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CAROL ANNE DAVIES Interviewed on True Crime

Written by Mike Stotter

 

 

 

 

This interview is reprinted with the kind permission of the good people at

www.macavitys.co.uk

 

Book Jacket, Couples Who Kill

When did your obsession with true crime begin?

 

I started reading true crime shortly after I left school, so I could only have been in my mid-teens.

What is it that so fascinates you?

 

It held my attention from the start as it involves real people facing desperately real situations. Prior to that I'd been force fed the usual books at school, the isn't-life-jolly books of Enid Blyton followed by morality tales such as Little House On The Prairie, and my Gran regularly gave me the some-day-my-prince-will-come fantasies of Mills n' Boon. In contrast, true crime offered a world which I could relate to, one based on abnormal psychology and fear.

 

How did you become a writer - was it crime from the very beginning?

 

I didn't originally write crime fiction as I equated it with the likes of Agatha Christie - she's very readable but didn't write about a world I could identify with. I'd grown up with a father who frequently threatened to kill my brother and I, so couldn't relate to books where the murder was reduced to a whodunnit puzzle. Initially I thought that I was writing psychological horror: that's what I termed my first novel, Shrouded. Then I read a few noir books and suddenly realised that I was writing realistic crime. That said, I wrote in almost every genre during my first few years of freelancing - health journalism inspired by my hypochondria, lifestyle features as I tried to find a lifestyle and erotica inspired by my...er because I have a very active imagination.

 

Couples Who Kill is very detailed and thorough. How did you research all those cases - it must have taken ages!

 

It took about six months to do the background reading before I produced a synopsis and asked for a commission plus another nine months to write the book. The news media tends to concentrate on the crime rather than the killer and the internet can be error-ridden so I try to source original material on a case whenever possible. I've been fortunate in getting access to documents which aren't available to the public - for example, an alleged serial killer sent me his case notes to read and for my Children Who Kill book, a detective gave me access to his file on a teenage serial killer.

 

You frequently refer to the sociological and psychological aspects of crime. Have you previously studied criminology?

 

I covered criminology as part of my M.A. degree but it doesn't tie in to what I do now - for example we studied gangland culture and I don't write about gangs or hit men. I understand the psychology to an extent because I know how much I changed during my unhappy childhood, metamorphosising from a happy animal-lover who wrote nature stories into someone who was briefly full of hate then clinically depressed.

 

I picked up on a few instances of subtle humour in Couples Who Kill. Was this deliberately to lighten the mood, or was it more subconscious?

 

I always introduce humour if appropriate, though it's easier to do so in novels than true crime books. That said, there is some scope for black comedy when, for example, a groupie talks about marrying a 'good' serial killer.

 

Do you think readers in general are becoming more interested in why people commit such terrible crimes, as opposed to the how (ie the gory details that are so often over-sensationalised and untrue!)

 

When I was researching Women Who Kill, various people involved in criminology told me that I'd make a lot more money if I concentrated on the crimes and ignored the killer's formative experiences. But I wanted to know about their backgrounds and I don't need a great deal of money so decided to write about what interests me. Frankly, if I'd been solely interested in profit I'd have invented a series character years ago rather than writing psychological novels which stand alone! I think the nation is split re their interest in what causes crime - I get occasional emails from geneticists who insist that the killers are born bad and tell me that their backgrounds are immaterial. But I also receive letters from psychology students and people working in the criminal justice system who are glad that I've publicised the connection between a dysfunctional childhood and later adult dysfunctionality, whilst still noting that giving in to violent impulses in adulthood is a choice.

 

Your two previous books were Women Who Kill and Children Who Kill. Your research must throw up some pretty nasty stuff. How do you distance yourself from the more emotional and traumatic parts? Have you ever not written about a case because it was too upsetting?

