Monday, 8 May 2017

Crime Fiction Month: The Write Stuff with... Kerensa Jennings

Today's The Write Stuff with... feature comes from debut author Kerensa Jennings talking about how a real life case inspired Seas of Snow

As a journalist who worked in television for many years, I was exposed to some of the best and worst of humanity. I have filmed in refugee camps where former child soldiers were teaching little children how to read and write. Directed the shoot of a life-saving quadruple heart by-pass operation. Made films for Make Poverty History, Comic Relief and Live8. Seen horrific rushes of suicide bombings, raw footage from terrorist attacks (including 9/11), and the unedited aftermaths of devastating earthquakes and floods. 

When I was Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost with Sir David Frost, I was lucky enough to make programmes with a host of the world’s most famous people including world leaders, and stars from stage, screen, sport and music. The programme with Nelson Mandela is one of the highlights of my life – such an inspiring man. Such an extraordinary life.

Nothing I experienced throughout my TV career affected me as profoundly, or impacted me as emotionally, as leading the BBC News coverage of the Soham investigation. 

The BBC had been selected by Cambridgeshire Constabulary to work closely with them during the months of the investigation. They had quite rightly responded to the extraordinary levels of public interest in the case, and wanted to be able to tell their story. They felt a huge responsibility to do the right thing by the families and friends of the two little girls whose lives were so brutally stolen from them. The community in Soham discovered they had a killer in their midst, and two people who were prepared to hide in plain sight, telling lies after lies after lies to anyone who would listen. The nation was appalled and devastated that a man employed as a school caretaker could have committed such a monstrous act. 

Soham, and everything it represented, made each and every one of us hug the children in our lives that little bit tighter before they went to bed at night.

I led the BBC News and Current Affairs coverage of the investigation. What this entailed included becoming very familiar with the evidence the police gathered, and gaining an insight into the way they worked.

On one particular day, I was in a dark room by myself, spooling through tapes of police evidence, marking up the sections I thought we might want to use in the BBC coverage. I came across a tape marked ‘Deposition Site’. I just popped it into the machine and began to watch.

The footage showed the girls’ remains, which had been discovered in woodland around RAF Lakenheath. The images burned into my retina.

A number of months later, as a member of the media, I had to sit behind the school caretaker, Ian Huntley, day after day after day at the Old Bailey. I felt overcome by revulsion. To this day, I’d say it is the most gruelling and emotionally draining experience of my life.

During the intervening months, I reflected long and hard on all the evidence, including some of the other police tapes I had watched, such as the significant witness interviews of both Ian Huntley and his then live-in girlfriend, classroom assistant Maxine Carr. It was staggering to see with my own eyes the blatant lies that were told, with such conviction and plausibility. Despite all the mountain of evidence that proved they were speaking well-rehearsed lines, not truths.

I developed a fascination for trying to understand what on earth could motivate a person to behave in such an inhuman way. I found myself seeking out articles, books and academic studies about psychopaths. I even ended up training and qualifying as an Executive Coach so I could formally learn the disciplines of psychology. I wanted to explore whether evil is born, or made – which is the question at the heart of SEAS OF SNOW.

I learned that psychopaths are incapable of feeling empathy. They can manipulate and lie with ease. They can be charming and believable. They are often with us across society, hiding in plain sight. The difference is, not everyone born a psychopath ends up committing horrific acts.

I ended up writing my story as a process of catharsis. I always find I am able to process my emotions and responses to things most effectively when I write. I also drew on other themes that have absorbed me for years – such as good versus evil; fairytales; and the way poetry can offer solace and escape from life’s greatest torments.

What moved me hugely working on the Soham investigation was the dedication and relentless hard graft of the police officers I worked with. I felt honoured to have the opportunity to work alongside them, and at times be brought into discussions that really mattered. I have nothing but admiration for the police team I knew, working tirelessly gathering evidence, collating it carefully, and meticulously researching each and every element. They were determined to let no stone go unturned. This I think partly in response to some earlier (policing) problems that occurred at the time of the girls going missing, and before the Senior Investigating Officer I worked closely with, Chris Stevenson, was brought on board.

In the acknowledgements of SEAS OF SNOW, I pay tribute to the members of Cambridgeshire Constabulary I worked most closely with, and called them ‘extraordinary human beings’. Their humanity grounded me. And inspired me.

SEAS OF SNOW will hopefully touch readers, and create that feeling in them of wanting to hug the children in their lives that little bit tighter. It’s crime fiction, a psychological thriller, and draws also on fairy tale for inspiration with both poetry and literary elements. Somewhat genre-defying. Reviewers have said it’s ‘an astonishing book’; ‘my book of the year, if not the decade’; ‘An important and brave book that forces you to reassess family and society in equal measure’ and ‘A fabulous story, hauntingly magical, with an almost hypnotic quality.’ 

At the time of writing, a month on from launch, SEAS OF SNOW has 70 reviews on Amazon, of which 68 are 5-star ratings. A YouTuber has called it ‘an absolute must-read’. Writing the book was a heart-wrenching experience, but it means the world to me that I have been able to channel the emotional impact of working on Soham into something precious I can share with people.

I am including here the poem I wrote, inspired by the police tapes I watched. And also a link to the Millennium Development Goals film I made for Make Poverty History in 2005, for anyone who wants to see one of my films.

Twitter - @zinca
Instagram - seasofsnow

They walked in blackness
Coal tar damp
Straggles of straw
Remnants fractured
Silent screams pierce the birdsong
Ancient leaves fold in, protecting
I watch your shape, entwined eternal
Primitive stasis
Pearl bone light
You two now one
Melted together
The chill breeze lingering
Above your skull faces
Overhead, an aeroplane flies by
But noiseful in its intrusion
Your bodies resting, now
Soft into the ground
Soil still scorched
Like you
I watch the quiet unfold
Over you and in you
Stygian in its stealth
I think about the man who did this to you
And my blood black purple screech stops
I watch your stillness settle
As the night of all your tomorrows descends
I see your twinness
Feel your light
Angels breathe over you
Your blackness walks
A thousand hearts cry.
1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Da. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attentions wander to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.

As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.

But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?

Thanks to the generoristy of Kerensa I have a Seas of Snow notebook and Pen to give away to a follower of the blog. enter via the rafflecopter form below.  The winner will be selected at random when giveaway ends and contacted for their postal address to pass onto Kerensa to post your prize to you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Hi Kerensa and Sharon,

    I am reading this post at 6:15am, when I should be getting ready for work, but I just can't get started until I have read every last word and thanked you both so much for a post which is so moving, personal, yet so highly informative and thoughtful.

    Of course I remember the Soham murders only too well and I am not sure that I could have been quite as professional as you Kerensa in sitting behind that animal at his trial, dying was too good for him!

    How you wrote this book I shall never know, but it is a definite for my reading list.

    Thank You also for the lovely poignant poem, that almost says it all without the need for more words.


    1. Exactly how I felt when I prepped the post as had a tear in my eye as I was reading.

  2. Fascinating post Sharon and I can't quite believe what Kerensa has seen and heard in her line of work. We all think we've had a bad day but when professionals have to deal with these terrible situations daily you cannot comprehend how they cope. I'm not a thriller reader but can appreciate the genre for others.

  3. Thank you both Shaz and Kerensa for such an interesting post. I remember this shocking case and the background from Kerensa makes really brings the horror home.

  4. Must have been really hard to write such type of story. Quite powerful story.

  5. What an interesting post, very moving.