Tartan

I’m delighted to announce that my short story Tartan will be published in the next issue of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, which should appear either later this month or in July. I’d been invited to submit a story by co-editor Stephen Theaker but had no idea what he’d make of this particular one. I’ve referred to the tale before on this site, (in this post from October 2020) but it bears repeating: the story is based on the public (at least here in the UK) perception of murderer Ian Brady, who, along with his then partner Myra Hindley, have been held up for the last half century as the epitome of evil. The Moors Murderers, as they were dubbed, tortured and killed five children in the early to mid-1960s, and narrowly missed being hanged for their crimes, as the death penalty had just been abolished. The public felt cheated of what many felt to be the only suitable punishment to fit the pair’s crimes. The public’s resentment and anger only increased over the years – during which two of the bodies were found, others weren’t where Brady or Hindley claimed (which involved both visiting Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester, with the police). During her decades in prison Hindley claimed she’d been coerced into kidnapping the children and hadn’t killed any of them; she wanted parole and had some high-profile people on her side. Brady – who never wanted to be released – died in 2017 still refusing to reveal where one victim was buried, a last act of cruelty to the victim’s family. It was not unusual to hear people wishing the most appalling deaths on the couple; the case deeply affected the country and continues to do so. I wasn’t born until the late ’60s but my parents were very aware of the case at the time and their anger never really left them. The murders left their mark on British culture, too, most famously in Manchester band The Smiths’ Suffer Little Children (and they’re also referred to in Reel Around The Fountain) but also in the anarchist band Crass’ Mother Earth. The Smiths’ tracks are deeply mournful whereas Mother Earth is aimed at the lurid tabloid press’ (and some of the public’s) desire for violent revenge, claiming such feelings make a person as bad as Hindley. Much as I love the song, it seems a bit of a stretch to compare justifiable anger with the deliberate cruelty of Hindley and Brady, but it’s an important aspect of the enduring feelings about the case.

Tartan is one of my most symbolic stories. I rarely pick characters’ names out of thin air, but almost all the names in this story relates to the Hindley/Brady case (most notably the central character Chrome), as does the title. It’s also set in Weston-super-Mare, which has a lot of occult connections but is also a traditional British seaside town that’s become known somewhat as a ‘dumping ground’ for people suffering mental illness.

In time, when those who were around in the early 60s are no longer with us, the horror of the Moors Murders will fade somewhat into history and, possibly folklore. After all, there are more contemporary monsters to replace them – Peter Sutcliffe/The Yorkshire Ripper, Dennis Nilsen, Fred and Rose West, Harold Shipman. And, we can grimly assume, there will be others.