The Fatal Step
This is the working title of my new novel and so far I am about half way through the first draft. Some how the summer has not been conducive to writing – who wants to be stuck in front of a computer when the sun is shining outside. I think too, I am rather daunted by the task I have set myself. I didn’t think about it with Crucial Evidence. I’d started that as part of my dissertation for my MA and I just kept going until I’d finished. Then I drafted and redrafted without thinking, each time telling myself that this time it would work and when I sent it to agents someone would love. They didn’t and I began to realize that it wasn’t my writing that was the real problem but the type of book I wanted to write. Also talking to agents at places like Winchester Writers’ Conference and at The London Book Fair I knew any publisher would want a series of novels and I didn’t want to be tied to writing a book a year. In the end I decided to publish the book myself. In the process I’ve learnt at lot about writing and publishing, but that makes the mountain I have to climb much higher and harder than the first. I know how long it takes and how difficult it can be.
But you have to begin somewhere so this is the first page of my second novel. It follows the career of barrister Cassie Hardman as she gets her first leading brief in a murder case.
‘As Cassie hurried along the driveway from Snaresbrook Crown Court towards the tube station, she turned on her mobile phone. Amongst the emails from fashion houses, department stores and restaurants, there was a message showing the subject matter as Paul Sadler. He had been the defendant in a rape trial, who she had successfully defended at the Old Bailey the week before last. She didn’t recognise the name of the sender, Malcolm Delaney. Normally she was very careful about opening emails from unknown people but it was from someone who knew about her involvement in the Sadler case. She clicked the message open and read, ‘Miss Hardman, I wanted to congratulate you on your representation of Mr Sadler. Your cross examination was very effective and your closing remarks were obviously persuasive. Clearly they carried the jury along, as you know from the verdict. I would like the opportunity of congratulating you in person, and would like to invite you to have lunch or dinner with me. We can arrange a time and place later. I look forward to hearing from you. Malcolm’
The email gave no clue as to how Malcolm Delaney, knew she had represented Paul Sadler or what Delaney’s connection to the case was. Was he a police officer, a member of the court staff or just a spectator from the public gallery? She knew there were a number who came regularly to watch the proceedings at the Bailey; the staff described them as ‘groupies’ and she had been told by one of the ushers that some of them would ask which barristers were appearing in which court and make a point of watching their favourites’ cases. The wording of the message was a little old fashioned so perhaps it was one of them. The thought that one of the men from the gallery wanted to invite her to dinner amused her, but nothing more.
Back in Chambers, the senior clerk, Jack, summoned her into his room and closed the door behind her. On his desk were four lever arch files, tied with pink tape, the front sheet bore the title R v David Winston Montgomery. Jack beamed at her. ‘I’ve managed to get you a leading brief in a murder at the Bailey. I assume you’ll want to apply for silk in a couple of years. This is a good one; you’re ready for it, even though it’s a murder. None of the silks want this. Scared they’ll get tarred with a racist brush, I dare say. A woman won’t of course. Judge Crabtree is in a bit of a panic thinking the defendant might want to represent himself. I said, to Colin in the list office, my Miss Hardman can handle it. Spoke to Tim. Didn’t take long to persuade him you could do it. So there you are a leading brief in a murder.’
Any comments to make about that so important first page.
Did I always want to write?
My first reaction to that question would be no, I didn’t harbour an ambition to write, but on reflection I did write stories when I was a teenager. Those really awful romances, girl meets boy, but they are torn apart by whatever came to mind, illness, parents moving etc. We’ve all been there. I used to make up stories with a friend as well. As we hung around the local park, we would invent new characters for whatever soap was popular, weave their stories into the narrative, and act out our parts.
Then I went to university and studied law, lots of reading and writing there, essays and law reports. That continued when I began work and had to take professional exams to qualify as a solicitor. Once I got past that stage, I wrote very detailed legal letters to clients and short speeches for the Magistrates Court. After a few years as a solicitor I wanted to be a barrister, because I longed to do bigger cases and to be able to appear in the Crown Courts and address juries. The transfer from one branch of the legal profession to the other wasn’t difficult, but for the first year or so, I didn’t have too much work to do and my afternoons were usually free. I found a number of ways to pass the time, exercise classes at The Pineapple Dance Centre in Covent Garden, visiting museums and galleries, going to matinees at the theatre and I began to write again. This time I tried to write legal thrillers, but they were anything but thrilling, so I gave up. As I became more senior and the cases I had were more complex, I was writing speeches to make to the jury. Each one a small story based on the facts that has been established during the trial. Of course advocates try to influence what the witnesses say in court, and part of the art is to put the most favourable interpretation on the evidence. So story telling again.
After I retired from the Bar, I wanted to write a family story because my two nieces were brought up in the USA and know very little about their English heritage – my brother is a non-communicator, whereas I know quite a lot about my family, some of it mythical, but then doesn’t every family have its legends. My attempt was just not interesting; I knew my nieces wouldn’t read it, so I realised I needed to get out of lawyer mode and learn to be more emotional – I find that difficult to say as I don’t think I lack feelings, it just being objective is so important for lawyers, but doesn’t make for interesting reading. Dry is the usual description of lawyers, it goes with the job.
That lead me to reading for an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University. Now I don’t get bored with my writing – I write really good round robins at Christmas. I have written a novel, a courtroom drama/thriller and I hope to get it published, one way or another. Perhaps deep down I did always want to write.