A bit more of the book . . .

Say hello to Susan Edwards

Hesitant footsteps on the stairs, laboured; one creak, then a pause, then another – like someone carrying a heavy load. 

Susan Edwards

The shuffle of feet outside the door; a key, turning in a lock – a rasping clunk as it is pulled out. 

The squeak of the handle, the hiss of wood gliding over carpet, and the sense that someone is standing behind her.

She doesn’t turn. 

After all, who else is it going to be? 

She has stayed all day in the tiny flat, pokier even than their former home in Dagenham. The floors squeak when you walk around and the whole floor in the living room sinks into a corner. If you happened to drop a ball on the floor it would naturally roll towards it.

She is slight – not short but slump-shouldered, which are slender and sagged.

A Garden of Bones

The attic rooms drop in the corners, bend in the walls, and have windows jutting upwards in a failed attempt to make more space, like an afterthought.

She looks out over the skyline, almost Russian in its multi-coloured and domed splendor, every now and then. 

She wanders a lot. She wanders and looks at her watch. She clutches her hands, rubs them together a lot – so bad that she has to use cream to soften them – like there’s blood on them, like a bashful Lady Macbeth.

She is slight – not short but slump-shouldered, which are slender and sagged.

Her hair is grey and forgotten, like she has been cutting it herself, and she wears no make-up. She has no need.

Her clothes are dour and shabby – an old green cardigan over her shoulders, plain cream trousers and a round-necked top of an indeterminable shade of white.

She wears no jewellery.

She never has. 

There is no TV, and she couldn’t understand it even if there was. They have a small radio – good enough to give them a crackly rendition of the World Service. 

There is also no TV because there is no money – what little pot they had has now dwindled 

to a pocketful of coppers. 

Lessons from a literary hero . . .

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

Terry Pratchett

I was watching a programme the other day about the late, great Terry Pratchett – one of my life heroes, to be honest, as well as my literary ones.

There was a section  where he was talking about writer’s block, and saying that he’d never suffered from it . . .

Terry Pratchett

Paraphrasing here, but in a nutshell, he said: “There’s nothing that cures writer’s block better than a narky editor screaming over your shoulder for your copy.”

He went further on the subject, perhaps his most famous quotation on the topic is: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

Like me, Pratchett had been a journalist, although he had bailed on the industry to work as a press officer for a number of nuclear power stations.

But there is something very true in what he says. If you work as a reporter then the notion of writer’s block is something of a mystery. 

If you’re not filling your quota, then someone further up the food chain will be having a word . . . sooner rather than later.

If your copy isn’t sharp, interesting, concise and accurate, then much the same. It is a requirement. Working as a reporter of as a feature even more so, you need to be able to craft words, to build a story with letter after letter after letter, a little like a bricklayer building a wall.

One of my favourite Pratchett novel

Here’s something that I was told when I first went to journalism school . . . 

A news story is the same shape as an upside down triangle, a feature is circular . . . at least if it’s done properly. 

And I do think that is absolutely true. 

A straight news article has all of the big information at the top – the most important bits in the introduction and second and third paragraphs. Then it continues down, getting thinner and thinner with the least crucial information going downwards.

The reason for this is that, back in the day when sub editors still existed, if a news story was too long and had to be cut, it was easy to cut it from the bottom.

But a good feature is definitely circular . . . it should end, pretty much where it starts. So, if you’re writing a feature about a police operation in a now-dodgy part of town and you decide to go in at the start, or near the start, saying that your aunt Flo’ lived there just after the war, then towards the end you need to reintroduce aunt Flo – it takes the reader back to the beginning, and makes it ‘circular’.

Now for me, Pratchett was a genius of the English language, and possibly one of our finest wits since Oscar Wilde. But I also think he was doing himself, and the rest of us lesser mortals, a bit of a disservice on the subject of writer’s block.

“Writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on”

Terry Pratchett

Writer’s block happens to all of us, or most of us to a greater or lesser extent. I can always rattle something out for the paper or the website, but when I’m writing creatively, I want it to be perfect, or as near to perfect as it can be . . . as I’m sure do you, if you are a writer.

My writer’s block tends to come if I’ve not plotted properly, if I’m hoping that it will all just somehow come together in the end.

Although that’s all part of the journey really. You’ll start something, get lost at some point and abandon it, at least that’s how it works for me. So now I plot meticulously. I treat a work of fiction like I treat one massive feature and make it obey the same rules. I make my chapters circular for one and, with A Garden of Bones, the whole book. It ends where it starts. It gives the reader closure, I hope.

