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. 

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

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.

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.

A long lesson in frustration . . .

Almost publishing a book the old-fashioned way.

I never had a problem finding something to write about, at least not with this book. You see, professionally, something remarkable happened to me. I’ve said in previous posts, but I’ll briefly recap . . .

One rainy day back in October 2013, I broke one of the most notorious murders in recent criminal history . . . the Wycherley Murders. Two old people killed by their own daughter and son-in-law, buried in their own back garden in the dead of night. 

Then they’d gone about profiting from their crimes . . . transferring money from account to account, taking out loans in the Wycherleys’ names, using their names to act as guarantors on other loans.  profiting from their pensions, eventually selling their house.

Andy Done Johnson

Why they did it and what they spent the money on will be the subject of  a later post. If you don’t know the case well, you really won’t believe it.

They constructed a web of lies. They told the neighbours the Wycherleys had moved away . . gone to live in Morecambe or Australia, or were living out their later years travelling around Ireland. They told relatives the same and sent them letters, sent them cards at Christmas. 

So that was the book, that was what it was going to be about.

I decided to do a draft after I’d been interviewed by a couple of true crime documentary makers, and the BBC had come knocking wanting to pick my brains for a drama about the case – not the Olivia Colman one, but another, which I’m told still might see the light of day.

I rattled out a draft over maybe six months. It wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t. It was all about me and my involvement, and I wasn’t the story. The story was Susan and Christopher Edwards, what they’d done, why they’d done it and how they were eventually caught.

I was a sub-plot at best – a first hand observer to what was happening. It couldn’t be about me, at least not mainly about me.

I’d never got close to writing a book, or at least finishing one. I’d get a chapter written, they lose interest or go the wrong way with it, get frustrated and abandon it. 

But here was my first draft and I sent it out anyway, dreadful though it was.

I’d done my research, but I was also quite set in my ways . . . to publish a book you need to attract a publisher, and to stand a chance of getting it under the nose of one of those, you need to get an agent. Right?

So I sent out my sample chapters to ten-or-so agents, thinking I’d never hear a word back, and was amazed when I got a phone call within a few days from one of them asking to read the rest of it.

Done deal? Erm . . . no.

“It needs a lot of work,” he said. “You need to get to the centre of the story. You’re not close enough to the events. Go away and do it again.” 

But I was massively lucky. He wanted to be involved, he wanted to help, and he wanted to see it out there. We spent months pinging emails back and forth, me sending various plans through, him throwing them back, saying ‘try again’.

In the end, out of utter frustration, I took a month away from it, spent more time with my family, spent time not obsessing about the bloody thing. 

Then I went back to it, ripped up everything I’d done before and started again.

“The more it reads like a novel, the better it will be,” the agent said repeatedly, and really that’s how a memoir, or a true crime book became, of sorts, a work of fiction.

It’s a strange work of fiction, because the majority of the characters are real people, in the book they do what they did in real life, they said what they did in real life. I had to make a few inventions though, fictional characters to get the reader to where they needed to be, to impart information that I couldn’t have done without them. I didn’t want to betray any of my real people by placing them in a fictional situation.

I’m going to skip ahead now . . . how I wrote it, constructed it etc is probably the subject of a future post.

“It is a remarkable – I’d even go so far as to say brilliant – novel”

My agent

So a year goes by, and by now we’re in January 2018. I’d submitted it to the agent – I’m not naming him by the way, wouldn’t be fair . . . he tried his best – about three months earlier and heard nothing back.

Then an email . . . 

“I finished The Wycherley Murders  (title?) On Friday evening. It brought tears to my eye. It is a remarkable – I’d even go so far as to say brilliant – novel.

“One of the greatest pleasures of this job are the times when an author doesn’t just respond to the notes I give but goes far further than I ever could have hoped for.

“This truly is the story turned into a novel but in a way and to a degree that is hugely impressive. It is sad, thought provoking and compassionate – it is also extraordinarily compelling.”

So that was me . . . contemplating my new life as a full-time writer.

Only it wasn’t to be because, I had failed to realise, the whole game had changed and the conventional publishers had got mega-safe, mega-conservative. That part of the publishing industry is now, sadly, more of the same please, just more of the same. 

