I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

Incredible Stories Behind The Fiction

 
I've always had a real fascination for the extraordinary stories that exist in the real lives of novelists, tales that could never be matched in their own work. Someone recently asked me for an example of this and I was surprised that he hadn't heard about the incredible past of the British murder/mystery writer Anne Perry.


She must have thought her world as a best-selling crime novelist was going to crumble around her in 1994 when she got a call from her baffled agent. A New Zealand journalist had rung to allege that Perry was in fact a certain Juliet Hulme, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who'd been convicted of helping her best friend, 16-year-old Pauline Parker, bludgeon her mother to death with a brick in New Zealand in 1954. Of course, Perry couldn't deny the claims that her agent had initially shrugged off as crazy. The long-held secret was out.

An entry from Pauline's diary titled "The day of the happy event" was produced during the murder trial. The pair had taken Mrs Parker for a walk in a park and then hit her on the head with a brick wrapped inside a stocking. A jury heard how it took 45 blows from both girls to finally kill the woman. The jury rejected a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and the two were convicted of murder. As they were both under the age of 18 they escaped the death penalty, which was in force at that time. After serving five and a half years in prison in New Zealand, Hulme was given a new identity and ended up living in Scotland. Parker was also given a new name and moved to England. Here's a photo of Hulme back in the 50s:


The revelation about her past came in the same year that a film about the murder was released. Peter Jackson's movie Heavenly Creatures, which starred Kate Winslet, was an international success. It hinted at the commonly held belief that the two girls had committed the murder because of family attempts to break up their supposed lesbian relationship. The prosecution painted the pair as lesbians and told the jury they were "dirty-minded little girls". The jury was told how the two were obssessed with each other, often slept in each others beds and had wild "fantasies" of becoming famous novelists. They had begun trying to raise funds to head overseas to seek their fame and fortune. Pauline feared that her mother would stop her leaving New Zealand with Juliet, whose parents were in the process of divorcing. Juliet was supposed to emigrate to South Africa.

It's strange, isn't it, that Hulme did go on to find that fame and fortune, selling millions of books around the world! Pauline Parker went on to become a devout Catholic and settled in an English village. She first worked as a school director and then as an instructor at a riding school. Perry says she has never had contact with Parker since the trial, which was one of the conditions of their release.


The title for the film came from a line in a poem written by Pauline Parker:

There are living amongst two dutiful daughters
The most glorious beings in creation
And above us these goddesses reign on high
I worship the power of these lovely two
With that adoring love known to so few
'Tis indeed a miracle, one must feel
That two such heavenly creatures are real
And these two wonderful people are you and I

Perry, understandably, has alway been reluctant to talk about her terrible past, but she has given a few interviews over the years. She has denied the claim that she and Parker had been in a lesbian relationship, saying it was more an obsession. She had this to say to a New Zealand paper, The Press, in September, 1994:
"Pauline was very distressed and she desperately wanted to come with us. I felt that I was running out on a person who stood by me when I was in trouble (childhood illness) and that I was betraying her by just leaving and doing nothing. I really believed that if I didn't take her with us that she would take her own life and I made a very, very wrong decision. I didn't have the strength to say no, this is wrong, no matter what, and to just walk away. Pauline was a really good friend. We had all sorts of romantic dreams. I like women very much as friends but for romance give me men."
On the making of the film, she has this to say on her website:
"I have been asked questions occasionally about the film, 'Heavenly Creatures', but I cannot answer them. Neither I nor my family and friends knew anything about it until the day before it was released, and I have preferred not to see it, or comment on the accuracy or otherwise of any part of it. I am very grateful to that vast majority of generous people who allow me to move on and leave that grief behind."
I've always wondered whether some aspects or emotions of the crime, which took place in Christchurch, in the south of New Zealand, have ever crept into Perry's work. On her website she says:
"I began the 'Monk' series in order to explore a different, darker character, and to raise questions about responsibility, particularly that of a person for acts he cannot remember. How much of a person's identity is bound up in memory? All our reactions, decisions, etc. spring from what we know, have experienced. We are in so many ways the sum of all we have been!"
Much to her relief, I can imagine, Perry's career as a novelist doesn't seem to have suffered from the revelations about her grim past. Many New Zealanders, who'd been horrified by the brutality of the crime, were astonished to hear that she had been able to fulfill her "fantasy" of becoming a famous and wealthy novelist - and they were even more astonished to hear that her chosen genre was murder/mystery. Maybe it's just one of the ironies of this complicated and surprising world we live in.

