someone else’s real-life tragedy for my own purposes? But that’s what writers do: in the same way that many newspapers turn fiction into fact, so novelists turn fact into fiction.
Like all writers, I debated the merits of multiple viewpoint against single viewpoint, the question of who was to tell the story, whether to use third or first person narrative, how to get a handle. In the end, having stripped the original occurrence to the bone, I built it up again, devising new characters, bringing in an extra victim, gradually creating up a picture of the kind of woman who might have perpetrated such a hideous crime.
Of course the finished book bears little resemblance to what happened then. There was no mystery about that long ago evening when the lives of two little boys were so brutally cut short, but out of fact, I hope I have created an intriguing and intricately-woven piece of fiction.
Published by Severn House