 

I'm hopeless at distancing myself from the traumatic detail - but to an extent it's balanced out by the good people (detectives, victim's friends, counsellors etc) I get to write about. And I take two or three exercise classes weekly to dissipate tension, though I suspect that my mere presence makes the instructor tense. The rest of the class is invariably poetry in motion, spoilt by the shuffling, gasping Scottish creature at the back... And yes, I've deliberately left out extreme cases which have haunted me as I didn't want to have the same effect on the readership.

 

Is there one particular case in crime history that you are particularly interested in? Could you imagine devoting an entire book to one case or person?

 

No, though I read three books on Jack the Ripper recently because I was writing a short story about him. That was enough to last me a lifetime, yet many devotees have hundreds of books on this case. I hate going over old ground so am constantly looking out for new cases with interesting angles. But a crime would have to be phenomenally exciting and complex for me to be able to justify devoting up to a 100, 000 words to it.

 

If you could have the chance to interview any killer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?

 

I'd like to interview Charlene Gallego, one of the female serial killers who features in Women Who Kill. The feminist movement portrayed her as her husband's pawn - but she deliberately lured ten youngsters into his van and her teethmarks were found in one victim's breast. She was set free in 1997 after serving a sixteen year sentence and has since disappeared from view - don't look behind you. I'd love to ask her for a full and frank account of her childhood.

 

Do you believe in evil? Do you believe killers can change and be rehabilitated? You wrote quite strongly about this in your section on Myra Hindley.

 

I don't like the word evil as people tend to give it supernatural connotations, though it simply means wickedness. But it's obvious from their mindset and actions that some killers become exceptionally mean. I doubt if anyone could rehabilitate Bittaker & Norris, (Couples Who Kill), who extensively tortured their teenage victims. Bittaker was so damaged by various foster families that his humanity had gone.

 

 

But I believe that several of the children and teenagers profiled in Children Who Kill can be rehabilitated. Indeed Mary Bell, who strangled two little boys when she was eleven, has made remarkable progress. Removed from her prostitute mother (who used her in sadomasochistic sex with clients) she has gone on to become a good parent and hasn't been in further trouble with the law.

 

 

Much depends on whether the child has had any good experiences (Mary had a stepfather who loved her) and in how early he or she is removed from their dysfunctional home. One of the teenagers I profiled had been so physically, emotionally and sexually abused that he went mad and argued loudly with imaginary voices. His execution could be viewed as a merciful release.

 

You write crime fiction as well as true crime. Which do you prefer and how different are the writing processes for you?

 

With crime fiction I put together a chapter by chapter plan before I start work, though I invariably deviate from it slightly. The actual writing takes approximately five months. With the true crime I read voraciously in my spare time for six months, rejecting many cases as dull or impossible to find sufficient information on. Then, as I've said, the actual writing and interviewing takes another nine months. When I complete a novel I feel very tired - but by the time I've finished a true crime book I'm almost ill with exhaustion. I tend to need three weeks off, which for a workaholic like me is an incredibly long time.

 

What plans do you have for your next book?

 

I'm totally immersed in my next true crime book but as I hate talking about unfinished projects - and readers probably hate hearing about them - I won't say more than that!

 

What are you currently reading yourself - do you stick to true crime?

 

Occasionally I need a break from true crime and turn to really lightweight books: I bought two of the What Not To Wear series from second hand shops. As I'd already suspected, I'm a living example of what not to wear. Problem is, by the time I've finished reading such how-to books, I'm ready to return to work so I never get around to putting the style rules into practice, so I'm still the short-legged one who falls over her flares at crime festivals and who pays homage to the designer who invented jeans with an elasticated waist.

 

Will you be attending any of the crime festivals - UK or overseas - this year?

 

My appearance at crime festivals largely depends on whether anyone asks me - but I'll iron aforesaid flares just in case...

 


Visit Carol Anne’s website:

http://www.carolannedavis.co.uk/


True Life Books by this author:

Women Who Kill: Profiles Of Female Serial Killers
Paperback - ISBN: 0 7490 0572 6

Children Who Kill
Hardback - ISBN: 0 7490 0610 2

Children Who Kill
Paperback - ISBN: 0 7490 0693 5

 

 

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Carol Anne Davis



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