Ten years after being convicted of a brutal killing, Mark Slater, formerly Joshua Barker, is released on parole from prison. Only the other boy jointly sentenced for Abby Morgan’s murder, the twisted and violent Adam Campbell, knows the truth about what happened.
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My third novel, Guilty Innocence, tackles the difficult topic of child murder. I write about strong emotions, and few things provoke more heated feelings than the killing of a child. The death of Abby Morgan isn’t the focus of Guilty Innocence, however. My original inspiration was the question: how would somebody react on discovering his or her partner is hiding a criminal past? Not just petty offences, either, but a conviction for murdering a toddler.
Once I decided the basic premise, creating my main character, Mark Slater, was easy. Mark is Joshua Barker under a new name, following his release after imprisonment for killing two-year-old Abby Morgan. The reason for his new identity? Because when Abby died, Mark was eleven. When one child kills another, it’s doubly shocking.
The twist is that Mark’s innocent of the crime itself, although he suffers intense guilt for his involvement. Hence the oxymoron of the book’s title Guilty Innocence. Mark is torn over what happened to Abby Morgan; the book concentrates on his attempts to deal with her death. As well as his nemesis, the psychopathic Adam Campbell. Further complications arise when he encounters Abby’s sister, Rachel, who is battling her own demons...
The novel underwent huge changes before I deemed it ready for publication. As a writer, I’m constantly learning new tricks, especially the value of plotting in detail before I start to write. I did plan Guilty Innocence before starting it, but not enough. Once I’d written the book, I needed to prune extraneous characters, as well as refine how Mark dealt with his issues. In the first draft, Mark kills Adam Campbell and ends up in prison, but I decided that didn’t work. For Mark to elicit sympathy from the reader, he can’t commit murder, no matter how twisted Adam is.
I’ve enjoyed writing each one of my novels – I wouldn’t be an author if that weren’t the case – but Guilty Innocence has proved the most pleasurable so far. Why? Because it posed a challenge. I read somewhere that it’s difficult to sustain an entire novel using only the present tense. For me, the present tense is punchy, it’s immediate, and I like it. As a result, I decided to test the hypothesis with Guilty Innocence and I can honestly say it’s not that hard. I’ve now made it my goal to learn a new part of the writing craft through each novel. For my fourth title, The Second Captive, I experimented with writing in scenes, as well as splitting the narrative into two halves, along with a prologue and epilogue. It’s been interesting and informative; I’ll probably continue using scenes within chapters in future books.
So that’s a potted history of how Guilty Innocence came about. I’m pleased to say the book has proved popular, attracting great Amazon reviews. I have a lot of affection for my character Mark Slater; I might pick up his story again in a subsequent novel. It’s possible Adam Campbell’s evil influence may cross Mark’s path once more...
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About the Author
Maggie James is a British author who lives in Bristol. She writes psychological suspense novels. The first draft of her first novel, entitled His Kidnapper’s Shoes, was written whilst travelling in Bolivia. Maggie was inspired by an impending milestone birthday along with a healthy dose of annoyance at having procrastinated for so long in writing a novel. His Kidnapper’s Shoes was published in both paperback and e-book format in 2013, followed by her second novel, entitled Sister, Psychopath. Her third novel, Guilty Innocence, has now been published, and like her first two, features her home city of Bristol. She is currently editing her fourth novel, The Second Captive. Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practising as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practising yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love! Find out more at her website maggiejamesfiction.com and follow Maggie on Facebook and Twitter @mjamesfiction