Little Deaths | Emma Flint on her debut novel, true crime, and getting published


For me personally I’m quite fascinated by
the idea that you can do something absolutely horrific and you have to live with that, and
you have to lie about it. Unless you’re caught immediately, you have to lie about it for
a long time and you have to carry on as normal. I think I’m really interested in lies. You
know we’ve all had that urge where we want to kill someone or we want to slap someone
or we want to push someone under a train because they’re really really annoying us, and I
think quite often people are interested in the ones that actually do act on those impulses.
My name’s Emma Flint and my debut novel is Little Deaths. It’s set in the summer of 1965
in suburban Queens, New York, and it’s based on the true story of a woman who was accused
of murdering her two children. I first read about the case when I was about fifteen, I
think, and it stuck in my head for twenty years. And the things that stuck with me were
firstly the figure of the woman herself: she’s this tiny, petite, very striking woman with
red hair, always wore a lot of makeup. And I had this image in my head of this tiny woman
surrounded by these really tall, bulky men wearing suits and police uniforms, not smiling,
and her looking really frightened and fragile. And that was one of the images that I had.
And I also had it in my head an idea that when I’d first read about it she hadn’t had
a fair trial. And when I went digging to find out more about the case, that’s what really
intrigued me, the sense that she’d been condemned for the person she was and how she looked
rather than on any hard evidence. I’ve changed everybody’s names, but the character of Ruth
is based on a real person, the children’s ages and genders are correct. The police officer,
Devlin, is a kind of composite of lots of officers who were involved in the case. The
reporter, who is the second narrator, Pete Wonicke, he’s a complete fabrication, because
I felt that I needed a completely different voice and I wanted to show how even men who
were sympathetic to Ruth come to objectify her and see her as a sexual symbol rather
than a real person. For years I wanted to be a pathologist myself; I read a lot of books
about forensic science, the history of forensic science, the history of true crime, how forensic
science has evolved and adapted. And then I found out that you needed three science
A-Levels to get on a forensic science course, and that was not going to happen. Then I saw
this book which was about the Crippen case, which is the case of a man who supposedly
murdered his wife in Camden in 1910. And I picked the book up, and it wasn’t really anything
to do with pathology; it was to do with the story of the crime and the deduction of the
crime. And it was like reading a novel. It was like reading it as a fictional case, there
was susp— even though I knew the case there was suspense, and it was pacy and there were
characters who were really realised and rounded, and I thought, it’s not necessarily just a
scientific discipline: you can do something creative with this. I never ever thought that
I’d be able to make money from the fact that I’m interested in true crime, and I just feel
so incredibly lucky that there are other people out there who are interested in it as well.
It’s the most exciting and surreal thing that’s ever happened to me; I feel like I’ve had
a baby that everybody loves, without being pregnant. It’s completely bizarre. It — I
wrote the book not thinking I would do anything with it, I would — my aim was just to finish
the book. Then I got an agent, which I didn’t expect. Then I got a publisher, which I didn’t
expect. Then I got another publisher, in America. And all the way through it didn’t really feel
quite real. And now I’m seeing the book in bookshops, and it’s — its sometimes really
difficult to realise that I created that, and it’s my work. I don’t think I will ever,
ever take this for granted.

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