Many of you will have heard of Anne Perry, the reclusive bestselling author of dozens of acclaimed historical mysteries, including continuing series featuring Victorian policeman Thomas Pitt, and another 1800s-set series featuring Inspector Monk. She is truly prolific - having written more than 50 novels (and many short stories) since her debut THE CATER STREET HANGMAN (the first of 23 Thomas Pitt novels) was published in 1979.
On her website, Perry mentions how she was quite far through her life by the time her first book was published (she had turned 40 the year before), and had done several things before she became a published novelist - clerical work, retail selling, fashion, air stewardess, ship and shore stewardess, limousine dispatcher and insurance underwriter. However she (unsurprisingly) completely ignores the biggest thing from her entire pre-writing life: she and her best friend brutally bludgeoned to death the friend's mother when they were 15 year olds in 1950s New Zealand.
Perry (who went by her real name of Juliet Hulme back then - see pic from the time to the left) was herself only saved from the hangman due to her age at the time of the vicious crime, which involved both girls battering Honora Rieper to death on a garden path on 22 June 1954 - a sustained attack of more than 40 blows, including with a brick wrapped in a stocking. Perry/Hulme and her partner in crime Pauline Parker served five years in prison.
You can read more about the crime, which was highlighted in Peter Jackson's exceptional movie Heavenly Creatures (which starred Kate Winslet in her breakthrough film role, as Hulme/Perry), here. The reclusive Perry was in fact only 'outed' as Hulme due to publicity surrounding the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated film.
Now there is a new documentary, Anne Perry: Interiors (filmmaker: Dana Linkiewicz), looking at Perry's reclusive life, her almost single-minded dedication to writing, and her tiny band of close friends and devoted supporters that she surrounds herself with, living in otherwise rural isolation near the small Scottish village of Portmahomack. The documentary, which was made with Perry's co-operation (intriguing in itself, as she is fiercely private and publicity shy, apart from the occasional attendance at books events), is currently screening in New Zealand as part of the World Cinema Showcase.
Unfortunately I didn't find out about it until it had finished showing in Auckland, but there are still screenings in Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin in the coming month:
- Wellington: Sunday 4 April (11:30am) and Saturday 10 April (11:15am) at the Paramount Theatre
- Christchurch: Sunday 18 April (11:15am), Monday 19 April (6:30pm), Tuesday 20 April (2:15pm) at the Rialto Theatre
- Dunedin: Sunday 25 April (11:30am) and Monday 26 April (6:15pm) at the Regent Theatre
I was going to post more on the topic of Perry and the documentary, and her past (which she seemingly does her best to ignore - which is of course pretty understandable), but then this morning I found a pretty good recent article on the Stuff website, here, which covered some of the same things.
Her situation certainly raises some interesting questions that go beyond crime fiction. How long should someone have to be reminded of, and pay for, the mistakes of their past? Is 50 years long enough? Can you ever redeem yourself from a truly horrific act? Do the answers depend on how you deal with it or address it (ie should the fact someone tries to minimise or self-rationalise their bad choices and responsibility affect how we think about them)?
I'm not even sure how I feel about some of these broader issues myself. It got me thinking - if in ten years time, we found out that one of our favourite crime writers of the past decade or more was actually one of the teenage killers of James Bulger (who were likewise released from prison and have gone into hiding/exile with new identities), would that change how we felt about them? Their writing? Is Perry's crime far enough in the past that we can forgive that, but the Bulger one is still too close, too raw?
Apologies for the wandering post - I'm just in one of those philosophical moods today. I would love your thoughts and comments on any of these issues, or anything at all about Perry, her books, and the documentary.