Men Behind Bars, and the Women Who Love Them by Sarah Hilary

In the latest in her Marnie Rome series, COME AND FIND ME, Sarah Hilary explores I what drives women to write to male prisoners. Here she explains more of what inspired this theme.

Posted on October 1, 2018 in Guest Author
Tags: Come and Find Me, Men Behind Bars, Prison Letters, marnie rome, sarah hilary

When I started writing started writing the DI Marnie Rome crime series, I made it my business to investigate what scares people, and why. Some of what I uncovered was surprising, even shocking.

Did you know that in 1879 the public could pay a few pennies to visit murderess Kate Webster in Wandsworth Prison, ahead of her public execution? And of those who paid, most were middle-aged women of a similar age to her victim? Or that in America throughout the nineteenth century, Hannah Duston was revered as the ‘mother of the American tradition of scalp hunting’, with no less than six memorials raised to her after she murdered ten people including six children to escape from captors who had killed her own child?

In 2014, when my debut Someone Elses Skin was published, there were over 100 British women married or engaged to prisoners on America’s Death Row. Many times that number are writing to dangerous prisoners, including killers and sex offenders, right now. These include mothers and grandmothers, many well-educated and intelligent, some embarking on their second or third committed relationship to a Death Row prisoner.

In my latest book, Come and Find Me, I explore what drives women to seek this kind of companionship. What comfort, I wondered, do they deride from making themselves vulnerable to what most of us would consider the very worst of strangers?

From the start of my Marnie Rome series, it’s been imperative to me to write fiction that confronts the complexities of the female psyche. Good, bad and ugly; if crime fiction simply served up victims, or strong women who triumphed over all odds, I doubt it would be so widely read. Truth-telling is key to all great fiction, and there’s no dodging the truth in this genre. You meet it head on, no matter how much it hurts. And it hurt, to explore the loneliness felt by the women in Come and Find Me. Lara and Ruth have shared their fantasies and fears with Michael Vokey, a dangerous inmate who escapes during the riot that opens the book. Having vied for his attention behind bars, these two women must face up to the very real possibility that he will hunt them down.

Lara and Ruth surprised me. I hadn’t really known them when I began telling their stories. But as Marnie fights to understand them — and to keep them safe — it becomes clear that what scares Lara and Ruth is unique to each woman. Our fear, like our bravery, is far more complex than strangers or killers or even Death Row might suggest.

 

Sarah Hilary’s COME AND FIND ME is out now

Listen to Sarah read an extract from the book here

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