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This article featured in NewBooks.mag

Screaming Blue Murder
by Margaret Murphy

Discouraged and demoralised by being told that my good reviews didn't translate into safes figures, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I approached John Baker, Chaz Brenchley, Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Stuart Pawson and Cath Staincliffe. The experience of the seven has been distressingly similar: each has been well received by readers and critics alike, but none has been provided with any significant level of marketing investment - and without marketing and publicity, how are we to make it into the higher sales bracket?

We're all crime writers - we know .lots of ways to do people in - but like most in our profession, we're peace- loving, law-abiding citizens who wouldn't even squash a spider. So while our readers might notice an increase in the violent content of our novels as our frustration grows, we remain, to all appearances, gentle, mild mannered and philosophical. But such inner turmoil is bad for the digestion. So we took direct action. A sort of marketing vigilantism, if you like.

We formed Murder Squad- not, as you might think, a motley band of hit-men, but a group of writers dedicated to promoting our work and with it, the crime fiction genre. Our first idea was to design a brochure advertising our books and our various taients; since this is the sort of promotional material routinely provided for 'bigger' authors, we reasoned that this would be an attention-grabber - which meant full colour.

Next, what could we offer our target audience of booksellers, libraries and festivals? Emails flew back and forth for a week; we narrowed the list down to readings, signings, workshops and masterclasses, discussion panels, projects, residencies and talks. Each member of the team has his or her own area of special expertise, however, and from the beginning, the watchword of the Squad has been 'flexibility'.

Next, we approached our publishers with the idea. Macmillan and Orion were both enthusiastic: here was a low-cost option that would promote the writing of seven respected and (glory be!) self-financing authors. They liked the idea of authors from different publishers getting together in this way, and agreed immediately to help distribute the brochure to booksellers, reviewers, and trade magazines. Orion have since produced 200 A3 colour posters for our events free of charge.

We were nervous about the cost of producing the brochure, since the expense would have to be borne by us, and not by our publishers, so I designed the interior. The cover was a different matter: we were unanimous in wanting a professional, eye-catching design, so we approached several graphic design and printing firms.

The quotes, when they all came in, ranged from 650, to just short of 3000. The least expensive quote (let's not call it the cheapest), got the commission - one of our group had used the firm before and could vouch for their work. If they had known the problems that would ensue, I wonder if they would have been quite so competitively priced. Incompatible soft- ware, lost and corrupted files, stapling wire that kept snapping all added to the tension of the weeks before the launch.

Both the cover image and the name had to be right, and e-discussions got quite heated at times. The final selection of the spiders webs has the attraction of working on several levels: 'Oh, what a tangled web--.' and all that, the shudder-factor of spiders, plus the fact that we've avoided the cliched standard of the hunched male figure in an overcoat. Settling on a title for the group proved even more contentious, and the email count shot up. We're now well over the thousand mark.

Meanwhile, John Baker set up the Murder Squad website, Ann Cleeves contacted her network of associates in the libraries, Macmillan and Orion distributed the brochures and we sent out press releases to all the trade magazines and broadsheets.

The response was remarkable: requests for articles such as this one, booksellers interested in the novelty of having a Murder Squad in-store, libraries and festivals who saw the attraction of being able to mix and match writers with a variety of writing styles and personalities. Libraries in particular, keen on reader development, were pleased to have the opportunity to introduce their readers to 'new' writers and even, given the breadth of our work, to types of crime fiction they may not previously have considered reading. Since March 2000, we've done over 60 events, and bookings are already coming in for the new year.

And looking to the future, we are currently in discussion with publishers about a Murder Squad anthology. For further information about Murder Squad, contact the bookings secretary, Margaret Murphy, on email:
margaret.murphy@murdersquad.co.uk

Our website can be found at
http://www.murdersquad.co.uk


This article featured in the Weekly News, September 6th 2003

Writing Wrongs
By Margaret Murphy
Why do women write about crime? From my own point of view, a major contributing factor was my exposure to domestic violence, as I revealed publicly for the first time in The Weekly News earlier this year.

I was in an abusive relationship from the age of 19 until I was 25. In a pattern of behaviour which is fairly typical of abusers, verbal abuse escalated to beatings and humiliation. My abuser could be a charming, witty companion. And he could change from easy banter to terrifying and sadistic rage in a heartbeat.

It was a horrifying and dehumanising experience. Was crime writing a way of murdering my abuser? I did ‘kill’ him in my third novel — or at least, someone very like him. But for the most part, my experience has found expression in the vulnerable characters in my novels, the victims and survivors. I focus on the aftermath of violence, the consequences to those left behind.
During my conversations with other women crime-writers, whom I know as friends, I have discovered that my situation is not unique.

Other novelists who have also experienced different types of violence at close quarters have found that, like me, their work has been influenced by what has happened to them.

The violence that we have suffered is bound to find expression in what we write. Writing provides an outlet and a means of making sense of the senseless acts to which we have fallen victim. The fear becomes less disabling and the nightmares fade.

It was difficult for me to finally come out into the open about my experience and I’m sure it has been difficult for my friends, too. Here are their stories.

Margaret Murphy’s new novel, Weaving Shadows, is published by Hodder & Stoughton.


Michelle Spring’s Story
Michelle Spring is successful author of five crime novels. Her latest, In the Midnight Hour, is published by Orion.

Before I became a novelist, I was lecturing in Sociology in Cambridge. A student to whom I’d given some help decided he was in love with me.
He began phoning my home several times a day and all through the night, always hanging up unless I answered.

He threatened to kill my husband and two children because they were preventing us being together. He would ring the doorbell and stand on the step. When we shut the door, he would ring again. On day, he stood on the step for 18 hours.