You need to enjoy writing, love writing even, to stick to it night after night after night.

And as the late, great Terry Pratchett once said: “Writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”

See what I did there?

Questions and answers . . .

I’m in the process of preparing a media pack for the book launch and I’ve just sorted the Q&A section, which I thought I’d share here. Please let me know if there’s nything else you think I should include . . .

One of the front pages from the time

What inspired you to write A Garden of Bones?

I’d always hoped to one day write a book; it was a bucket-list thing I suppose, but nothing ever seemed quite right. Then, out of the blue, I was covering the Wycherley Murders, and in the months and weeks afterwards I started to get contacted by production companies wanting me to speak on true crime documentaries, and then the BBC who, at the time, were thinking about making a drama. At that point I think it dawned on me just what an incredible story it was and, apart from some of the police officers who had worked the investigation, I probably knew more about the case than anyone else.

Was it easy to write?

No. Like any book it was a process. I got a first draft out quite quickly but, as tends to happen with first drafts, it was nowhere near right. It was all told from my perspective and it didn’t get anywhere near enough to the centre of the story. So I went back to the drawing board. I went back and re-interviewed some of the officers involved to get under the skin of the police investigation to cover that side of things, and I realised that Susan Edwards needed her own voice, her own character. I needed to be able to take the reader into the house on the night of the killings, to France where the Edwards finally fled, and to St Pancras Station where they were eventually arrested. Then I meticulously plotted and re-plotted until I had the outline I was happy with, where the story could be told through three distinctive viewpoints, and where those viewpoints could thread and weave, and cross over. Although after all that, I think sitting down and writing it was the easy part.

How did you find the time to write it?

Again, with some difficulty. My day job involved some pretty crazy hours at the time and it was really a case of working on it at night and over weekends. I do recall not seeing anything on the television for over a year and often wasn’t getting to bed until one or two in the morning. But you just have to keep going. 

Andy Done Johnson

Why does the book take the style it takes?

I was adamant from the outset that I didn’t want to write a true crime book, at least not in a conventional form, and my original version was essentially a memoire, which couldn’t take the reader to the centre of the story. As it progressed it came closer and closer to reading like a novel, so I suppose in the end I just gave into it and wrote it as a novel. But the issue was that it involved a number of very real people, and I was only prepared to place them in the narrative as a matter of fact, or record. I didn’t want to take liberties with people’s lives or betray confidences, so for the sake of the narrative really, a few characters had to become fictional in order for me to properly tell the story.

Did you play any part in the Olivia Colman drama?

No, it is merely coincidence that the drama was announced at the same time that I was preparing to publish A Garden of Bones. A few years ago I did speak to another producer who was thinking about making a different drama about Susan and Christopher Edwards. I’m sworn to secrecy on that one, but I’m told it still may see the light of day. Although I can’t see how they could have written the Colman script without reading a lot of my reports from the time . . . so indirectly perhaps. After I found out about it I did send her a copy of the book though; not that I’ve had a reply from her agent.

Susan and Christopher Edwards

How did writing A Garden of Bones affect you?

In many ways the book is an extension of the case. I became obsessed with the Wycherley Murders . . . perhaps unhealthily so . . . at the time and then through the court case. I think I document this is quite a lot of detail in the chapters seen through the eyes of the journalist. But it didn’t really go away. I was being asked to relive it all by talking to production companies, describing what I did, being asked who I thought was the driving force behind the murders, going back to the Wycherley’s former house. So in the end I just had to write the book, just to set it down really and be able to move on.

Do you have plans to write anything else?

I’ve discovered through A Garden of Bones that I like to write fiction based on real events, using real people wherever I can . . . I think that’s where my future as a writer lies. I’m in the very early stages of another book, which hasn’t got a title yet but is about the murder of the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. I like crime fiction that breaks boundaries, and I wondered how a murder would be investigated during a time before there was anything resembling a modern day police force. But there’s a way to go.

Revisiting familiar ground . . .

My retrospective piece about the Wycherley Murders has now been published on the Mansfield Chad, the news outlet that first broke the story.

It was actually lovely to be able to write the article for the publication that first broke the story, or perhaps more through which I broke the story.

Here’s the start of it.

It was raining outside, grey and horrible and it was a quiet day in the office – one of those where there was nothing much going on . . . the worst sort of days when you’re a reporter.

