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Friday, June 8, 2018

Inspiration from Real Life, Murder and Mystery by June Gadsby


They say we should write about what we know, but a lot of us would be struggling if we didn’t use our imagination. Even imagination can be limited, but I’ve drawn not only from my imagination, but from my memories and from characters and events in my own life that would have some people shaking their heads and having their hair stand on end. Friends who know me well have been known to say that if I ever wrote my auto-biography nobody would believe it.
As a small child, I used to go shopping with my grandmother, mainly as a support because she was given to ‘bad turns’. This wasn’t exactly a happy situation for me, a shy and nervous child, who had no idea what to do if my grandmother actually did have one of her ‘turns’. One day, it wasn’t my grandmother who nearly fainted, but me, from fear of the unknown. My grandmother suddenly pulled me off my feet and shot across to the other side of the road saying: “Oh, there’s your Uncle X!” No explanation, but the elderly man to whom she was referring did seem awfully odd. He was gazing up at the sky and muttering to himself. I knew nothing about this man, but when his name was mentioned in our house it was always whispered and it was a bit scary when, looking at a painting I had done, someone said: “Oh, she takes after her Uncle X.” Since there was a great mystery tinged with fear surrounding this member of the family, I couldn’t help wondering just how I took after my great-uncle. There were, indeed, two beautiful oil paintings on the wall of my grandparents’ house, which disappeared when we moved house, much to my regret. My grandmother was well known for her habit of throwing things away, like her brother’s [X] leather-bound, gold-leafed books which were donated to the rubbish bin.
A few years later, when I was a young teenager, my mother looked out the window and gasped: “Oh, God, it’s your Uncle X!” A tap on the door and she opened it, white-faced, but forcing a smile. She even invited him in. This was the old ‘tramp’ I remembered being dragged away from by my grandmother years before. But he was no longer dressed like a tramp or acting like a ‘crazy’ man. He was smartly dressed and had a head of snow-white hair and a pink and white complexion. While my mother served him tea and biscuits, I sat at his feet, fascinated to hear him talk, his voice soft and his accent betraying a gentle Northumbrian burr.  We talked about art and he told me that he played the flute. He was a lovely man, but remained the black sheep of the family until recent years. All I knew of his past was that he had spent some years in a mental institution. He seemed perfectly normal to me and far more sophisticated than one would expect of an ex-miner. I could have listened to him for hours.
The next time he called, my mother told me, with panic in her voice, to hide, and didn’t open the door to him. It wasn’t until many years later that she told me that X, my gentle, white-haired great-uncle, artist and reader of philosophy, had served eight years in prison for murdering his fiancée. There are two different versions of the story. Fiancée or wife, who was heard laughing behind his back and consorting with other men so he got mad, grabbed at her throat and fractured her larynx, which the autopsy confirmed had already been fragile. Or, he had found her in their bed with her lover and thrown them down the stairs, which had broken her neck. I tried to research the details, but everything regarding the trial in Durham gaol, I was told, had been erroneously destroyed in a fire. I assume the verdict was manslaughter, as he was only sentenced to eight years, but he was later transferred from prison to the mental ‘asylum’ as they were called in those days, his mind affected by what he had done. The judge who sentenced him, I was told, was very emotional and sympathetic. The last time I saw Uncle X, he was in his late seventies, dying in a hospital bed and the family went to visit him. Many years later, when my grandmother died, I was given a framed photograph of myself as a child which had hung on her wall for as long as I could remember. I don’t know why I did it, but I took the back off – a stiff piece of card – and when I turned it around I found a simple, but pretty painting of daffodils, painted by my uncle.   I created a novel around this biographical story, but did nothing with it. However, it did encourage me to write sagas – and maybe I’ll re-hash Uncle X’s saga one day.

Co-incidentally, I did have connections with another very nice, gentle man, who committed murder. By now you are probably thinking that I have an attraction to murderers, but when your own life is touched closely by crime it’s difficult to brush it away. We’ll call him J to protect his identity and he was a friend’s husband. They were a lovely couple and everybody liked them. For some reason, which I never discovered, J’s son was beaten up badly by a local gang, well known to the police. And the whole family was threatened. J and his wife lived every day in fear. Then I heard the terrible news that J had been walking through the town and came across the leader of the gang. Whether this criminal had done or said something to make J snap, we don’t know. J had a knife and stabbed the young man to death.  Everybody who knew J and his wife were in shock. How could such a lovely, gentle man do such a thing? He was, of course, found guilty of murder, but was exonerated and released 18 months later because of extenuating circumstances. He became depressed and a prisoner in his own home. New Year came around and I threw a big party, inviting my friend and telling her to bring J with her. She said he probably wouldn’t come, but he did and I danced with him and he ended up joining in the fun with my other guests. He and his wife told me they were so grateful for what I had done for J, bringing him out of that dark place he had found himself in.
Things settled down, then we had bad news. A knock at my friends’ door and J answered, only to be shot dead by members of the gang who had been at the centre of the problem. J died in my friend’s arms. The son who had been beaten up, for whatever reason, emigrated to America, and my friend was moved to a safe house to face her nightmares alone.
I don’t condone murder but without knowledge of the reasons that drive some people to do what they do, how can we judge them totally. These are just two crimes I have been close to and, as a writer who likes writing suspense novels, they may just find their way into my stories
Just two episodes in my life connected with crime. There are more real-life stories that I’ve clung to over the years, believe me, but that’s enough for now. 

In both cases there are questions that cannot be answered. The truth is blurred and there’s nobody left to say what really happened.
JUNE [Gadsby]
Find my books on Amazon.: historic & temporary romantic suspense, families at war and wartime thrillers. Read the reviews.

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