Murder runs in my family

This is a terrible confession, but it’s absolutely true.

The main character in my murder mystery novel is called Polynesia Henman, and when people ask me how I came up with the name, I always look them in the eye, move a little closer and then whisper, ‘Now that’s a very interesting story.’ 

If they look alarmed and back away, I sigh heavily and try to look enigmatic but at the same time disappointed by their lack of curiosity. But if their eyes widen and they lean forwards, eager to hear the story, I tell them how murder has passed from generation to generation in the Barden family … but passed up rather than passed down.

It all began a long time ago…

In 2002, when my son Sam was eleven, he wrote a murder mystery novel for a school project. It was handwritten, with some challenging spelling and punctuation, but featured a fabulous protagonist. Polynesia Henman is a fearsomely clever, rather intimidating eleven-year-old who solves a murder that has baffled the police. She lives with her grandmother who is into online dating, has a tequila-drinking boyfriend and drives a Reliant Robin. As Polynesia begins to investigate the murder, she is sent a series of cryptic clues that she has to solve in order to unmask the murderer. She shows herself to be courageous and resourceful, albeit slightly intolerant of anyone less intelligent than she is.

Reviving a winning formula

The manuscript ended up in a drawer at home, where it lay forgotten as Sam grew up. Then, three years ago, I found it during a clear out and showed it to Sam. We sat down and had a nostalgic leaf through the pages, and this would have been the end of it, except that Sam’s wife, Alice, decided to edit the manuscript, punctuate it properly and correct the spelling. It was a mammoth undertaking because, as Sam says, ‘Like Shakespeare, I enjoyed alternative spellings!’ However, Alice persevered with the editing, then she designed a cover and everyone in the family was given a printed copy for Christmas.

I was delighted with my copy, and I reread the story with great enjoyment. But afterwards the characters stayed with me, and I began to wonder what Polynesia had been up to in the nineteen years since her story had been told. She would be thirty by now and would obviously have a good career as she was clever and ambitious. At one point in the original story she writes to the BBC, and her letter begins ‘Dear purveyors of good programming with some exceptions’. I decided that someone who was so articulate at such a young age must be a journalist, and slowly the character and the plot began to form. Polynesia now works for a national newspaper and has lived with her father ever since his release from prison after being cleared of murder.

Updating Polynesia

I had a lot of fun weaving bits from the original into my story; Polynesia’s father loves cooking, they both adore Chinese food, and they still live in Putney. But I also enjoyed creating new characters and gave Polynesia a best friend/side-kick and a love interest. Polynesia’s arch enemy at school is the class bully, Alice Smith, and of course I had to bring her in to my story too. She joins The Daily Herald as a rival reporter, and that is the catalyst for murder.

I built on the world that Sam had created, and I was very impressed that an eleven-year-old had managed to sustain this complex world as he structured the narrative with twists and turns, moving towards the denouement. The printed version of his book is a hundred and eleven pages long, which is a significant achievement for someone so young.

I kept my book a secret from Sam as I wanted to surprise him with it. When I posted him an advance copy as an early birthday present, I got a message saying, ‘The Polynesia Henman book is the best thing I’ve ever seen!!!!!’ So I think it was a success, and he approves of what I’ve done with his creation. 

So, as you can see, murder is most definitely a family trait; it’s just that my homicidal tendencies lay dormant for much longer than my son’s. But now that I’ve got a taste for it, I can’t stop at one. I’m already planning my next killing … and of course Polynesia is going to solve it.

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