I was on the calls shift, as it was then . . . things are very different now. Back in 2013 you’d call the police every hour to see what was happening, you’d call the fire service and basically deal with all the breaking news.

Then I saw a conversation on a Facebook page, people discussing a forensics tent that had been put up in the back garden of a house in Forest Town . . . talk that they had found bodies in the ground. The cul de sac Blenheim Close was mentioned.

I grabbed my phone, my pad and a handful of pens and headed to the scene, while colleagues got on the phone to the police.

It wasn’t difficult to spot. As I pulled over there were two police officers stationed at the top of the road, guarding the property on the corner; the tent clearly visible from the road.

I hadn’t even got out of my car when the mobile rang. The office. Police confirmed two bodies had been unearthed and removed. They wanted to make it clear it was a historical find, no mad axeman on the loose, sort of thing.

You can click on or paste the link to read it in full.

https://www.chad.co.uk/news/crime/chad-reporter-recalls-day-two-bodies-were-found-garden-mansfield-property-1370997

Just a bit of news . . .

I was contacted yesterday by a researcher who I dealt with hen they were making a documentary on the Wycherley Murders a few years back, in a true crime series called A Town and Country Murder. I spoke on it, alone with, as he was then, DCI Rob Griffin.

In a nutshell, the episode has been bought by Pick TV and is re-branded under their ‘Killer in Your Village’ brand – I’m guessing on the back of the Olivia Colman drama, so it looks like the case is set for even more publicity.

Here is a link to the original episode . . .

Not the best quality. Apologies.

Landscapers . . .

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.

Landscapers.

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.

Susan and Christopher Edwards

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.

Coming soon . . .

One of the most horrific parts of the Wycherley Murders was the disposal of the bodies.

Tomorrow I’m going to write about how the Edwards disposed of the remains of William and Patricia Wycherley, the lies they told, and the story they concocted . . .

And how one slip in the ‘web of lies’ that they build, contributed towards their conviction.

There might even be a bit more book . . . just a bit.

You did WHAT????????????

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.

Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court, where I spend way too much of my time

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.

Fantacists . . .

Susan Edwards lived in a dream world . . . a surreal world. Susan was plain. Susan was ugly. Susan did not attract the sexual interest and desire of the opposite sex. Unless Christopher Edwards had turned up, Susan Edwards would have died a virgin.

Susan and Christopher Edwards

Perhaps she is . . . I honestly don’t know, but the Edwards did not come across like a sexually-active couple.

It looked more like a friendship . . . two people who had found each other, two people who could not find anybody else. They were the very best that either of them could do. Very sad. Mote than very sad, to be honest because I spent the best part of a month sitting a few metres from them both while this whole sorry story unfolded, and I did not once detect any closeness whatsoever. It seemed more like an arrangement than a marriage. They had been married for years by the time they were caught. They were childless. Did they have problems having kids? Did they choose not to have kids? Were kids never on the cards?

I think the latter. I just don’t think sex existed in their marriage. I think they got off on something else. I think they got off on fantasy.

Quite early in the trial, we heard that Susan had told Christopher that she had once been invited to a hotel room by the late Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly. Christopher had appeared mortified, in the dock, when this was exposed as a fiction.

We heard a bizarre story about Susan Edwards setting up a pen friend arrangement between Christopher and the French actor Gérard Depardieu. Christopher and Gérard ha spent years sending letters, Susan had even bought a franking machine so the actors letters seemed more real. Seemed more like they had been posted from his Paris home. Clearly nonsense . . . but then Christopher had played along with it for years and years.

These games . . .

It was a fantasist’s world . . .

They lived in their own heads . . . in their own fantasies. He was obsessed with Churchill and De Gaulle, her with Silver Screen icons like Gary Cooper, and they spent literally thousands, buying memorabilia, bringing their heroes into their lives . . . into their homes.

At the heart of this was the deepest insecurity . . . that they weren’t great, or notorious or famous, or legendary.

That they were ordinary . . . more than ordinary.

At some point tomorrow . . .

I’m going to write about what the Edwards spent the money on . . . and you won’t believe it, if you don’t know the story,

Blenheim Close

When Susan and Christopher Edwards were arrested at St Pancras Station, they had the clothes they were wearing, a few coppers in their pockets, and a suitcase full of signed photographs from Silver Screen icons like Gary Cooper, which they’d paid more than fifteen grand for.

They were fantasists. They lived a fantasy life. But then how do you work that into a novel?