Susan and Christopher Edwards

Crime writing has to be rip-offs of Colin Dexter, or Jo Nesbo, or Val McDermid, and the only thing we could think to compare A Garden of Bones with was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

It went out to all the big players. Here’s one, as an example . . .

“This is brilliantly done and I was biding my time in the hope of catching publisher and co off guard to make a case for it, Well, it would in facet be quite an outlier on our list, and I fear it just didn’t overcome that hurdle. A reluctant no from me.”

There were plenty more, some more positive, some less so . . . one deeply apologetic and that he’d almost begged them to say yes, another accusing me of ripping off David Peace.

But the theme, generally was ‘reasons why we shouldn’t publish it’, rather than ‘reasons why we should’. 

Even the agent told me, at one point, that “ten years ago they’d have been biting your hand off for it”.

We tried a few more angles – contacted a few smaller, northern publishers . . . thinking perhaps that the subject matter was a bit too working class, a bit too ‘outside the Home Counties and the M25’ for the agent’s stable of contacts.

We looked around for writing competitions to enter it into . . . but these things tend to be fiercely geographically based. I didn’t qualify for anything in the north of England, for example, because officially I’m in the Midlands, and the north starts about 11 miles north in South Yorkshire. 

Frustration after frustration after frustration.

Eventually I gave up on it and abandoned A Garden of Bones in a digital draw, gathering digital dust for the best part of a year.

Then, in a nutshell, I got a bollocking . . . off the wife. 

“Sort it out and publish it. Do it yourself. What have you got to lose?” sort of thing. 

So I started doing my research . . . I’m a journalist, so digging around is really my thing, and I discovered this brave new world.

Authors could publish themselves . . . and actually get read. Gone were the days where if you self-published you’d be trying to flog copies out of a cardboard box at car boot sales, and passing on what you couldn’t shift to relatives as Christmas presents.

Gone were the days of forking out for vanity publishers, and dragging around small independent bookshops, hoping they might stick a couple on their shelves. The internet happened, digital publishing happened, Kindle happened, and I am delighted and excited to be a part of this.

We don’t need Picador, or Penguin or Random House or whoever. We can do it on our own and we can connect to our readers in a way that we never could before, and they can connect to us.

They don’t need us either . . . we can leave them to their policy of ‘safely, safely, more of the same’ . . . replicas of previous successes, ghost-written romances from Katie Price. I think we are all better than that. 

Reviews that count now aren’t from some schmoozed and tweed-wearing critic from the Guardian or the Telegraph. The ones that count are from our readers . . . on our WordPress pages, our Amazon author pages, our Goodreads pages.

Virginia Woolf set up her own press to get her books out around 100 years ago. We are merely doing the same. Exciting times, taking back ownership of our own creative destinies.

Tomorrow . . .

Tomorrow, I’m going to be talking about writing, my experience of the publishing industry, and why us writers are better off ‘going it alone’. You may or may not be aware, but a brave new world is upon us. My advice, from one writer to another . . . GET IT OUT THERE. And take ownership.

Andy Done Johnson

I spent two extremely frustrating years going down the conventional publishing route . . . and I had a really good book, and I had a really good agent, and I had the likes of Random House and all the others sniffing around.

In a nutshell, if you’re writing crime, recreate Inspector Morse. If you’re writing chic lit, re-imagine Bridget Jones. You get it? That’s what they want. And nothing else.

Can they flog it in the bookshop at the airport?

But for us that love writing, and for us who love reading, everything has changed.

Did you know that Virginia Woolf set up her own publishing company to get her books out there?

More tomorrow . . .

A bit of my book . . .

Here’s just a snippet from A Garden of Bones. I hope you enjoy.

The room smells of sleep, although it’s already late morning and she’s still sitting in her slippers and a heavy, pink dressing gown. 

Maybe they’re late risers, I don’t know. I don’t ask.

All the windows are shut, the curtains partly drawn with no sun on the front yet, leaving the room – small and darkly carpeted – feeling more like dawn.

She’s let me in moments earlier, unsmiling but not unfriendly. I tell her who I am, she nods, and opens the door a fraction wider – enough for me to squeeze inside and close it behind me.

