Paul Harrison and The Issue Of Society’s Obsession With Serial Killers

paul harrison

It’s funny how things happen. I recently noticed an article about a bloke who was claiming to have interviewed some of the world’s most renowned serial killers, but whose claims have now been called into question. 

While reading the article I recognised the name of one of my favourite crime publishers, Urbane, who published the latest of the author’s 30 odd books, Mind Games, at the end of last year. Their statement about the book being pulled from sale, and their offering the profits from the sales to charity, is an exercise is great, class PR.

Then I realised that I recognised the name Paul Harrison as well. I went onto Facebook and realised that my friends had actually had tickets to Harrison’s recent lecture seminar, Interviews With A Serial Killer.

With these coincidences, I was fascinated by the story of Paul Harrison and his questionable claims that he has interviewed some of the world’s most famous killers, including the Kray twins, Peter Sutcliffe and Ted Bundy. He claimed to have worked with the famed FBI Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia and to have interviewed more than 70 serial killers.

However, recently his claims were called into question by a number of different sources, including Sutcliffe and former members of the Quantico team. Harrison himself seems to have confirmed this in a now deleted Facebook post in which he tried to claim that the sensationalizing was done at the behest of his promoters.

Personally, I know that Urbane would never incite someone to tell what amount to all out lies, and I find it hard to believe any promoter or agent would either. After all, there’s a key difference between exaggerating a small amount to sell more tickets and completely fabricating interviews, which are the charges levied against Harrison.

Whatever the truth may be, the fact of the matter is that Harrison commanded large sums of money for his books, talks and insight into the minds of serial killers. This begs the question: why are we so interested?

I’ve often wondered why people are so intrigued by serial killers and, for that matter, serial liars. I have some experience with the latter, and it’s a horrible thing to have to go through, and whilst I have no experience with serial killers, any death is a horrific experience. One so vile and degrading must be a genuine challenge for those left behind.

So why does everyone want to know about serial killers? Some of them are almost like macabre celebrities, with some like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy gaining legions of female fans, many of whom were weirdly sexually attracted to them.

There are also masses of memorabilia and collectors out there are willing to pay a fortune for obscure items such as household belongings that once serial killers once owned. Hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written on the subject of some of the world’s most renowned murders, and films, documentaries and TV shows have been dedicated to some of the most frightening examples of human malice.

What often fascinates people is the unknown; things they do not have regular access to and do not understand. It’s a bit like zoos and aquariums: we can’t all go wandering off into the Sahara or to the North Pole, so we must content ourselves with seeing these animals in captivity, and have caused them pain in order to put them within easy reach of ourselves so that we can see them and find out more about their lives.

This, I think, is the fascination with serial killers. Their behavior is so unlike that of an ordinary person, yet they outwardly seem so normal, that they become almost freakish in our minds. We get this urge to find out more about what drove them to commit horrific acts, and then to lie about them or hide them from the world. Their behavior is something we simply cannot comprehend, so we instead rely on interviews, books and other forms of insight to try and understand them.

In the end, such understand will probably never come, but still our insatiable thirst for knowledge continues. Through all that, there are those who will seek to exploit this, just as there are in every market, and whilst it’s a shame to hear that Harrison’s claims aren’t true, his fabrications are every bit as strange and fascinating as those he was lying about.

 

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Exeter Deserves To Be A City Of Literature

Exeter city

Recently, I heard the news that Exeter has been successful in progressing through the first phase of a process to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

Just four UK cities can gain endorsement from UNESCO’s UK Commission to join the Creative Cities Network and Exeter was one of these. The city’s application now goes into an international competitive process.

The bid, led by Exeter City Council, is a partnership with a range of organisations, including Exeter City Council, Exeter Culture, The University of Exeter, Devon County Council, Libraries Unlimited, Literature Works, Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Canal and Quay Trust. Literature Works, the literature development agency for southwest England, wrote the bid on behalf of the steering group.