This was in the early nineties before the anti-harassment laws came in. We obviously called the police many times but there was little they could do as the man hadn’t damaged property or touched any of us.

One day he went to college looking for me. When he was told I wasn’t available, he smashed a whole wall of windows. On that occasion the police were able to do something.

The whole episode came to a horrifying climax on a night my husband, David, was away in Los Angeles. The man appeared at my door saying he had a friend with him. This ‘friend’ had just rung me and made the most appalling threats down the phone.

I rang the police, grabbed a big kitchen knife and barricaded myself, my six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son in the bathroom while he howled through the letterbox. The police took an hour to arrive but they found my stalker standing alone at the end of my path. I never did find out if he had a ‘friend.’

The man turned out to be a paranoid schizophrenic and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. I took three months off work to recover and surprised myself by writing my first novel, Every Breath You Take. It was about stalking, of course. It was very much an act of getting things off my chest.
I’ve written four more crime books since then, none about stalking, but I am returning to the subject for my sixth book.

Four years after it happened, there was a message on my answering machine. It was him. He was still in the hospital but somehow he’d managed to get to a phone. It was deeply disturbing to realise he was still obsessed with me.


Manadsue Heller’s Story
Mandasue Heller has written two novels based in Manchester’s notorious Hulme estate, where she used to live. Her debut novel, The Front, was a bestseller, and comparisons have been drawn with Martina Cole and Linda la Plante. Her latest book Forget Me Not is published by Hodder.

I was attacked in my own home when a man broke in and beat me with a claw hammer as I held my ten-week-old son in my arms.
It was 5.30 am and pitch black. I was sleeping on the couch in my upstairs living room with my son. My sister, her boyfriend and her children were staying with me at the time and were in my bedroom.
I woke to the sound of footsteps running up the stairs. The door burst open and I saw a silhouette of a man in the doorway. He ran (across) and threw himself at me.

My first thought was that he would land on my son and all I could do was raise one arm and one leg to try and protect him. My son screamed with the impact and, after that, he was all I could think of. We all ended up on the floor, and all I can remember is trying to cover my son, saying, ‘The baby . . . The baby.’

When the man ran out my son was silent. Thinking he was dead, I picked him up and shook him. Somehow he had gone back to sleep. I put him in his cot, then screamed.
My sister and her boyfriend ran in to see what I was screaming about. They thought I had been dreaming, but when I ran my hand through my hair and it came back covered in blood. I had a deep gash down the back of my head about four inches long, half an inch deep.

The police and ambulance were called and I was taken to hospital — where it got worse. One of the policemen obviously didn’t believe that I was an entirely innocent party, and was quite nasty. When he realised that the X-rays were going to take a while, he said I’d have to make my own way to the station afterwards to make a statement.

I had a hairline skull fracture, and I received a lot of stitches.
I had to walk home. I had no money as I hadn’t taken my purse. I was terrified, and I was getting some very strange looks because of the huge shaved patch, stitches and blood to the wound on my head.

At the police station, I was questioned for hours. The detective said he thought I wasn’t telling the full story. I knew who had done it, he said, and I was obviously covering for him. The inference was that it was my boyfriend (I didn’t have one at the time).

I was bitter towards the police for a long time, but I realised eventually that I was in an area where domestic violence by boyfriends and pimps was commonplace.
The man, we discovered afterwards, had ripped the lock out with the claw hammer he then used on me. They never caught him — I don’t think they actually looked too hard.

The fear never goes. I still get jumpy at the slightest sound. I’m fine at night now, as my partner is huge and I do feel incredibly safe. But, in the day, if he’s out, I hear a noise and I’m there with the knife . . . the scissors . . . the baseball bat . . .

I have never directly included this in my writing, but I know it is one of the reasons that I write the way I do. I can portray fear in a realistic way because I live with it.

I will never consciously write about the man who assaulted me as I refuse to give him public power. He just might be twisted enough to get a kick out of it.


Mo Hayder’s Story
Mo Hayder is the bestselling author of graphic and violent crime fiction. Her next book, Tokyo, is published next spring by Bantam and reflects the time she spent as a nightclub hostess in Japan. She describes herself as ‘a victim of violence by proxy’.

When I was younger, I was a bit of a drifter. I lived in London and tended to hang around with musicians and people associated with bands. But my life changed the night one of my friends was murdered.
I was with him just before it happened. A group of us were in a pub in Paddington having a drink. Two hours later he was lying dead in his flat, the victim of a horrific killing.

He had been tortured to death, his body brutally mutilated and then set on fire. Afterwards, his flat was also torched.
It was an awful shock for those who knew him, particularly as we’d been with him just before the incident. I felt I needed to get away after that and I spent quite a long time travelling around the world, doing all sorts of jobs.
At one point I became a hostess in a nightclub in Tokyo. An Australian girl I befriended there told me she thought someone was getting into her apartment while she was out. She was sure things were being moved around.

Then one day she went home and a man was waiting for her. He attacked and raped her. He had somehow obtained a key from a previous tenant.
I then had a very strange period in which I actually witnessed six people die in a very short space of time.

This wasn’t crime, as such, but sudden death — a man had a stroke at the next table in a coffee shop, another fell from a window and landed on the pavement across the street from me, a jogger died of a heart attack as I was passing, a young boy died of a snake bite in front of me when I was on a trip to Vietnam.

It was all a little spooky and coming on top of what happened in Paddington, I began think I was a kind of touchstone for sudden death.
I’m glad to say I’ve experienced nothing similar since but when I came back to Britain and settled down, I started to write. I found the process of putting everything down on paper immensely liberating – and powerfully therapeutic.

Sincere thanks to John Barrett who helped me put together this story, and for his permission to reprint this article in its entirety.

 


 
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