The Man with the Evil Eye

I had some research to do for this project I’m working on and I was putting it off and putting it off because I was too lazy to do it and also because I feared that it would take a lot of time to achieve not very much.

Finally, yesterday, I thought, that’s it, you’ve just got to do it, so I signed up for membership at the State Library of Victoria. I go there often to use the internet but this was the first time I’ve tried to access any of their resources.

It was just too easy. I selected two books that I was interested in from their online catalogue, hit the request button, and a sign popped up on the screen saying that my items would be available in 30 minutes. I imagined this whole team of people in the basement being activated the moment I clicked the mouse, beginning to move methodically up and down, left and right, through a grid of bookshelves, combing through rows and rows of books for the titles I needed. It was like playing an arcade game, only better, because I would win every time and the prize would be exactly what I wanted. I could see that this could become addictive.

Shortly after collecting my books, my suspicions that I was not a very effective researcher were confirmed. One of the books was completely useless; my own fault entirely since the main reason I picked it was because I liked the title. Skimming through the contents page of the second book, I forgot all about the focus of my research when my eye alighted on the chapter title The Murder of Margaret Graham.

Of course I had to read it, and it was an interesting case. An attractive, red-headed 18 year old was found murdered in her bed by her husband, sometime in the early 1860s I believe (I’m not such a terrible researcher that I took notes on something irrelevant to my project so I can’t be sure). A casual farm hand who had been camping in the area was arrested on the strong evidence that he had an evil eye. Further damning evidence was the unusual pipe found at the scene of the murder which allegedly belonged to the accused. Or was it taken to the crime scene at a later date? The police investigating the case couldn’t agree on this point. At any rate, a farmer who had once employed the farmhand said he’d seen him with such a pipe. The farmhand was found guilty and hanged. He never confessed to the crime.

Personally, I think it must have been the husband. The victim was alive and well at 9pm and dead by the time he got home from work at midnight. What’s to say he didn’t stab her himself then run out and tell the neighbours she was like that when he found her?

Apparently the murderer entered the house via the chimney and the author of the book I was reading speculated that there would be no need for the husband to enter his own house in such an unconventional manner.

Surely there would be no need for anyone to enter the house in such a ridiculous manner. It certainly wouldn’t be very stealthy. You couldn’t make your escape the same way you came in. You’d have to exit via the front door looking conspicuously sooty and probably leaving a trail of black footprints that would lead the police straight to you. Not to mention the sooty fingerprints you would leave on the body and in the bedroom. I wondered what evidence made the police think this was how the criminal came into the house?

I also wondered if it would be possible to go back and look at newspaper articles and court reports and witness statements from the time to work out who the killer was. It’s been done before: I saw an exhibition in Melbourne Gaol about Colin Ross who was pardoned in 2008, 86 years after being hanged for murder.

But intriguing though it was, I didn’t have any more time to mess about. I knuckled down, got the information I needed, then returned the books to the collection desk.

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How To Poison Someone?

There is a murder in my novel. I know who the victim is and who the murderer is but I don’t know how it was carried out. I conveniently managed to skip over that part in the first draft. I want it to look like a natural death so maybe poisoning is the answer, but with what? It has to be something that anyone can get their hands on and that is easy to slip into food or drink. I don’t want to use something that has been done before, like the old poisonous mushrooms in the omelet or cyanide in the tea. I’ve been searching on the internet for ideas and find myself concocting more and more unlikely scenarios. Why go to the effort of burning poison ivy in the fireplace in the victim’s office or of tricking the victim into bashing open an unripe ackee when emptying the contents of a load of sleeping pills into a bottle of whisky would be easier?

The reason I want the death to look natural is so that the police don’t get involved. I don’t want to get caught up in doing a lot of research into police procedure. That’s the kind of thing I could do if I had a published novel behind me. Then I would feel justified in pestering someone in the police force into answering my questions or checking my manuscript for errors. With a first novel, and no guarantee of it ever being published or even getting it finished, I wouldn’t have the audacity to waste a professional’s time doing research for a plot.

I have done some superficial research for my novel using the internet but am now a bit worried that the government is monitoring the websites I have been visiting and has flagged me up as a potential criminal. As well as all the searches I have done today for “poisons”, “clues that someone has been poisoned” and “poisonous plants”, I have recently visited sites on how to bleach the numbers off dollars and what kind of paper to use for fake bank notes because the main character in a short story I was writing was a counterfeiter.

I had been planning on putting an embezzlement subplot into my novel but I might give that a miss in case my internet research arouses too much suspicion.

Goals

My life is very unstructured at the moment and I think that is impeding my writing. If I define regular working hours for myself I may be more productive. So no more nonsense from now on. I am going to write every morning from 9-12. There will be no checking of e-mails, messing around on the internet or reading of magazines until lunchtime. The internet especially is a huge distraction for me. My intentions are always good: I just want to check the lunar calendar or read how air raid shelters are constructed or find out what the penalty is for speeding (all research for my novel) and next thing you know, an hour has passed and I’ve checked my e-mails twice and read up about all my favourite celebs on Wikipedia and still not found the information I need for my novel. Well, enough is enough. My new motto is going to be: write first, research later.

And another thing: I’m going to set writing goals for myself. By the end of the weekend I want to have written 50 000 words of my novel and by the end of the year I want a complete first draft. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be coherent, but everything has to be there. Also, I have a folder of partially written short stories and I aim to have redrafted and polished two of them by the end of this year. No more messing around!