So I caught up with the lovely Alex Marwood again recently and, you know, asked her stuff about her two terrific books – it turns out that Stephen King kind of likes them as well. I always said he had good taste…
Here is what she had to tell me.
Let’s start with The Wicked Girls – was there a real life case that was the inspiration?
Well… obviously all books start somewhere. The Wicked Girls had been floating around my head since I saw Heavenly Creatures in the 1990s. The reason that film stayed with one was the awful questions about what happened to those girls afterward. But obviously, you can’t write a book like this without at least thinking about Thompson and Venables and Mary Bell, our most well-known – but by no means our only – child killers. The persecution of Christopher Jefferies was going on while I was writing it, though, and certainly fed into the story a lot.
How much did your experiences as a Journalist influence how the media was portrayed in the novel?
A great deal, of course – but also, honestly, my experiences as a consumer of journalism and friends’ experiences as its subject. Some awful injustices get done by the press, particularly in the rush to produce copy in a 24/7 world. But the vast majority of journalists are thoroughly decent people. And people forget that they are just that – people, asking questions and trying to piece together the truth, so that their readers don’t have to. News journalism is produced with little or no leisure to think; it’s almost inevitable, given the known unreliability of human recall, that things will be recorded wrongly. That said, I have been shocked over the years by the difference between the court reporting. for instance, that comes down the news wires and the ‘story’ as it is written up in certain of your papers. it’s like seeing two different, not even parallel, universes.
Did it give you pause to consider how we handle crime committed by children?
Of course. Though, of course, one of the reasons that Thompson and Venables remain so notorious is that the rules about anonymity for children were changed after their trial because the media feeding frenzy was so shocking. The fact that they were basically the last child killers to be named in the papers rather skews people’s picture of how common or uncommon the phenomenon actually is.
Moving on to “The Killer Next Door”, a very different but equally compelling novel – tell us a little about where the story came from.
Loosely – very loosely indeed – from the cases of Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer. Both were living in overcrowded circumstances, cheek by jowl with their neighbours, and yet no-one had the remotest suspicion of the things they were up to. I wanted to explore that: how you could share a house with a serial killer and not notice.
Are any of the characters based on people you know?
Yes and no. All characters in all books have roots in things and people we know or have encountered. Vesta was a partly based a friend who died a few years ago, whom I still think about. Hossein’s name, and a little bit of his situation, comes from a current friend, but a lot of him doesn’t.
And I HAVE to ask this one – do you have a favourite from the eclectic mix of “neighbours”?
Oh, gosh, Cher, probably. There’s a lot of me as a teenager in her, so that’s probably a horribly narcissistic thing to say! And Vesta. Vesta’s just – I love the way she’s learned all the things politicians like to lecture us about, like tolerance and prejudice open-mindedness, simply through living her static, small existence in a London suburb. London’s full of old ladies like that. They’re brilliant, and don’t miss a trick.
Can you tell us anything about your next project? (I can hear Hannah Beckerman laughing at me as I type THAT one out!)
Erm… I wish I could tell myself more about it, frankly! It’s another sins of the past coming back to stir up the present yarn, based around a massive multi-spouse family. Just drawing up the family tree made me feel sick. I really don’t like to make my own life easy!
Book you wish you had written.
Favourite place to read.
Bath (and yes, I use my Kindle – bless you, Ziploc!)
Something you wish you were good at but are not.
Running. I have the fatal combination of huge knockers and hypermobile joints, so any attempts I make to do it always make me look a bit like a windmill.
Thank you so much for taking the time!
The Wicked Girls.
“The Wicked Girls” is an interesting book – when you start to read it you are kind of expecting a fairly straightforward murder mystery with perhaps the small twist being the fact that the main characters themselves committed a murder. What you actually get is a pretty darn good social comment on child murderers, their reintegration into society and the endless ways that those “outside” of the case can view the “criminals”. (Trying not to give away any plot details here, its important to come at this story with minimal knowledge in my opinion). Set against a backdrop of a serial killer haunting a small seaside town, it tells the tale of Jade and Bel, two women who in their youth were imprisoned for a horrendous crime. Now living back in society as a cleaner and a Journalist respectively, their worlds collide again during the events of the main portion of the book. Told in real time and flashback, you get a real sense of place and a feeling for the realities of their situation, both then and now. Cleverly written to keep you guessing, and without need to resort to cliche, I thought this was a terrific story and certainly the resolution of the tale gave pause for thought. Excellent.
The Killer Next Door.
No. 23 has a secret. In this gloomy, bedsit-riddled South London wreck, lorded over by a lecherous landlord, a horrifying collection quietly waits to be discovered. Yet all six residents have something to hide.
Impressive. Yes ok, this is crime fiction. There is a mystery and things to discover here, but for me this was mostly a character driven novel – and a rather addictive one at that.
Within the walls of number 23, an eclectic cast of characters hang their hats – all hiding out from the world for one reason or another and all incredibly well drawn, I was immediately fascinated by every one of them.
From the very beginning Alex Marwood hooks you. Cher, teenage runaway, is interviewed at the police station, giving her statement about a recent gruesome discovery – then we are thrown back in time to start meeting the people involved…the residents of No 23. Knowing that doom is approaching for at least one, this is a book you may shout at. “No”. “Don’t do that”. “RUN RUN!”…and yet you are never entirely sure whether you are directing your advice at the right people..clever. Love it.
Putting that side of it away for a moment – the more frightening part if you like – you can also look at this story as a soundbite from life. Cher, teenager, thief, but also someone you would want on your side. Collette, hiding from danger not realising that she faces far worse in her chosen sanctuary, Vesta, pensioner, is mother and confidante to all. Then you have a handome asylum seeker Hossein, the lonely Thomas and the musically minded Gerard, all watched over by the repugnant landlord Preece. Different views, different lives, all tied together by their mutual living space, you could easily read this as a cautionary tale of the ups and downs of life…and somewhere in that marvellous mix a killer lurks…hiding in plain sight.
From start to finish this is a terrific page turner, a look at the dark heart that lurks in us all and a compelling, often emotional, always refreshing tale of humanity.
You can follow Alex on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/AlexMarwood1
Happy Reading Folks!