She closed her notebook and set it on the table in front of her, then folded her hands in her lap. The expression she wore was soft, somehow. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at me in that way. In the village I was known, yes; meaning people knew that I existed. But beyond the moniker, the occasional half pint of shandy, and the early morning walk for the weekend newspaper, people didn’t know me that well. It wasn’t a criticism of them though; they did try to suck me into village life when I’d first bought the cottage. But the lack of neighbours had been part of the place’s appeal. Though the isolation wore thin now and then. During those times, I reminded myself that this was exactly what I’d wanted – until now.
‘You want to know what happened.’
‘If I’m going to write about it, then…’ She petered out.
‘Of course.’ I topped up my cold tea with what was left of the milk. ‘He went missing for a short while, during which time there was a search. His body was discovered. There was a trial. The suspect was found not guilty. And now we’re here.’
She looked startled. ‘There are a lot of blanks in that.’
‘Yes.’ I glanced away from her. The sensation of being seen, studied, suddenly made me uncomfortable. ‘I suppose that’s what the project is for, to fill in the blanks.’
‘You said there was a trial, a suspect?’
‘Quite a lengthy one. There was a lot about it in the papers at the time, too.’ I swallowed the beginnings of a laugh. ‘And occasionally for the anniversaries of it all.’ The media hadn’t been especially good at leaving my husband alone during the aftermath of his death, and they’d made a meal of him since. There were documentaries, whole fandoms, my solicitor had told me; with half of the clingers-on believing one conspiracy and half of them fabricating others. Everyone loved a mystery, though, and the unsolved murder of a middle-class man in rural England had given the bloodhounds a taste of something worth reporting – re-reporting.
Prue grabbed the notebook again. I watched her slip easily back into professional mode. ‘Would it be okay for me to take your husband’s name?’
There was a long delay between my saying his name and her looking up. She hadn’t written anything down. And I imagined how, in the seconds that had passed, her brain must have connected the dots and formed a watercolour. She opened her mouth twice before anything emerged; first, just a noise before it could form fully as a word. The side of my mouth twitched but I did my utmost to level out the smile that was forming. I knew how it would look. Instead, I sat passive and waited for Prue to decide what happened next.
‘Roger Miller,’ she repeated then took another pause, and a breath so deep that I worried there’d hardly be enough air left in the garden for me. ‘Which must mean the suspect in the trial was–’
The Things I Didn't Do is available to pre-order on Amazon Kindle and in paperback by clicking here.
In January 2021, the university where I currently lecture (University of Wolverhampton, that is) gifted me half of a Post-Graduate module from their Popular Culture MA: Crime of the Century. In this role, I'd be talking PG students through the Jack the Ripper murders, and the ways in which these have been represented and re-presented in media outlets. This included everything from comic books and novels, through to documentaries and televised adaptations.
I was in my element. Though I soon came to realise that it wasn't just for the joy of teaching and the excitement of lively debates with students; nor was it exclusively because I was putting my own research background (the representation of female violence in contemporary crime fiction) to good use.
No, I soon realised what was actually happening was that my creative brain was kicking in, too, and a story was falling together...
I was and am utterly enamoured with the ways in which crime is represented in the media. There is a clear distinction to be drawn between those who are found guilty and/or not guilty through our country's legal system, and those who are tried for a second time through the media. The module I taught on was and remains much more varied than, 'What did the newspapers have to say about it?' Although if you cast an eye over the true crime documentaries - and everything else under this or a similar heading - that discusses crimes from the last century, you'll find that traditional news and media outlets aren't the only means for interrogating the "truth" of someone's crimes or misdeeds.
This is where Erica's story was born.
Erica is the first narrator of The Things I Didn't Do; an older woman living out her days in the countryside where she exists under a fake name to hide her past. Everyone who knows her now, knows her as Ruby. Anyone who knew her before, knew her as the woman found not guilty for murdering her husband...
Erica put me in a mindset of wondering what it must be like to have that crime follow you around for the remainder of your days. Through the book, and through Erica, I've tried to place a spotlight over the newspapers, documentaries, never-ending allegations, and consider how Erica - or another figure, even - would respond to that, and the burden it might place on her.
I don't want to be accused of laying sympathy at the door of a murderer, let that be said now. But Erica was found not guilty. So, is she a murderer at all?
The premise of the book is that Erica hires Prue, a ghost writer, with the aim of finally telling the truth of her story. Prue is to write Erica's memoir, detailing the events as they really took place. Though, of course, we have to then believe that Prue isn't hiding anything either...
The Things I Didn't Do is forthcoming with Bloodhound Books and it will be released on February 16, 2022. If you'd like to have the book waiting for you on publication day, it's now available to pre-order on Kindle for 99p, and it's also available to pre-order in paperback.
Warmest wishes and thank you for reading -