Liz Porter is a true crime writer, novelist and freelance journalist. She writes about ‘the real CSI’, and is renowned for her use of forensic science in books such as Written on the Skin and Cold Case Files.
Liz Porter explains that in true crime it’s vital to focus on the facts and not rely on the stories people tell on what they remember about an incident. “The difficulty in writing true crime is about making sure you have all the facts right, and the realisation that you can’t rely on people’s memories, you’ve always got to go to the documents. You’ve always got to go to the trial transcripts and the forensic reports, or the coroner’s reports, or whatever you can get your hands on like that.”
However, she says it’s important to find a balance between what needs to be checked and what can be relied on. “Often you don’t need to know. For example, a forensic specialist might say to you what a bad time they had with a particular prosecutor in court, and there were all sorts of awkward questions in front of the jury. And you’ll have a quote saying that, and you won’t need to go and check the transcripts and see.”
Liz stresses that when putting first hand accounts it is important to double check your sources, she mentions how she had to cut out biographical material out of her non-fiction book Written on the Skin due to the unreliability of primary sources. “When looking at writing
a book, you always need to double check your facts, especially from primary sources. If you are going to put that in a book, you have to make sure that, in fact, the jury was there at the time [for example]. In the book Written on the Skin I was originally planning to include much more biographical information about the experts in there. In one particular case, a forensic pathologist was telling me about what a hard time she’d had in court, and actually it had inspired her to study law herself. I actually went to the transcripts – and her memory was, in fact, incorrect. It didn’t matter, but it would matter for the point she was making if I put it in the book. I had to know. So it was a really, really salutary lesson.”
Liz’s tip: Ensure your reader has an emotional connection
“I usually try and get the reader on the side with either the victim or the detective. You want them to have some emotional reason for reading. Even though they’ve got the book in their hand … you still want them to keep reading.”
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