If the city is successful in its application it will enable Exeter to use the prestigious title of City of Literature and produce a four-year cultural programme of activity for the communities of Exeter and the region. The network of UNESCO’s Creative Cities will also enable the city to develop international partnerships and opportunities for the benefit of its communities and the cultural sector.

Personally, as someone who lived in close proximity to Exeter for most of her life and studied at its respected University for a year to gain her Master’s degree, I have to say I wholeheartedly believe the city deserves this status.

After all, it has a myriad of facilities that benefit cultural and literary scholars, including the University and its amazing film studies library and cutting-edge hub.

The vision for the programme is for Exeter and the wider region to be a destination for writers and a city of readers. The programme aims to engage a range of communities in the creation and appreciation of wide-ranging works, both existing and new, and develop a love of reading.

This is a great focus for the programme, as many readers already flock to the West Country as a haven for independent bookshops and stunning literary destinations such as Lyme Regis, the setting for The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Dorchester, the birthplace and lifelong home of Thomas Hardy.

As such, the city deserves to benefit from its prime location and enhance its already exceptional events, facilities and amenities that revolve around culture and literature. This is a stunning city and one that already has many great claims to fame, and adding the status of being classed as a City of Literature will help it to flourish and offer new services for readers that it has not before been able to.

It will also help the surrounding communities. Being set in a rural area, Exeter is bordered by many small towns, most of which struggle for culture, business, tourism and amenities such as transport. If Exeter does achieve City of Literature status then these surrounding towns and villages will also receive greater footfall and be able to welcome more tourists and visitors, resulting in more business and better facilities for locals.

Overall, with the results due in November 2019 we will know by the end of the year if this amazing and culturally relevant city has been granted this prestigious honour. Personally, I think it deserves nothing less.

 

Violence Against Women Doesn’t Have To Be A Staple In Crime Fiction Today

the staunch prize

Just to remind y’all, it’s 2019. We shouldn’t really be debating the legitimacy of offering a prize for crime fiction that praises books for avoiding the portrayal of the death, mutilation and general violence against women.

Recently the Guardian highlighted the growing upset amongst crime writers who are unhappy about comments that fictional portrayals of rape can hinder trials. Whilst this is a sad fact, it also should be noted that anything to stop the decriminalisation of rape in law courts should be embraced wholeheartedly.

I understand the other side of the argument: that men continue to commit these crimes, so writers should continue to write about them. And I actually agree. Write about them all you want.

However, the crime fiction and thriller genres have, for decades, been heavily focused on portraying women as victims, with many lazily plotted books centred exclusively on the gruesome depiction of the violence committed by a man against a woman or women.

By turning women in a commodity which authors can then use as plot devices, the crime fiction genre has highlighted the deep-seated misogyny that underpins not only the foundations of the genre, but also society itself. There’s nothing wrong with including violence against women, but make them at least two-dimensional characters, not just objects to be killed and hurt.

Also, writers should consider having even more women in more dynamic roles, not just as detectives but also as suspects, witnesses and people with their own agency.

For those who are true mavericks, the idea of creating a book with no violence against women at all should be considered. It’s a great idea and I applaud the prize that is aiming to showcase those books that do not portray women merely as objects and murder victims.

Consider, for one fucking second, the people who have very little say in this but who are the most important: the women who are real-life victims of male violence. They deserve to be able to find books that don’t trigger them but are thrilling, exciting and adventurous. They deserve to be more than just plot points.

Books can be triggering and cause readers trauma, and as such I think its great that a prize is trying to showcase the books that are reducing the amount of violence against women they portray. Whilst I understand that it is a real part of life (I’m a woman, I get catcalled about four times a month and groped at least once every six weeks, it’s a sad reality), there’s something to be said for calling out crime fiction and thrillers as the genres that showcase it the most and highlighting those writers who have written books that do not use women simply as plot points.

