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The search for Anne Perry

Joanne Drayton discusses her biography of crime writer Anne Perry, better known in New Zealand as the convicted muderer Juliet Hulme.

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This summary provides an analytical overview of a recording in which Joanne Drayton discusses their biography of crime writer Anne Perry, known in New Zealand for their infamous past as convicted murderer Juliet Hulme. Covering the period from the 1950s to the 2010s, Drayton explores the connections between Perry's life, particularly their youth as a murderer and subsequent redemption through successful crime writing.

The presentation begins with Drayton outlining their intent to explore the "resonance and redemption" present in Perry’s crime novels and real-life story. Perry, once Juliet Hulme, was vilified by New Zealand's press after their conviction alongside Pauline Parker for the murder of Parker's mother in 1954. This early notoriety was encapsulated in terms such as "dirty-minded little girls" and "grossly insane," and it left an ineradicable mark on Hulme's public image under the label of "evil."

Despite their tumultuous past, Perry's crime fiction achieved immense popularity, selling over 26 million copies worldwide. The revelation that Anne Perry was indeed Juliet Hulme came hard on the heels of Peter Jackson's film "Heavenly Creatures," which dramatized the 1954 murder. This placed Perry's writing career under scrutiny, casting their novels in a new, controversial light.

Drayton reveals that Perry, released from prison with a new identity, struggled initially to become a published author. Several manuscripts were rejected until Perry's stepfather suggested writing a murder mystery set in the Victorian era. This tipped the balance, and the introduction of the character Charlotte Ellison, who bore a striking resemblance to Perry, marked a turning point in Perry’s writing career.

Charlotte Ellison and Thomas Pitt, Perry's protagonists, were crafted with depth and humanity, reflecting spiritual and philosophical undercurrents in Perry’s narratives. Through these characters and their Victorian settings, Perry confronted issues such as feminism, power dynamics, social injustice, and religious hypocrisy. These stories provided a semblance of structure and catharsis, enabling Perry to imbue their own experiences and insights into their fiction.

Furthermore, the presentation delves into the inception of the William Monk series, which highlighted a detective struggling with amnesia, mirroring Perry’s need for self-rediscovery and societal reintegration. The conflicted narrative of Monk, who initially fears they may themselves be a murderer, parallels Perry's confrontation with their past and the complexity of one’s inner self when viewed through the lens of external judgement.

The session concludes with Drayton addressing the ethical challenges they faced while writing Perry's biography without the author’s consent, and their eventual collaboration with Perry, offering a powerful example of resilience and reinvention. Drayton stresses the importance of framing Perry's life beyond the 1954 crime, acknowledging their significant contributions to the literary world and the disservice that lingering stereotypes from the past hold.

Throughout the summary, parallels are drawn between Perry’s characters and their personal journey from notoriety to redemption, examining how Perry's fiction provided not only entertainment but also an avenue for processing and exploring facets of humanity, including the very ideas of guilt, atonement, and reinvention.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

Record date:5th September 2012
Audio courtesy of:NZ History
Location:Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand
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