Saturday 23 July 2016

Guest Post: Liz Nugent on Murderous Mothers

TITLE: Lying in Wait
AUTHOR: Liz Nugent
PUBLISHER: Penguin Ireland


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'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'

Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, though the last thing she expects is that pursuing it will lead to murder. However, needs must - because nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants ...

Murderous Mothers

There really aren’t that many murderous mothers in fiction, so I wasn’t really following a trope when I wrote Lydia in Lying in Wait.

Originally, it was going to be her husband who committed the murder, but as I began to write it, it became clear that it would be far more interesting if Lydia were the driving force behind everything. As an over-protective mother, how far could I push her to protect her son? And then as her character revealed itself to me, I realized that she was far more interested in protecting herself than anyone else. She is self-obsessed to a deranged degree.

Lydia was a fascinating character to write because she is so disconnected from reality and such a snob. I actually had fun with her because she expressed opinions that I would naturally find abhorrent.

Off the top of my head, I can only find a few examples of these monstrous women. Let’s take a look:

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is similarly ruthless in her ambition and suggests to her husband that she would murder her own suckling child if that’s what she had committed to do. In the event, she doesn’t kill anyone except herself when the horror of what she has participated in becomes too much for her.

The absolute worst mother in literary history must be in Euripides’ play, Medea. The eponymous character murders her own children to take revenge on her ex husband. I think it strange that Medea was written in 431 BC and yet, since then, there have been so few plays or novels written about mothers sacrificing their own children?

When I was a teenager, I devoured Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews – a huge hit among my classmates about some children who were locked away in an attic by their grandmother and then almost poisoned by their mother. As far as I recall, the mother does not succeed. But as we were children when we read this, it was absolutely shocking to us that a mother might be so negligent. We didn’t realize how privileged we were.

So there we have a few examples from highbrow Greek tragedy to teenage 80s fiction dealing with murderous mothers. I’d love it if Lydia made it into the list in a few decades from now!

Of course in real life, there are women and mothers who murder. If I had time, I would love to make a psychological study of them. What were their motivations and what did they think the consequences would be? It hardly bears thinking about - and yet - I’m fascinated by them.

Lying in Wait is out now.

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