So in all, what I’m trying to say is that crime fiction writers who want to continue writing about violence against women should go the fuck ahead. But don’t dismiss so easily a prize that is aimed at those who, deliberately or not, have no women being raped, murdered, stalked or mutilated. It’s that easy.

Physical Books Won’t Die: Passing Then On Is Too Much Fun!

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Saturday is my day to do chores, and one of those involves going to town to do a shop and pick up anything I need.

As I’m due to go a short break shortly, while I was trudging around I decided to head into some of my favourite charity shops to have a look for books I want to take with me.

After all, I love reading and spend most of my time reading while I travel. As I was browsing the shelves I realised that some of the books on there were ones I’d previously donated to help clear my own shelves.

It’s a lovely feeling, knowing my old favourites (and some I couldn’t wait be shot of) will now be not only raising money for good causes, but also brightening up someone else’s personal library.

That’s why, with all this talk that digital media and eBooks should’ve put the kibosh on printed books, I know in my heart that they never will. Digital files aren’t nearly as fun as actual paper books, and you can’t pass them on in the same way.

Imagine trying to gift wrap a eBook, whereas it’s always nice to have an actual book wrapped up in shiny paper! As for shopping for books, it’s great to go rummaging through a second-hand bookstall on a market or burrowing about in charity shops. It’s not really the same looting through an online store of floating book covers only to download your chosen item in exchange for Bitcoins or whatever it you pay with these days.

Also, you can’t really get second hand online books. Once you’ve got it, it’s yours; if you don’t want it you just delete it. You can pass it on to someone else, but you’d still have your digital copy. Whereas with books, there’s something satisfying about handing an old favourite on to a friend and introducing them to something you’ve come to enjoy.

In all, as I’ve said before, I really don’t think eBooks and online readers will ever replace the joy of actually reading a physical book, and for those who haven’t yet experienced the sheer joy of passing on a book to a new reader you really should try it. It’s the greatest high book enthusiasts can get without stimulants, and I’d fully recommend you pass your old faves on to friends or drop off some to a charity shop. Not only does this make you feel good, but it helps others too, and that’s always a good thing!

Game of Thrones: Why Books And TV Series Should Be Separate

 

game of thrones

Recently, HBO aired the long-awaited final series of Game of Thrones, the epic fantasy TV drama it has been producing for the past decade.

And it sucked. Balls.

I mean it. The ending to the series was complete dross. The final episodes were cinematically beautiful and brilliantly acted, but they were so badly written that they were almost cringe worthy.

However, author George R.R. Martin, on whose series of books the TV series was based, has announced that his final books will have a completely different ending to the show.

This has led to excitement from fans who felt let down by the show and are now excited at the prospect of books which will give them an alternative, hopefully better, ending.

This does bring up the issue of books being different to TV series and films, however, and the issue of how you separate the two. After all, they’re effectively the same universe, same characters, just different mediums and, in this case, different plots.

Ownership of writing and of characters has long been a topic of interest for me; as you may have read previously I have some series issues with J.K. Rowling and her seeming inability to leave the Harry Potter series alone. In this case, however, I come down on the opposite side of the argument. It is my belief that books and TV shows should be allowed to be separate entities with their own plots and narratives.

After all, as discussed in my article about the Inspector Morse book The Jewel That Was Ours, which has a completely different ending to the TV show episode it is based on, and which was written before it, I think that TV and books are, quite simply completely different mediums. Readers can absorb a different amount of information and are able to cope with confusing twists more easily that those watching a show or film, who may simply get bored.

Those who are true fans of a show, and not simply watching it for the hype, will be more keen to focus on the written word than whatever is put in front of them on a screen, as proved by comic book fans who have often had to witness lame adaptations of their favourites but remain committed to the comic series. Clearly, as the TV and film market is more susceptible to poor writing, issues such whitewashing and poor production, fans have come to see the benefits of reading their favourites, and this can only be a good thing.