19 comments:

Verilion said...

Wow what a story Seamus. I hope you're not hinting that you have a dark and mysterious past ( ;

The Moon Topples said...

This is an incredibly interesting story, Shameless. Thank you for sharing it.

Shameless said...

Hi V,
Yes, I have lots of stories in my past but nothing as sinister as this! :) One day it will all come out.

Maht,
I'm glad this was of interest. I was enthralled by this case for a while. I studied with the journalist who broke the story back in 1994 and I researched it a little bit back then as a reporter. There was a big debate about whether the media had the right/whether it was just to reveal such a thing ... but fascinating story all the same!

L.M.Noonan said...

The past always catches up with you. The irony is that a muderess can profit from the experience.

Shameless said...

Hi LMN,
Yes, they say that we can never get away from who we've been and what we've done. Sounds like a work of fiction, doesn't it?

chiefbiscuit said...

A great write-up. I've actually been to where the murder was committed - I didn't go there intentionally - the place definitely has a creepy feel to it.
BTW I have tagged you for a meme (sorry!)

Canterbury Soul said...

quite a story you have here, Seamus! thanks for sharing! i've heard a lot about "heavenly creatures" and had watched the trailer many years ago, but never really got the chance to watch it. will do so in due course.

Shameless said...

Hi CB,
Gosh, what an awful place to visit ... although the park is lovely, I'm told!

and Canterbury Soul,
Good to see you here. Yes, intriguing story, and you MUST see the film! :)

Debi said...

Blimey! Really makes you think about the futures of other child murderers who are given new identities. Life is a weird and wonderful journey, eh?

I wonder how the victim's family felt when all this came out ...

Shameless said...

Hi Debi,
Yes, I remember there was some great debate about whether the story should've been broken. However, I have read comments from Perry where she talks about relief at finally no longer having to worry about her "secret" and being able to have some kind of closure. I imagine it would've been hard for the families, but it won't have been the blow they got when the actual crime happened. And the family of the murdered woman? I haven't found any reaction from them. Were they happy the girls were released after just five years? Were the girls old enough to be held fully accountable? Should've they been given new names and forced into "hiding". What process of rehabilitation were they offered? Oh, those are the questions I would find it interesting to have answered in a longer piece some day.

Minx said...

I think tis would make a fantastic article, Shameless - thought about it?
I saw the film some years ago never knowing that all this lay behind it. Shiver.

Shameless said...

Minx,
Oh, this is a whole book! :)
Good to know all this when seeing the film, for some "after" context.

wolfbaby said...

Irony at it's best.

This is sad all the way around. Can you imagine how the surving family memebers felt having this movie made about the tradgey in there life and the whole world sitting in judgement of there pain?

Shameless said...

Hi wolfbaby, and welcome! :)
Yes, sad all round is right. There is so much in this story, so many discussion points. Do call by again when you get the chance ... the jug is always on! :)

sognatrice said...

This is an incredible story; I'd never heard anything about it, and unfortunately for my deadlines, I'm going to look up more now...thanks ;)

Anonymous said...

i have to write a book review on one of her book's A Christmas Secret. I now see why she's so good at portraying murder and crime into her novels

ann said...

Everyone seems so happy for her and for everything that she has accomplished.

Too bad and so sad that her victim can't say the same. 5 years for a horrendous murder; a bludgening death. 45 blows. So easy to put that very very wrong decision behind her and move on with her life.

Carl said...

Why are some comments not processed.How does one now retieve them.

Carl said...

Sorry. Retrieve!!