Changing assumptions

When writing biography, you should understand your subject. After six years of researching William Onion’s life, I came to know him as an honest man. He admitted his many faults and his recollection of events tallied reasonably well with other sources. At the age of eleven he saw a woman executed for theft and claimed […]

Burns and Onion

In January 1888 two men were exercising in a prison yard. One had hidden a loaf of bread in his trousers and produced it for the other to eat. That was the start of a most unlikely friendship between John Burns and William Onion, who went on to become famous in their time for entirely […]

Partners in Crime available for pre-order

Partners in Crime is the fifth volume in The Best New True Crime Stories, edited by Mitzi Szereto. It contains my piece on the couple known as Peter and Helen Kroger who acted as spies for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Writing about this era was a departure from my usual research into […]

Book or Film?

My eldest boy recently had a school project to analyse the differences between a book and the film of that book. Often these are considerable. Sometimes only the title of the book remains, leaving fans unhappy but potentially attracting viewers unfamiliar with the original. This can grant a longevity to outdated works. The original James […]

More than a song

It is six years since I first wrote about William Onion and now my biography of him is nearing completion. Every time I revisit the sources, I discover something new, which helps build a picture of his character to supplement the facts. In the early stages of his drunken career, that allegedly accumulated a thousand […]

Jack the Ripper: The Interviews

Last year I was a guest on the House of Mystery radio show talking about Jack the Ripper. A transcript of the interview is available in a book which also includes eleven other discussions about Jack the Ripper from the show featuring contributors such as Paul Begg, Michael L. Hawley, Adam Wood, and Tom Wescott. […]

Finding voices from the past

One of the challenges in researching historical characters is ascertaining what they were really like. Autobiography is a modern invention, mostly written by the rich and famous. There are no television images, social media comments and, before the nineteenth century, no photographs. When I discovered William Onion, possibly Britain’s most convicted man, I had no […]

New Anthology

This week I received my contributor’s copies of The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks, Rogues and Criminals. As with previous books in the series editor Mitzi Szereto has assembled a diverse range of material and authors. My piece follows one by T. Fox. Dunham. It is the fourth time I have worked with […]

The consequences of a routine case

On 2 July 1866 William Onion appeared at the Middlesex Sessions charged with trying to throw a police officer in the Thames. He could not afford a lawyer and the inspector informed the court of his previous convictions. He was sent to jail for nine months, with hard labour. On his release he went on […]