I really don’t want to capitalise on the World Shit-Show that we’re all living through, but hey, what the f**k.
My book is out – A Garden of Bones: Blood Runs Thicker. Available in print and on Kindle. Buy a copy and have a read . . . before the Olivia Colman drama comes out. Get it from the horse’s mouth . . . how it really happened.
I’m hoping that the initial artwork will be arriving over the weekend, and to be honest I’ve been incredibly vague about what I want . . . because I don’t know what I want.
I know what I don’t want.
I don’t want a shadowy detective standing in a snow-filled forest.
I don’t want photographs of Susan and Christopher Edwards . . . that would be too ‘true crime’.
“Something a bit abstract,” was all I could really come up with.
I’m working with the fabulous Liam Relph to produce my book covers, and he was an absolute find.
Apart from his artwork – check him out on Reedsy – which is diverse, he has a sense for the abstract. What sold him to me was his promise to read the book. Sounds an odd thing to say, but most of them don’t. And then he came to me with real enthusiasm and a hundred questions . . . because he was genuinely interested and enthusiastic. I’ve talked about Liam in my last post, so I won’t go on, other than to reiterate the learning curve of going it alone.
Through this process, when I finally took the decision to be in charge of my own destiny as a writer; when I decided to move away from that notion of conventional publishing, I effectively had to become a small business.
I had to become my own PR and marketing department, my own accountant, my own project manager. And one of the keys to successful small business, I have learned, is that you need to hire in expertise.
Back in my pre-independent days, I truly never gave this any thought. It would just happen, right? Well yeah, it would . . . to a greater or lesser extent. You may get consulted on covers, but you wouldn’t have the final say, or perhaps not any say at all, because now it was the publisher’s book, not yours.
Would they even ask you about typesetting? Don’t know, but I doubt it.
And then to the editing. When I had lunch with my then agent one thing he said really struck me.
He said: “Of course, this is just the start,” After I’d worked through the night to make all the final amendments he wanted to get it out ahead of some of the bigger book festivals. “Once one of them bites, they’re going to want to appoint their own editor, to pull it around until it’s the book they want.”
With hindsight, I should have said, “Fuck that,” then and there. Because all they want is Inspector Morse and Harry Hole, or any one of a handful of other templates. What works? Just keep churning it out. More of the same, more of the same.Get it in the bookshops at the airport for that extra push.
Books bought at Heathrow and abandoned in hotel rooms all over the world, or left, finished, soaking up pool water in the fading sunlight until the artwork fades.
And that’s not the route I want.
I will share the initial designs when I have them.
When I discover an author I tend to go all out with him or her. My recent discoveries have been Shirley Jackson, Sarah Waters, Donna Tarrt and Patrick Süskind.
I’m not always that highbrow, it has to be said. A couple of years ago I discovered Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series and – following advise not to bother with the first two ‘because they’re crap’ – started with the third novel and read nothing else for the best part of a year until I got to the end.
There’s a new one out which I haven’t read, but it will probably be next on my list . . . unless something else catches my eye.
I did go back to his first two, after I stumbled into them in a bargain bookshop in Buxton. They’re not crap. They’re just not as good as the rest of the series.
And the reason, I think, is that they lack darkness. A crime novel set in Oslo, where it’s dark from 2.30pm in the afternoon, automatically adds a hell of a lot of mood . . . of weight.
If you set your first novel in Sydney and the second in Bangkok – as he does – then the sun is out, the light nights are late, and you have no real way of creating any sense of ‘Noir’.
I can see why he did it. He was new to it, and the notion of exotic foreigh locations must have appealed. Only it was counterproductive to the overall impact of the books. If it had been set in some winter-filled world, interspersed with the intrusion of neon street lighting, freezing smack addicts and the heavy weight of snow on the ground like an intrusive blanket, then the Bat and Cockroaches would have worked as well as all the others. It is a journey of discovery, I have come to realise..
As a writer, and as a reader I am drawn to darkness. I don’t just read crime. My tastes are fairly eclectic.
But all the same, give me darkness, give me noir.
Give me Dark Materials over Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, give me Perfume, give me Secret History. Whatever the genre, darkness for me opens up the human condition. It makes us explore what is most wrong with us, by exploring characters in works of fiction who have the most wrong with them.
I mean . . . come on . . . who wants to read about people like the ones who live next door . . . unless they’re Bill and Pat Wycherley.
I think we’re almost there. My typesetting is almost there for the innards, and I’ve had a long chat with my cover artist today, so I hope that within a month A Garden of Bones will be good to meet the world.
I asked a number of people to read it prior to publication and write truly honest reviews. These are all people I know professionally. But the directive was simple . . . Do not suck my d!c$. Be honest. If you hate it, please say that you hate it. You will be doing me a favour.
“It’s a book that works on many levels . . .”
Anyway, here is one of them, written by a guy who grew up and still lives in the town where A Garden of Bones is set.
AND I am eternally grateful.
“With a deft pen, Andy Done-Johnson gives a first-hand account of how he broke a true crime story which was gripping, shocking and bizarre in equal measure.
It’s a book that works on many levels.
First and foremost, it gives a journalist’s perspective on what it’s like to catch the story of a lifetime, then stay one step ahead of the press pack to keep it alive.
