Regular readers of my blog will already have seen the posts where I touch upon the reasons why I write. For those first time readers, however, I guess the short answer of why I write is that if I didn’t, my head would be so full of names, places, ideas, concepts, and a whole plethora of words and their innumerable nuances, that there simply wouldn’t be room for anything else. Yet, the origin story got me thinking. Why did I feel compelled to write in the first place? What was it that made me fall in love with words?
I know the reason well, and it is as simple as it is poignant (for me, at least). It is all down to my Dad, Neville Winter.
Like most children, I was read stories at bedtime. However, for me, it neither started nor ended there. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that probably from the age of two, I would sit on my Dad’s knee while he read the paper. I would point at words and ask him what they said. He would say the word, tell me what it meant, and then he would spell out the word and then say it again. To give an example, suppose I pointed at the word “numerous”. My Dad would say, “Numerous. It means “many” or “a lot of something”. It’s spelled N U M E R O U S. Numerous.” As soon as he’d done that, that particular word was there in my head. Day after day, I would sit on his knee while he read the paper, or a magazine (occasionally, even if he wasn’t reading anything, I would sit on his knee and read the words on his t-shirt or something!) me pointing out the words and my Dad spelling them out and telling me what they meant.
After a while, I realised that words weren’t just those we immediately see and take at face value. I saw that you could take a word like “numerous”, and from those letters only, you could make a whole host of new words. You could, for example make the word, “some” or “ruse” or “mouse” or “sour”. As a youngster, this thrilled and delighted me in equal measure! It still does!
From falling in love with words, I began to fall in love with reading also. I devoured books as a child, reading most anything I could get my hands on. I distinctly remember reading “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and coming to the passage “I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.” I read that over and over again, for I thought it was the saddest, and yet the most beautiful thing I had ever read. Of course, it was only when I was older, when I myself had cried all night until I had no more tears left, that this passage came to have increased significance to me. When I was older still, I loved this passage even more, seeing it through the words of Truman Capote, as the “inner music that words make”.
I suppose then, from there, writing stories was a kind of natural progression. On saying that, perhaps genetics has something to do with it too. My father is a great storyteller, writer and poet, and his mother also wrote stories. My maternal grandmother wasn’t necessarily a writer, I don’t think, although I once found some poetry she had written after my granddad had died, and they were heart-breaking and breathtakingly beautiful.
As for how I came to write primarily about crime – whether that be factually or fictively – I have Derek Bentley to thank for that. I wrote a piece about him for my high school English exam, criticising the gross miscarriage of justice, putting forth my arguments against the death penalty, and examining the varying nuances of an everyday sentence. For those of you unfamiliar with Derek Bentley, the case centred around Bentley – who was epileptic and, despite being 18-years-old had the mental capacity of an 11-year-old – and his 16-year-old friend, Christopher Craig. The highly suggestible Bentley was persuaded by Craig to break into a warehouse. As the two of them were on the roof, two policemen climbed onto the roof and caught them. Bentley was arrested by one of the policemen, at which point, Christopher Craig pulled a gun and took aim at the second police officer. The police officer was telling Craig not to be stupid and to give him the gun, when Bentley shouted five crucial words. “Let him have it, Chris!” Christopher Craig then shot and killed the police officer. At their subsequent trial for murder, the prosecution argued that Bentley’s words were intended to mean, “Let him have it. Kill him” I argued that he simply meant, “Let him have it, Chris. Let him have the gun.” Ultimately, both Bentley and Craig were found guilty of murder, and yet, despite not pulling the trigger and being in custody at the time the shot was fired, Derek Bentley was sentenced to hang, while Christopher Craig was given a prison sentence. The reason? Christopher Craig was only 16 and thus too young to hang. The fact that Derek Bentley had the mental capacity of 11, mattered not.
I got an A+ for my piece on Derek Bentley, with the notation that my “arguments were clear, concise, succinct and persuasive”. Reading those comments, I felt as if I was ten feet tall and walking on air! (Strangely enough, on 29 July 1993 – my birthday – Derek Bentley was granted a Royal Pardon. His conviction was quashed five years later). As a result, I began to educate myself on the various aspects of criminal law, as well as researching and writing about crime. It has led me to some very dark corners, as well as allowing me to meet some intriguing – and slightly frightening – characters. Of course, there are things that have gone wrong along the way, and things that I wish had turned out differently. All in all though, I’ve loved every minute!
So there it is. My origin. The story of how I came to love words and reading and crime, and how I came to be a writer.