One of my characters in Widowhood of Spiders (book 2 of Symington’s adventures) is angry. So angry in fact he is in danger of breaking the unwritten code of the criminal world: twice. Not only is he in the process of killing a policeman; he is doing it in front of witnesses – not bound to him with oaths of loyalty and the likes.
His actions, and the reactions of those around him, got me thinking about the murder of coppers: reality and fiction. I found myself wondering, is the fiction accurate in its depiction? or is it … fictional?
Before we go any further, these are musings and ponderings. There is no meticulous research. I posed the question, had the luxury of an hour, and pursued it. And having the joy of yet another sleepless night, I present the results of my ponderjngs.
In the fictional world the detective tends to be in danger towards the end of the book/ programme. They have cornered the villain; an arrest is nigh. They don’t usually die. Sometimes there is a lurking, menacing dsnger -murder is attempted: but not often.
Retired coppers fare worse, if memory serves. They can die with ease. Their murderer turning out to be a long forgotten criminal with a grudge. They tend – in other words – to be a plot device.
Only two instances of murdered serving detectives initially sprang to mind, during my hour or so musings: Sherlock Holmes dying at the hands of Moriarty was the first. Chief Inspector Poole of Death in Paradise the other. Which reminded me of the third. His predecessor met a similarly gruesome end at the series launch. And lurking in the recesses of my mind, I have the distant memory of one of the Taggart team being murdered and that murder being made to look like suicide.
Anecdotal I admit. But this was a flight of whimsy: not scientific. Let me know if you can think of any others.
My very unscientific study of fiction complete, I turned to the consideration of the reality.
My research into police deaths – only for the City of London Police, I admit – makes interesting reading. There seems to be a similar pattern – though retired policemen fare better than their fictional counterparts.
According to the Police Roll of Honour, deaths prior to the murders of Bentley, Tucker and Choat (at Sidney Street in 1910) tended to be as a result of routine duties, not malice. The notable exception is Detective Sergeant Charles Thain who died on the 4 December 1857, aged 45. He was fatally shot by the prisoner he was escorting (by ship) from Hamburg.
Of the 23 deaths in the years following Sidney Street, air raids took 18 of these. Not one policeman was recorded as “murdered”.
This gave me pause. Perhaps I’m being too narrow. I have in my head – due to the scene I am writing – a premeditated act. Some officers did die in the pursuit of suspects. Is that not murder in the broader sense? Is it manslaughter? One poor chap was runover whilst directing traffic. Deliberate? Another killed while running beside a car while he talked to the driver. Murder? Accident? The roll of honour does not say.
Certainly these men died of injuries gained in the line of duty. But are they murder. For me. No.
Thus I conclude, only 4 city of London Police were murdered in 150 years. A mercifully tiny number.
Musings over, and awake in the witching hour, I return to my very angry man. I need, I realise, to work more on the reactions of those around him. I need to decide how to play out a scene where my reader – whilst horrified – understands what drives someone to such an extreme where he will do the unthinkable. In other words: this scene, and the policeman who provokes it, need work.
Talking to other writers is always disconcerting. They are, by their very nature, a knowledgeable bunch. Especially about the craft of writing. Brentwood Writer’s Circle is some 40 members strong. A wide-ranging bunch: newbies to the craft. oldies (in terms of writing); those with and without a publisher. I was invited by Colin – a fellow SALAD member, who has been very supportive of my work.
I paid them a visit on Saturday 4th February,at their Bardeswell Social Club venue. Very easy to find. Good parking. Lovely sized room. I was nervous. I needn’t have been. They were very welcoming. Asked loads of questions: about Symington Byrd; about Lucy and Mark; about writing history. I did some readings. And they were very gracious. Some going so far as to buy some books.
They asked two very interesting questions. one was how do I plan? I told them I used scapple. I tried to explain that it’s a mind mapping tool. Just on the computer. I’m not sure I explained that for a scattergun mind like mine, Scapple is wonderful. It lets my mind go wandering. It turns chaos into order; and when I print it out and stick it on my wall for future reference, it makes me look like the most organised person in the world.
I also told them about Claroread. Brilliant for discovering the basic punctuation errors, and with a range of voices – so you can choose the one perfect for you. Bizarrely American works best for me – which is strange as Symington is so quintessentially English. It’s a bit more expensive than I remember. I thought it was a one off payment. Seems not. But it’s amazing – and for me – worth the cost as I can send something to the editor that doesn’t look like a bag of bones. If you want to see what I mean. Here’s a small extract of the opening of the next book as delivered by Claroread:
The other question was about costs of self publishing. I didn’t explain too much was that I self edited the first book and was so glad Kenny wafted into my life with an offer I coudn’t refuse. Because I so need a proper editor. So what I touched on was the image finding and the basics of DIY. Perhaps I should have said was that I design my own covers to start with and then the publisher has final say. I do that because I need an image in my head as to what the final product has to look like. Otherwise, it’s a nebulous unreachable goal. I should have said that once I’ve found my images, I use Powerpoint to do this creativity. It’s nice and easy. And I can say that as someone who took to Photoshop like a stone takes to water. Someone who still has to revisit the tutorials to remember something she did last time. Someone who still does the final compiling of the cover in Powerpoint.
OH asked me if it was worth doing a tutorial on how to use powerpoint. I shrugged. No need. Here’s the link to the brilliant tutorial I used by William King.
I’d like to thank Colin for inviting me and the circle for making me so welcome. I’d also like to thank OH for the techie support and Kelli for coming to hear me. I hope you had as good a time as I did.
I received the first review of A Cowardice of Crows last night. From my 96 year old Great Aunt. She’s a wise old bird, a bluff northerner, who doesn’t pull any punches and tells it like it is. And this is what she said:
“I didn’t read the book as quickly as I thought I would. Got on well and enjoyed the build up and queries about the murder of Millie, had all the names and who they were in my mind, then new characters and names were introduced and my 96 year old brain wasn’t retaining them and had to keep going back to refresh.
However, the story made compulsive reading due to the intensity and colourful characters.
An extremely well written book, how you managed to keep the people where they should be I cannot think, but having done so gave me the enjoyment of reading it.”
I think she liked it 🙂