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.
Over the last few days ‘sh*t has gotten real’ as the saying goes. I now have a book cover, following a massive amount of input from friends and colleagues. There have been some tweaks and changes along the way, obviously . . . otherwise what’s the point of consulting people.
The book itself is almost ready to go – print pdfs are back and I’m just waiting on the digital versions to be returned. Over the next couple of days A Garden of Bones should also be visible to the world, after ISBNs were assigned a yesterday.
I can also reveal that the official release date for both print and ebook editions will be March 20
There is, frankly, a vast amount still to do before that date – I’m currently getting a media pack together, which I’ll be publishing on this site in the days ahead, hopefully a round of interviews with journalists and bloggers, an official launch event to put together and the ongoing marketing battle.
And that’s on top of continuing to turn up for the day job.
When I first entered this circus – around about the time of the fall of Carthage – it was a different world, to put it lightly.
Firstly, it was still deemed as a remotely sensible, if a bit showbiz, means of earning a living, It never was, by the way. It always struck me as a bit intrusive – a bit like you were walking into other people’s tragedies and being offered a temporary seat at the table while they poured over their grief.
Maybe it has to feel like that though. If it didn’t feel like that then that would make me a sociopath . . . wouldn’t it?
It also involved a lot of working over weekends, working late into the evening, hoping bugger all would kick off at five to ten at night when you could finally go home,
I have become ‘battle hardened’ and that worries me. Recently there was an alleged double murder in the next village to where I live – and I have to say ‘alleged’ because the person accused of the killing had gone ‘not guilty’, and is, therefore, innocent until a jury makes a decision. Just like with Susan and Christopher Edwards.
I was at the suspect’s first magistrates’ court appearance, his first crown court appearance . . . and the whole thing will now go quiet until his trial later this year. That’s the way it is.
Speaking to people who knew the victims . . . friends or friends of my wife, I have built up a picture of what happened, the dynamics of why someone might, allegedly, kill his estranged wife and her new lover. And there is a part of me which, speaking as a hack of 20-odd years, just sees the story. You do lose the humanity . . . unless you steadfastly insist on holding onto it.
In this game accuracy is everything, and I suppose getting something wrong . . . some fact, some spelling . . . is akin to a plumber coming round to fix a leaky pipe and flooding your cellar. We take such fuck-ups very seriously, on a personal lever as much as a corporate one.
Last week, I covered a case where a solicitor named and shamed a company which had treated a young apprentice very badly. He’s been fired and punched the son of the company’s owners. Only the solicitor had given the wrong name of the company. I’m covered by court privilege – if it’s said in court, even if it’s not true, I am protected. But it still has an impact and you feel that.
You just want to get it right. You don’t want to flood the cellar.
Many years ago I had a stint as a sub editor, when sub editors still existed. It was their job to go through the copy, sort out the grammar, fix the typos, put in all the stray commas, the missing hyphens and generally make the copy ‘clean’.
They’d also check to ensure that the copy was legally sound, that it didn’t defame or otherwise interfere with any legal processes that may be taking place. There is, frankly, very little worse than being dragged before a judge and being asked to justify yourself in a contempt of court proceeding.
But there is also very little worse than spelling something wrong . . . a typo. The bane of professional writer’s life.
Rolling back 20 years, when I wrote a story, it would go to the newsdesk, which would then take it into a conference, and once approved, it would go back for ‘desking’, before it went to the subs, before it went to the night editor, who would pick up anything that had been missed . . . often literally a missing comma. So by the time it ‘hit the streets’ it was perfect.
Then they got rid of the subs and, in many cases the night editor. It became about the web and immediacy and ‘getting it right first time’ . . . a corporate shitbag in pushing the onus of accuracy onto the reporters; the company taking no ownership in removing layer after layer of scrutiny.
And that’s really how I’ve found the process of writing this book. I’ve produced a little over 80,000 words. A dear friend called Kate did my initial proofs, twice, and I thought it was there, because she’s brilliant.
Then I sent it out to other friends and they came back with more. A total of nine, I think. Handbreak, not handbrake. A few missed hyphens, a few literals. But it’s exhausting all the same. When you want something to be perfect in every way. When you don’t want someone’s lasting impression of the book it’s taken you half a decade to write to be a typo or a stray comma on page 157.
I think as writers though, we need to be paranoid about it. If we’re not then our product will suffer.
To be honest, I’ve had a busy week, I’m knackered, and I could really do with collapsing in front of the telly. Only I can’t because I need to blog, I need to get this book out. So now I’m paranoid that this post will have typos. It probably will. I’m only human. But I hope you will understand.
This is a relatively short post . . . you maybe delighted to hear. Here are the finalists for the cover design for A Garden of Bones. I have a firm favourite, but I’d love to hear your views.
One is more your traditional crime fiction front. The other seems a bit more true crime.
And it’s difficult because A Garden of Bones sits squarely in the middle of the two genres . . . not making life easy for myself am I.
Maybe next time I will write a crime book about an alcoholic Oxford graduate detective . . . or an alcoholic Oslo detective.
For me, the stand-out thing with this one is the spade. It’s stark and almost brutal in its simplicity. But it does have an edge to it. From the outset it doesn’t seem like your average Midsomer Murders fodder. It gives the impression that something very dark and brutal has occurred.
It’s dark and almost brutal in its simplicity . . .”
This one seems much more true crime. It’s stark and fairly brutal . . . it also had a documentary feel and lets the reader know from the outset that they are dealing with real events here.
I didn’t really want Susan and Christopher Edward’s mugs on the front of it, when I was commenting on social media a few days ago, but here I think it’s so subtle that it works.
It’s over to you though. Please share your views. The more feedback I can get, the better for me and for the book.
Hesitant footsteps on the stairs, laboured; one creak, then a pause, then another – like someone carrying a heavy load.
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
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.
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”
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 . . .
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.
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”
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.”
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.