A Writer’s Life: Thinking About Murder

It’s well known that a writer’s search history isn’t fit to see. Mine includes gems like ‘saddles in 10th century Paris’ and ‘what sort of flowers are there in July in Italy’. It also may or may not include (and I admit to nothing) such gems as looking for arsenic on eBay or Amazon, descriptions of hemlock and what laudanum tastes like. It’s research and absolutely nothing to do with my very dull real life.

And that’s the thing – in my real life I’m looking for things like how to get rid of ink on school shirts, or when the council are collecting waste, or whether a shop will be open at a particular time. As a writer, I’m looking for ways to kill people. I worry that I’ll end up on a list somewhere.

I’m currently planning a murder – in a book, obviously, and it’s made me wonder. Murder is probably easy if you don’t mind being caught. You could just walk straight up to someone and be violent. And there’s a story, right there, about someone with a terminal diagnosis and a grudge. I’m not planning on writing that sort of story at the moment. But if you don’t want to be caught, you have to be tricky.

I thought about it some more as I was on the school run and I came to the conclusion that violence would be a difficult option. With all the forensics and CCTV and stuff, you would be bound to be caught. DNA gets everywhere and I wonder if old murderers will be caught because a relative posted their genetics on a family history site and there was a match with an old crime scene. And thinking about those sites, I wonder how many long lost cousins and unsuspected half-siblings have turned up and caused havoc in families. I’m sure that there are all sorts of scandals waiting to come out. But that’s a different book.

So if the murder wasn’t with violence, then wouldn’t it have to be by poison? I was thinking about this while I was knitting. Getting hold of poisons is quite hard, I suppose. You can’t call into the corner shop and pick up half a pound of arsenic for rat poison like you once could. I was told that apple pips contain cyanide, but I imagine that you would have to bake a vast amount into a pie. According to my brief and unscientific web search (which isn’t helping my search history), morello cherry pits have the most cyanide easily available in fruit. But what if you want to murder someone urgently and it’s not cherry season? You can buy sacks of cherry pits online (to make heating pads, apparently), but I don’t know if they need to be fresh if you want cyanide. I’m not searching for that. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Administering the poison could be tricky. Someone could notice that you had bought the supermarket’s entire stock of morello cherries and are now pressing some almond-tasting tea on rich Uncle Cedric. According to the murder mysteries I’ve read, cyanide smells of almonds, so someone collapsing after eating an almond macaroon will raise some suspicion. There will be questions about the source of that macaroon once a ton of cyanide is found at the autopsy and the murderer would be found in no time.

All the ideas I could think of about murder weren’t working out. If you stopped and thought logically about it, everything fell apart. I was facing the awful truth that I’m not very good at murder which is a drawback for a writer. Then I was looking for hand cream and found exactly what I was looking for.

And if everything goes well, I’ll be able to share the story with you by the end of July.

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