Tag Archives: In Cold Blood

The Intel: Piu Marie Eatwell

Piu Marie EatwellIf macabre Victorian litigation is your thing then you’ll be kicking yourself for forgetting to read our review of The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse. But don’t despair, take your head out of your hands. Simply scroll down a bit, a little bit more, nearly there, to see that triumphant review. Alternatively, click here.

The Druce Portland affair was one of the most drawn-out legal sagas the Uk has ever seen, and Piu weaves an eccentric tale of tunnelling dukes, desperate widows and dirty, rotten scoundrels, spanning the Victorian and Edwardian eras. So — and you know where we’re going with this by now — Piu is here to give us the intel on the whole lurid affair.

Born in Calcutta and raised in the UK, Piu has lived in Paris for the last decade, where she found the inspiration for her first book, about the French, called They Eat Horses, Don’t They? Liu talks double lives, intensive research and slogging…

Tell us about The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse

The Dead Duke, his Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse is a historical true-crime story. It re-tells the fantastic story of the alleged double life of the 5th Duke of Portland, a Victorian eccentric who burrowed a maze of underground passages beneath the family seat of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire. A celebrated court case of the time alleged that the Duke had lived a double life as a businessman in Baker Street. It dragged on for ten years. Was it true?

The story has as many twists and turns as a novel —  how did you come across this Victorian cause celebre? 

I was snooping around some second-hand bookshops looking for a new story, when I came across this in a tatty, 1970s book about ‘Victorian Scandals.’ I was hooked.

What does the whole affair tell us about the Victorians and Edwardians, do you think?

It tells us a lot about the duplicity and hypocrisy of the era. The Victorians prided themselves on their strict sense of ‘morality’ and high standards of honour in public and private life: the reality, of course, was very different.

The book is packed with a delicious cast of scoundrels and chancers – which of the participants in the case really came alive for you as you researched them?

I have to admit to a secret crush on the 5th Duke of Portland. Even after all this research, I still don’t know what made him ‘tick’. Why did he dig hundreds of miles of tunnels under his estate? Was he a genius, or just plain crazy?

The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife And The Missing CorpseHow long did it take you to research the affair?

It took me about a year to research and write the book, with three visits to the Manuscripts and Special Collections Department at Nottingham University to review and make notes on the documents. Following such a long and complicated case was a huge undertaking.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Dedication and self-motivation. Also, the sheer craft of writing. People tend to think of writing as ‘inspiration’, but actually it’s about 5% inspiration and 95% sheer slog: writing, re-writing, putting pen to paper when you’re tired, complying with deadlines, being rejected, and plodding on. I always say – when people tell me they have a ‘book in them’ – to write three, rip them up, put them in the bin, and then write another! If you can do that, you might have a chance….

Who are the authors you admire, and why? 

There are so many! I tend to be influenced by people I’m reading at any one time. At the moment I’m reading a lot of American literature as research for my next book (set in 1940s California), so I would say Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). All of them capture the strange ‘doubleness’ of America: on the one hand the American dream, and on the other, the American nightmare.

Give me some advice about writing…

All the points made above about craft, determination, and diligence.

What’s next for you?

I like to alternate true crime with books about France (where I live). So I’ve got a new trivia book about France coming out next Spring, and a project on the Elizabeth Short/ “Black Dahlia” murder, which took place in Los Angeles in 1947, in the pipeline.

The Intel: Richard Butchins

Richard ButchinsIf you like your crime fiction graphic, disquieting and biliously humorous, then Pavement by Richard Butchins may, er, be right up your street. Butchins is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has also been an advocate for disabled people’s rights, a war-zone photographer, and a music business and concert promoter. Richard’s new novel takes us into the recesses of a diseased mind – and, guess what, he’s giving us the intel on Pavement…

Pavement is a disturbing novel about an unnamed protagonist who pounds London barely noticed by those around him – tell us about it…

Pavement is set in a near future London, a bleak alternate city where everything is familiar, yet ever so slightly different. The book explores themes of alienation, disassociation and oppression. It depicts a society where a person’s value is gauged only in socio/economic terms; a society viewed from the bottom up through the eyes of the hero; one where he empowers himself through murder; his actions are logical and rational, albeit a tortuous logic. It examines what happens when someone has nothing left to lose.

The story reveals that he possesses knowledge about the limits of our world, revealing the difference between what men are – and what they pretend to be. It also illuminates that given the necessary circumstances, all humans are capable of actions they would prefer to think they aren’t.  And although his actions are terrible, he still remains human and my intention is for the reader to retain sympathy for him, in spite of what he has (or hasn’t) done.

The book contains vivid dream sequences that cloud the nature of his reality and create conflict in him as he struggles to disentangle reality from illusion. I have chosen to portray acts of unequivocal violence in precise detail. Thorough research was undertaken to make sure these scenes are accurate and the reader may find the process of imagining them unsettling.

It must be difficult spending time inside the head of such a damaged protagonist – what were the particular challenges of writing Pavement?

Strangely it wasn’t. I found it cathartic to write this character after a while he just took over and I would wonder what he had been up to, what weird dreams he’d had – where his travels had taken him. I would sit down and write and it was like I was listening to him telling me what to write and what to say. He had an alcove in my mind in which he did his thing.

Why are we so intrigued by serial killers?

Because we don’t ever really get to understand them we’re told all about the terrible things they do and some salacious personal details are revealed but the media always plays to the gallery and we are never allowed to see them as anything other than monsters, some kind of other being, outside of the human race, when, in fact this is nonsense. They are humans the same as the rest of us, they crossed the line that most of us never will, but I think in our subconscious, deep down we all know that given the right set of circumstances and so on – we all could cross that line and that’s why we are fascinated because we are all serial killers.

photoIs the novel inspired by your own observations of what’s happening to London?

To a large extent, yes it is, although it is actually set in a slightly parallel London, even less equitable and more dystopian than the real city. There’s a real push to sanitise London, to gentrify everything and to remove large sections of the population out to the invisible edge – the non places around the periphery of the City.

Take us through a typical writing day for you…

Oh my, it involves avoiding writing as much as possible, by any possible means. Washing up the dishes three times, cleaning the house, anything to avoid setting pen to paper (I don’t actually use pens and paper – sounds better than finger to keyboard though) I usually do this avoidance for as long as possible. I like to call it thinking time…Then I sit down and write like crazy until it’s done. I try to set a target for each day – 1000 – 3000 words and then struggle through it until I get there.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The story won’t write itself –annoying that !

How do you deal with feedback?  Hmmm – the same way other people do – with disdainful acceptance.

Who are the authors you admire?  

This could be a very long list. I admire different writers for different reasons but amongst the constant companions are: Kafka, because of his utter brilliance. Beckett for his the sheer magnificence of his language – the same goes for TS Eliot. Murikami, I love his creation of alternate worlds that feel familiar but aren’t. I recently read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote again and its brilliant, particularly in the way it presents the killers as human beings and as for genre writers Le Carre is a very fine writer and Graham Greene is superb (what do you mean he’s not a genre writer – he sure is).

Have your own experiences shaped your writing?

Entirely, there is no possibility of any other answer. We all write from experience whether we know it or not.

Give me some advice about writing…

I’ll quote Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Gosh, the best thing would to be closely related to a publisher, failing that – don’t copy fads or trends, be politely persistent and set your standards so high you think you’ll never meet them.

What’s next for you?

A jolly nice cup of tea and I’m writing a screenplay and co-writing the biography of a famous actor.


Richard’s novel Pavement is available in paperback and on kindle, and you can buy it right here.