I first came across Nicola Abnett when I read the first chapters of her novel ‘Naming Names’. I was struck by the intensity of her words, and by how far she was willing to go to tell the story. She doesn’t hold back; there’s no letting go for the reader. She wants you to know exactly what horrors occur, and she describes them from a point of view of acceptance, which makes the horror all the more extreme. She’s very, very good.
“Myra Hindley made me a cup of tea today.”
I was a teenager when my father told me that the most notorious female sex offender and child killer in British history had made him a cup of tea. He worked for the Home Office in the penal system, and this sort of thing happened to him, from time to time. He didn’t talk about it much, or often.
I wonder if my interest in gross criminal psychology came from the very fact that the Official Secrets Act, which he took very seriously, meant that my father didn’t talk about his work. I had to get my information from other sources: magazine articles, books, television documentaries, but the research was always based in fact. This was not the stuff of novels.
When I decided to write fiction for real, this was what I wanted to write about. In the end, I wrote something else first, and this was my second novel; I call it “Naming Names”. It is about a young woman who suffers maternal sexual abuse, abuse that has been institutionalised in a family over generations. When she eventually ends up in the system, it is up to her and Trevor to work out who she is, her name and her age. She records events from her life in long monologues, and Trevor recounts the classical tales, myths and historical events informed by the various names given to her during her childhood.
For most of my almost-thirty-year relationship with novelist and comic-book writer Dan Abnett I have been Nik Vincent: occasional co-writer, editor, first-reader, sometime muse. Now that I am a respectable married woman, it only remains for me to wonder who will publish the other Abnett.