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An Interview with Jackie Anderson, author of Myth, Monster, Murderer

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Jackie Anderson and Ciara Wild are a mother-daughter writing team.

Jackie is a freelance writer and journalist, writing articles for numerous magazine publications, both print and online, and has contributed work to Gibraltar’s national newspaper, The Gibraltar Chronicle, where she currently resides. Jackie takes an interest in women’s issues and the evolving story of women’s continuing struggle for equality, even in terms of how their stories are remembered and told.

Ciara is a Chartered Forensic Psychologist registered with the HCPC and has worked across public and charitable sectors. She currently works in the prison service and sits on the Education and Training Board for the British Psychological Society. She lived, studied, and worked around East London where walking amongst Jack the Ripper tours, ghost stories and museums were part of daily life.

You can buy Myth, Monster, Murderer here.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Our approach to this project was unorthodox. As a mother and daughter writing duo, over the years we had many conversations about the Whitechapel murders, like most people we were fascinated by the evergreen legend and the theories that abounded. We read around the subject. We meandered the streets of Whitechapel occasionally and over time Jackie realised that what fascinated her was the story. How it was told. Who told it. Who were the characters, the protagonists, the heroes and villains. And like every story that has endured through generations, the Ripper story shows an multitude of mutating threads, strands that sometimes twine together to form a seemingly cohesive theory and then snap apart at a new event or revelation or a new thread of thought being introduced. It is an ever-changing landscape of form and structure that can then be deconstructed and built anew, with only the basic facts, those things that we have certainty over, keeping their shape and place in the story: the places, the dead women and their dreadful injuries; the officials involved: the police, the coroner, the doctors. Almost everything else is open to interpretation and mutation. It is the stuff that legends are made of and it nagged at the back of our minds until one day, walking the Wanstead Flats in the cold of October we decided: let’s look at this a bit more carefully and this time, let’s get some notes down. Those notes eventually became this book.

We read widely around the subject and found that there is a vast amount of research and information that we needed to analyse. We soon decided not to take the ‘whodunnit’ approach; we figured, does it matter who Jack the Ripper was? Does discovering the identity make a difference other than satisfy curiosity?

What did matter to us was the women, the dead women who were victims many times already before the murderer tore them apart. During the early part of the writing, Ciara was working for her Stage 2 in Forensic Psychology to become a qualified Forensic Psychologist. She had been working in Whitechapel and along Commercial Road including in complex needs hostels, where many of the women were escaping violence in the home, homelessness, forced marriage, people trafficking and so on. Almost all had substance misuse problems and almost all, from time to time, sex worked to earn extra money. Some were sex workers openly and this is how they made money daily.

It occurred to us then that not much had changed since the 1880s. The buildings were bigger and there were cars, but still under all the wealth of the city were these men and women, destitute and homeless in the East End of London, many of whom had to sex work to afford the hostels, food and substances if there were using, which many were but not all. Alcohol, crack and heroin being the main ones.

Our aim in converting our research notes into a book was to open this to the public view. How has nothing changed in all this time? Are the conditions still ripe for another ripper? What about these women, these potential murder victims as well as already being victims of sexual assaults and violent assaults. It became clear as we researched, that actually, we are no better now at how we treat those most needing help than we were back in the 1880s. And the narrative of the story, the power of the ripper legend means that potential victims are still overlooked.

It was the power of this story, and the many nameless women victims, then and now and into the future if nothing changes, that compelled us to write.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Jackie runs her own business as a property and residential estate manager with a team of employees looking after a portfolio of several hundred privately owned properties. She writes in the early hours and late evenings and whenever the mood takes her at the weekend.

Ciara has worked in counselling and psychotherapy, research, psychiatric liaison and forensic psychology.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The book title simply ‘arrived’ one day during the course of the writing. Up until then, we simply called our work ‘JTR’ and our computer files still carry this label. But as we developed our thinking on the myth that Jack the Ripper had become and explored how the press had portrayed his monstrous deeds, we eventually came to the view that the focus of attention should be not on the hyperbole that sells newspapers but on the plain fact that he was a murderer of women. And the title simply tripped from our lips at that point.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

The book cover was an instant success. We were amazed that the illustrator had accurately captured the essence of the book in a picture. The colours were perfect and the effect subtle. We loved it straight away and other than inserting the blurb there were no changes made to the proof. We were delighted with the result and the physical book itself stands out superbly on bookshop shelves.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

We’ve never thought about the book having a soundtrack but what came to mind while we writing were dark tracks like those used for the score of the first series of Peaky Blinders such as Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’, and for the Lost Boys such as Lou Gramm’s ‘Lost in the Shadows’.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

We wanted our book to appeal to anyone who is curious about the period or the themes that the book discusses, as well as to those who are as fascinated as we are about the Whitechapel murders. Of particular importance to us, however, is that by the end of the book, readers pause to reflect on how society can foster the circumstances that permit murders like these, and how those circumstances have sadly not changed that much in the past 150 years.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The most rewarding experience having published the book was the interest it has generated and the positive feedback we have received from readers. In particular, we were delighted to be invited to a meeting of the Whitechapel Society in east London, where we gave a talk about the book to the Society’s members and this was given a very warm reception. This talk is to be broadcast on a podcast in the New Year.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

We are each working on separate projects at the moment with Jackie involved in work that has been commissioned for an anthology and Ciara working on some short stories, and we plan to start to work on a joint project later in 2024/2025.

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