I offer to take off my shoes but she says it doesn’t matter, so I sit in an armchair, comfortable, old and slightly faded, with a dated floral design. 

She’s old too – not ancient but old enough to have seen a few comings and goings, late sixties maybe, or a little younger.

She’ll talk to me, she says, but only me. She doesn’t want bothering by any of the others, if they come. 

Will you tell them that?

I say I will, knowing it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. Doesn’t work like that, at least not in their eyes.

“Your . . . husband,” I guess. She doesn’t correct me so I carry on.

“Your husband was just mentioning to me that you might have something to say. You might have something to say about the old couple who lived in the corner house.”

She says nothing at first. She stares at her slippers and occasionally, reluctantly, at me. 

“Is it them in the ground?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I expect so. Hard to imagine who else it’s going to be. Did you know them?”

I sit forward, a grubby biro hovering over a blank page in my pad, waiting for her to speak some more. She won’t give me her name. She doesn’t want it going in the paper.

“What if it’s just for me?” I ask.

“Just so I know who you are, just so I can write your name next to these notes I’m making, 

so I’ve got proof I spoke to you if anyone asks.”

“Edna,” she says, suspiciously. “Edna Dawson.”

I write her name in the top left-hand corner of my notepad, certain she’s just given me a pseudonym. 

She doesn’t need to. If she doesn’t want her name in the paper then that’s up to her.

“I saw them,” she tells me, “regular as clockwork. Every day I’d see them walking past. It was always about the same time. Him always ahead by a good ten paces, little and slumped and bent over. Her, tall, broad and ungainly – walked stiff and upright. We thought she might be a man. Odd couple.”

My hand, which has been scribbling frantically, comes to an abrupt halt.

“What, like a cross-dresser?”

“I don’t think she was. I don’t want you writing that,” she tells me, wagging a finger at me.

“She was just so much bigger than him, and always walking behind, like she was a decrepit old dog on a lead.”

A bit about me . . .

Andy Done-Johnson

This is my author bio . . .

Andy Done-Johnson was born and grew up in Derbyshire and studied at The University of Hull. After a stint as a a largely out-of-work actor and barman in London, he returned to Derbyshire where he stumbled into journalism, got married and had a son, who is now a grown-up. Aside from writing, he loves books, walking, exercise, travel, history, art and dogs. He has worked as a print and online journalist for 20 years, largely in the Midlands. In 2013 he broke the Wycherley Murders. This is his ‘version of events’.

History repeating itself . . .

I suppose it was always going to happen – not that I’m complaining because I need the publicity – but I’m going to be writing a sort of retrospective feature on the Wycherley Murders for the Mansfield Chad and maybe a few other JPI Media sites . . . we’ll see about that though.

I’ve still got to sort out my media pack, press release, bio and all that and see if I can put my name about a bit. This was always the plan anyway, but now it’s properly back in the news I need to capitalise on it.

But it’s only right that the Chad has it first, and I go the extra mile with it . . . because that’s where it all started; at least for me. And at least for anyone who ever heard about it. Because we were ahead of the game . . . just. We broke it, we owned it . . . and anything anyone may have read in the Daily Mail or watched on Sky News was ours, lifted for their own audience. They’re like that, national news organisations . . . magpies.

I remember this front page like it was yesterday. We had blood on our hands. It’s actually a literal quote from Christopher Edwards . . . something he said while giving evidence in the trial. But it means so much more. Good headline. If I recall correctly, he was describing the moment they were dragging William and Patricia down the stairs from the bedroom where they were killed, before they were unceremoniously dumped in the pit he’d spend a couple of nights digging directly outside the patio doors.

The front shows police excavating the garden, with Susan and Christopher’s police mugshots, and one of the few surviving photographs of William Wycherley. There are literally four or five in existence. There are none of Patricia. Not a one. The Edwards cleared out any photographic evidence that she ever existed . . . just a name.

I don’t know what I’m going to write for the Mansfield Chad yet . . . but it won’t be a much-shortened version of A Garden of Bones. I want to do something a little different – and obviously give the book a damned good plug at the same time.

I’ll post a version and share a link when it’s out there.