Therefore, in my mind, if the book market remains the one safe place where fans know that their favourite characters and stories will be treated with the respect they deserve then this will encourage more reading, and this, in my opinion, is never a bad thing.

 

 

How Reading Can Really Help In Times Of Stress

mental heatlh week

Just to quickly preface this article to say that I’m not, in any way, a doctor or therapist. I know about mental health only what I have experienced, and read in the course of trying to manage my own issues. Please don’t give up on medication or specific treatment plans based on any articles you read this Mental Health Awareness Week, not even one from someone as awesome as me!

However, if you’re looking for a means to de-stress, or an activity that will help you in times of bad mental health, then reading could be your answer, and this is a topic on which I excel. I am an avid reader, and I’ve found over the years that reading is a great activity for when my mental health is bad, I’m stressed, feeling strong anxiety or just really struggling.

It’s a great excuse to be alone, for one thing. It’s also a great reason to curl up and snuggle down under blankets and warm clothes. Reading is an activity that is all about being comfortable, a factor which really helps when you’re struggling mentally.

Another great thing about reading is that it’s a repetitive activity that doesn’t involve any outside factors that could increase stress or anxiety. Re-reading old favourites can be a great way to ensure you know that there are no trigger factors in a text, and make you feel really comfortable and calm in times of unease.

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My own anecdotal evidence is backed by new research showing that creative activities are considered good for mental health. The study references reading as one such activity, and whilst it isn’t technically a creative activity in the sense that you’re not actually creating anything, you are using your imagination. As such, reading can be a morale boost at times and offer a solace that perhaps other activities cannot.

So in all, reading is a great hobby for anyone out there who doesn’t currently do it regularly but is looking for an activity that may offer a positive impact on their mental health. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed to improve your mental wellbeing, but it’s not likely to harm it either, and with so many people turning to books to help them, it might work for you too.

Cosy Crime Fiction: It’s Still Literature

hands of woman reading book by fireplace

Crime fiction has often been thought of as less literary than other genres of writing. As someone who has been researching and writing about crime fiction for many years, I know this as well as anyone else.

Personally, I’ve found it hard to get people to think that crime fiction is more than just a silly, fun genre. My friend once said something similar about fantasy fiction, when he went into a bookshop and asked about the fantasy section and the bookseller said it was just for kids.

Crime fiction is pretty similar; many people think it’s the book equivalent of Midsomer Murders with its formulaic plots and reputation for being something you can watch easily without having to do much thinking or paying masses of attention.

However, in my mind most crime fiction is much more than that. There are always bad examples in any genre, but some of the world’s greatest crime fiction is truly amazing.

From Agatha Christie through to Raymond Chandler, Ruth Rendell to Peter James, there are some incredibly talented writers across the genre and their work is more than just something to check through; it’s true literature. It goes over the full plethora of human emotion, morality and social issues. They often showcase the challenges of the period in question and make for a great study of the ways in which people behave and interact with one another.

Cosy crime fiction is one of the sub-genres of crime fiction that gets the most flack. Often dismissed as the Mills and Boon of the crime fiction space, the style doesn’t have the gravitas of police procedurals nor the selling power of gritty, gore filled thrillers.

What it does have is the insight into human emotion and behaviour that many genres lack. Cosy crime fiction, from Agatha Raisin to the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series, is designed specifically to lull readers into thinking that they are about to read something easy and uncomplicated. What these novels create instead is a complicated allegory of human emotion and life in general.

One of the best examples of this is Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher series, which expertly combines convoluted plots and sweet romances with darker discussions on such topics as rape, the 1920’s justice system and racism. Greenwood’s novels show how twee, cosy crime fiction can hit home as succinctly as any grittier examples of the genre can.

So next time you think of crime fiction, don’t dismiss it completely offhand. No matter the sub-genre or style, there is something great to be found among the tales of grizzly murder and mayhem.