Today is my turn on the blog tour for Diana Bretherick ‘s book The Devil’s Daughter, and I have a guest post from the author to share today in which she thinks about the process of writing about fact’s within crime ficton.
Diana Bretherick was a criminal barrister for ten years and has worked with offenders at Brixton prison. Currently she lectures in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. Her first novel, City of Devils (published by Orion in 2013) won the Good Housekeeping New Novel Competition in 2012 and was selected for the 2013 Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club.
How to write fact in crime ficton by Diana Bretherick
Writing about real people as characters in historical fiction is something of a challenge as you are to some extent constrained by events. But it needn’t be fatal to the plot. There are ways of getting round this as I found when writing my novels – historical thrillers set in Turin, Italy in the 1880s. They feature Cesare Lombroso, who was the world’s first criminologist, as a detective.
He viewed criminals as types, identifiable by their physical characteristics. These theories unsurprisingly attracted a fair amount of scepticism in some of his criminological colleagues and made him somewhat defensive when confronted. I quoted some if his more unusual ideas at the beginning of chapters to give the reader an insight into the way his mind worked.
As far as the facts were concerned I wrote around the reality, accepting it was there but not interesting enough to be at the forefront of the novel. Instead I placed my real life character into a fictional situation – ‘what if’ scenarios where he was required to solve murders – and gave him a fictional sidekick to give him a helping hand.
With fictional characters I do a lot of background work creating biographies examining physical and psychological traits as well as journal entries. For Lombroso at first I wasn’t sure that this was necessary as I had the real man’s details to go on. I soon realised that I still needed to do the same preparation. He was a character in the fictional world I created for him so I needed to know more about how he would react to this. For this I ‘interviewed’ him which gave me much more of an insight into his mind as a character than any number of biographies. By the time I started to write the books I felt that I knew him as well as my fictional characters. He turned out to be eccentric and even infuriating at times but also quite endearing. He certainly wasn’t dull – in fact and I hope in ficton.
The Devil’s Daughters
A darkly atmospheric thriller set in 19th century Scotland and Turin from the winner of the Good Housekeeping New Novel Competition.
- When young Scottish scientist James Murray receives a letter from Sofia Esposito, a woman he once loved and lost, he cannot refuse her cry for help. Sofia’s fifteen-year-old cousin has vanished but, because of her lower-class status, the police are unwilling to investigate.
Accompanied by his younger sister Lucy, Murray returns to the city of Turin where he was once apprenticed to the world-famous criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. As he embarks on his search for the missing girl, Murray uncovers a series of mysterious disappearances of young women and rumours of a haunted abbey on the outskirts of the city.
When the body of one of the girls turns up bearing evidence of a satanic ritual, Murray begins to slot together the pieces of the puzzle. But as two more bodies are discovered, fear grips the city and a desperate hunt begins to find a truly terrifying killer before he claims his next victim.
Bretherick weaves together a number of strands into a complex tale that ends with a genuinely surprising revelation of the identity of the murderer… This is a historical crime novel with real originality and narrative energy. – BBC History Magazine