It’s also a study into the character and psychology of the story’s main protagonists, the perpetrators of such a chilling and callous crime, and the police officers tasked with tracking them down and piecing together the jigsaw of what happened.
Finally, it tells the story of the disintegration of a former mining town that has never recovered from its main industry and employment source closing down, and the devastating impact on the unfolding investigation of ever-tightening budget cuts on a force that’s already been stripped to the bone.
An assured debut.
I’ll be sharing the artwork soon . . . and maybe a bit more of the book.
Can you imagine dragging two dead, bleeding bodies down a couple of flights of stairs, not long after you’ve just shot them.
Can you imagine digging a pit in the dead of night, throwing the corpses in and covering them with topsoil.
Can you imagine going to B&Q the following morning and buying a load of bedding plants to cover the burial scene.
Can you imagine spending the next seven years routinely going back to the burial site to keep it maintained, to keep it looking normal, to stop it from drawing attention.
Ironically, this very act did just that.
In the years following the Wycherley’s murders, the only thing that neighbours found odd was ‘the young couple’ – Susan and Chrisopher Edwards – turning up, from time to time to do the garden.
It’s one of the first things that I was told, and it has, ultimately, created the title for the new drama that will be made later this year.
It goes a little too far, I would suggest.
In their evidence, Susan and Christopher claimed it was really an act of panic – they were faced with two dead bodies, they had to get rid of them to evade capture. They thought about hiding the Wycherleys’ remains in the attic, but they realised that they would smell, and neither of them had the physical strength to lug the remains of two dead adults over their heads, up a ladder and into a loft space.
But they could take them downwards . . . gravity would help.
So they had lumped them down the stairs; heads banding on step after step; William “as stiff as a board”, Patricis “loose and gurgling” . . . blood pouring out of her.
It would ultimately be part of their story that would lead to their conviction.
Neither of the Edwards were big people.
Christopher was slight; Susan slighter . . . and the notion of them dragging these two, dead human forms down the stairs, through the lounge and into their, almost, final resting place, seemed almost impossible, when it was described during their prosecution.
But they did it.
I have questioned over the years, was this an act of desperation; was this an act of greed and necessity?
Was it both?
In many ways, and this is a key theme of the book; William and Patricia were victims of Susan and Christopher, but Susan was a victim of William, Christopher was a victim of William.
Patricia was more innocent . . . although guilty by her ‘blind eyes’ to her husband’s behaviour. Maybe she just wanted a quiet life. I don’t know.
Was Christopher a victim of Susan. That’s a tricky one. Possibly . . . I would say.
But at what point, after you’ve been bullied and abused – physically, sexually and emotionally – do you become a criminal?
We live in a culture of victims and perpetrators; but the criminal justice system, the courts and the press, never really contemplate the victim . . . or whether they actually deserved the bullets that they got.
William Wycherley was not a nice man. William Wycherley did terrible things. And yet in this black and white world of ‘goodies and baddies’, he is the victim in all of this all the same . . . the vulnerable daughter who he abused, the villain. And maybe we need to look at situations like this through differently-tinted spectacles.
These days I mostly do court reporting – I turn up at various magistrates’ courts around the East Midlands and I ‘see what the cat has dragged in’.
It’s a weird experience, sitting in magistrates.
There’s the notion of court . . . the expectation. If you’re not used to it you sort of expect Rumpole of the Bailey; oak-panelled decor, people in wigs and gowns, a stern-looking judge wearing a red cloak.
In fairness, that’s how it was for the Wycherley trial . . . when Susan and Christopher Edwards’ version of events was put under the microscope, pulled apart and rejected.
But magistrates’ courts are a wholly different entity.
You do get some really serious stuff go through them. Any case has to go there first. A murder case goes there first . . . so Susan and Christopher Edwards made their first court appearnce, following their arrest, at Nottingham Magistrates. The case was then sent immediately to Nottingham Crown Court, where the really serious stuff is tried.
A few weeks ago, there was an alleged double murder in a Derbyshire village, and I went to that – not that you can report much, because as soon as a case is ‘active’ you can’t write anything that could potentially prejudice a jury.
But, by and large, you would not believe what the cat has dragged in.
In the past few weeks, I’ve covered a couple of homeless women who went on a festive shopping spree with a stolen credit card, a bloke who threatened to kill a bouncer for not letting him into a club because he was wearing ‘trackies’, a senior judge accused of assaulting a couple of hunt sab’s, a bloke who lost it with his girlfriend and repeatedly jumped up and down on her new car, causing more than £7,000 worth of damage, and a bloke whose Alsations got out and bit a bloke walking home from work.
My all time favourite, in my log career, was the bloke who stole a bus from a depot in Mansfield, drove it to the bus station and picked up all of his mates, abandoned it on an A Road about six miles away and walked home.
Half an hour later the police were knocking on his front door and he demanded to know how they had found him.
“It’s snowing, you tw@1,” they had replied. “We just followed your footprints.”
This all costs the public purse a lot of money, and is largely the result of poverty, drugs and alcohol . . . I get that.
But there is a large part of you that thinks, “You did fcuking what?” Criminal masterminds, they are not.
I’ll be back to the Wycherleys proper in my next post. Just been stuck in magistrates court all day and needed to get it off my chest.