Today I have been sitting on a fast boat in the middle of Falmouth Bay in deepest Cornwall, terrified out of my wits by huge waves, moaning with fear, and wishing very much that I could murder the person who got me into this sea-nightmare of speed and spray and sheer gut-churning panic . I’d never do it for real, of course—I’m far too much of a law-abiding citizen, but it got me musing on my very first paper murder. Back I go in time, to another sea, another bay, in Donegal on a dark and stormy January morning…. (At least it wasn’t night, or I’d have to commit self-murder for using dreadful clichés.)
What do I do to prepare for this premeditated crime? First I put on my writer’s hat. Very important, that hat. It’s protection, get-out clause and freedom-from-prison all in one invisible piece of headwear. I sit down. Flex fingers. Close eyes. Engage brain. This is the fatal weapon. But it’s the first time I’ve done this violence thing. I’m nervous. Will I have the courage? She’s such a nice girl, Magret from Hootcat Hill. She’s had a horrid life—cruel father, family all dead apart from the boring old cousins. And now I have to kill her just when it’s all looking rosier. Is that fair? Is it honourable? I pause on the keyboard…. But then my tapping fingers are taken over by the film scene unfolding frame by frame in my head. The dragon rises inexorably behind the innocent girl in the moonlight, talons stretching to spear her through the torso. My heart is beating overtime, and my fingers are flying, creating the pitter-patter of the red blood drops on the still black water. She’s dead. I’ve killed her, and it feels horribly satisfying.
Oh dear. I’ve committed my first deliberate murder with violence, and I’m going to get away with it.
Magret wasn’t meant to die in the first draft. It was all a bit unexpected, really. But then she got into my head, talking to me, and I saw that her death was inevitable if the plot was going to move forward. I’d already killed her brother, right at the beginning. Somehow, that didn’t seem so bad, he brought it on himself really, by meddling with forces best left unmeddled with. I suppose I killed the rest of her family too, in a few brief written asides. But Magret Bickerspike was different. I knew her, heard her voice, felt sorry for her, liked her.
And now she’s dead.
I’ll kill more people in other books and get away with it. But she’s my first true premeditated paper murder—the one I’ll always remember. Sorry, Magret. R.I.P.
PS: For those who are interested, I currently intend my next paper murder to be a gruesome and horrific drowning. I’m plotting it in my head already. I think it will involve unleashing death by ancient marine monster on any person who makes me go out to sea on a rough day again. Satisfying, but legal. Ahh! The power of the pen!