Written by Liz Webb


All crime fiction has its ‘baddies’.  Those killers, kidnappers, criminals and psychopaths, who the hero must expose and vanquish.  But no one ever thinks that they’re the baddie in their own story, so it requires an imaginative leap to write one, if you want yours to be more than just a moustache-twirling wrong-un

I based the flawed protagonist of my debut psychological crime novel on some of my own traits (obsessive, self-doubting, driven-to-win-at-all-costs).  But then I wondered if I could find some motivation for my antagonists from my own crimes.  And yes, I am guilty.  Not of any murders.  Though stating that fact, may be rather undercut by the crime I am about to admit to. 

I am guilty of lying.  Constantly.  On an industrial scale.  I lie automatically and seamlessly. Big lies, small lies, pointless and unnecessary lies.  I lied to get into Oxford (quoting from the backs of books I’d never opened); I lied to audiences when I was a stand-up (saying literally anything for a laugh); I lied as a voice over artist (‘long, silky and smooth’ I purred into the mic, as I ran my hand through my short dirty hair.’); I lied to get a job at the BBC (oh yes, I adore theatre, I go all the time); I lied to actors and writers when I was a producer (sooo love what you’re doing there, but let’s experiment for fun); and now I lie about my age, because I feel too old to be a debut novelist (fifty-ish the most my ego will admit), and about what I think of other writers’ books (so … ‘visceral’).

In order to research my debut novel, I told a whopping lie. 

My book is set in a dilapidated house which backs onto a wood where a murder happened.  One day, I was idly perusing an estate agent’s window, when I saw a house backing onto Highgate Woods, which was THE house from my imagination.  I had only recently moved house myself and could never have afforded this one, but I just had to look round it.  So, without taking a breath, I was off and lying.

‘I’m very interested in buying this house you’re advertising,’ I trilled confidently ‘but could I look round it first?’

‘Absolutely,’ agreed the unsuspecting estate agent.

I phoned my friends to ask how someone with two million pounds would dress (badly, apparently), and the very next day, I felt only the merest fleck of guilt as I was shown around.

‘So, what’s the position with your finances,’ the agent wheedled, ‘and what d’you think of the house?’

‘Oh, I’m a chain-free cash-buyer and this house is sooo perfect for me, as I love restoring old buildings and have always wanted to live near a wood’. 




A tiny part of my blackened soul shuddered and I really hope that that lovely estate agent sold the house for a huge profit as a karmic reward.  But most of me felt … brilliant, because the house was so unnervingly perfect for my novel.  I’m not a believer in anything at all ‘woo’, but it felt like I was ‘meant’ to visit that specific house.  It was a three-storey Edwardian house with timber features and a raised porch, backing onto a wood – just like in my book.  It had clearly been owned by someone who had grown old in it without renovating – just like in my book.  And the chipped French doors of the lounge led straight onto a small garden so that the sinister trees lashed the house – just like in my book.

But my subterfuge wasn’t only giving me lots of believable detail for the setting of my book.  The actual experience of lying was invaluable.  Lying so easily for my own selfish ends, helped me devise and understand the characters surrounding my heroine: they are all normal people who lie to protect others and themselves.  I experienced how lying isn’t necessarily a calculated strategy, it can be instant and unquestioned.  I saw that lying isn’t morally difficult when you’re focussed on your wants.  And I realised that lying doesn’t necessarily eat you up with guilt.  Edgar Allen Poe popularized the ‘tell-tale heart’ of a murderer who is driven to confess by his own guilt.  But some people, and by some people I mean me, can rub along just fine with their lies.

As I wandered around that wonderful dusty old house, I felt like I was my heroine coming home; but I was also the duplicitous characters surrounding her, lying to save themselves and others.  Lying is a part of life for all of us.  I bet you’ve lied in some small way this week.  And who knows how big a lie you’d tell, if push came to shove.  So, if a writer is honest with themselves, writing a believable baddie, really isn’t such a stretch after all.


The Daughter,  Publication Date: 19th May 2022., Allison&Busby Hbk £16.99

Photograph© Ben Wilkin

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Liz Webb

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