About 30 years ago – I was already living in Paris – I began to experience a strange flash. The first time it happened I thought that I had had a nightmare, but the second time it happened in brought daylight and I knew that I was wide awake and I’ve experienced what is called a ‘flash’. I saw myself lying on the floor of a dark, dank, roughly-cemented basement room. There was no furniture in the room. I was naked. I was lying on my stomach and I had very long blonde hair (which I did have then) and there was blood everywhere. On the floor, on the walls, over me, and my hair was soaked with blood. And yes – I was dead. In other words I saw my own dead body. When I had the first flash I told my husband and he tried to calm me by saying that I’ve had a nightmare. When it happened for the second time he did not say anything. From then on it happened regularly and I was convinced that I was going to be murdered. I told my family about the flashes. I told my friends. All reacted in the same way. They said: “Oh goodness Marilyn, don’t say that please! And do be careful!” When my husband passed away I thought of buying a cottage in the country but those who knew about my flashes told me that I must not even think of it, that I must always live in an apartment with people around me.
One day, about eight years ago, I was reading a book about France under German occupation and my eye caught the name Marcel Petiot in a sentence. Immediately I wanted to know more about him. I’d heard of him about 15 years earlier but only briefly and I’d never given him another thought. But, there, seeing his name, I had to know more about him. Then, when I started to research him, I had to know more and more about him. He had drawn me down into him so to speak – and it was very dark down there. Next, quite a few weeks into my research (and I research thoroughly) I came to how he had disemboweled and dismembered his victims. He did so in a basement room of his Paris townhouse. The room was roughly-cemented, without furniture, dark and dank. And I nearly fainted. I was sitting on my settee in my living room, files and books laid out on the floor around me, and my head started to turn. The flash of the past 30 years – the basement room of my flash was Dr Petiot’s basement room. I sat there and it dawned on me that I’ve not had that flash for a very long time. I tried to remember when I’d had the last one, but I could not. And I’ve never had it again.
I then found out something else. Dr Petiot was buried in a mass grave in a cemetery that my apartment building overlooks. I came to live here in this apartment 20 years ago but the cemetery was not then visible from my windows but had become so just at the time when I had become interested in Dr Petiot because some buildings across the avenue had been demolished. So there I had a perfect view of where they had buried Dr Petiot. In my years in Paris I had gradually moved closer to the cemetery, until eventually I was living across the street from it. And then Dr Petiot came into my life.
Coincidence? Perhaps not, but here though I will have to halt because I am not ready yet to speak of what had happened next. I’m sorry but I can’t speak of it yet.
Bella, Bella, Bella … is a novel set in France – in beautiful Normandy – in the 1980s. It is like Sitting on a Stick a sad political love story in that it is the story of two misfits who fall in love. Bella Wolff was born during World War Two of a French mother and a German father. She was in other words the child of a ‘horizontal collaborator’, as French women were called who slept with German soldiers, and therefore socially undesirable. The guy in the novel, an English writer, was also socially undesirable because his mother was not English and Christian. I have 85,000 words written and I’m thinking of changing the title to A French Life, or using A French Life as a sub title.
Scenario of a Death is about the death of Princess Diana. I do not yet have a word written of the book itself, but I do have a 33-page proposal.
I believe that we do not know what really happened in Paris that August night in 1997. I cannot at this stage say that I have proof that Princess Diana was murdered. What I say is that her death needs re-investigation. The French are not good investigators as anyone will know who has read my true crime articles which are available on the web, and if anyone wanted to remove her, Paris would have been the perfect place to have done so. I can already say that the French made errors in their investigation and in the autopsy on the Ritz security chief, Henri Paul, who was behind the wheel of the Princess’ car that night. But I need a publisher’s backing to continue with my research and investigation. I’ve gone as far as I can with the financial means that I have, and now I need assistance. I am a tough investigator and I will leave no stone unturned.
I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. In Die in Paris I do not judge or analyse Dr Petiot. I thought that by telling the story of his life and his crimes the readers could and would decide for themselves what had gone on in his head. As for me judging him – he was judged, found guilty and guillotined. I wanted readers to ask at the end of the book: “What got into this guy? Was he mad? Or just wicked?”
Speaking of what goes on in a murderer’s head, at the time of the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, the biographer Hannah Arendt coined the term ‘banality of evil’. She had come to the conclusion that people who commit acts of evil are not necessarily horrible monsters. The psychiatrists who had assessed Eichmann, for example, found him a ‘completely normal man’ and a man who was ‘neither brilliant nor a sociopath’.
From the murderers I’ve written about, I know that the most ordinary person can kill. I am working on an article now about a French woman who killed her husband. He was a drunk and womaniser and she was a most loving wife and mother, yet one day she fed him sleeping pills, then battered him to death and then she cut him up with his own electric saw. I also wrote about Shrien Dewani from Bristol who allegedly had organised the slaying of his wife while on their honeymoon in Cape Town. He too is being described as a most gentle man.
And for last, an open question. Is there anything else you feel our readers should know about you or your work?
I would like to say that I am represented by Susan Mears of the Susan Mears Literary Agency. She’s pitched British publishers and nine have manifested an interest in my work. Of the nine publishers six have asked to see my proposal for Scenario of a Death. The agency also represents my already published Die in Paris.
As we say here in France – Voilà.
Next week’s interviewee is Mark Stevens, mystery writer. who’s currently touring the States with his second instalment of the ‘Allison Coil Mystery Series’, Buried by the Roan, to great success. Don’t miss it!