I didn’t want the women in my book to be just ‘cardboard cut-out victims’
PUBLISHED: 18:38 03 March 2019
How the Ipswich serial killings influenced author and ex-BT worker Caroline, who’s up for an award
Caroline Goldsworthy was walking her Doberman puppy on a cold but sunny winter morning. So far, so normal. Then a man gently told her off for being out on her own. As she strolled on, past football pitches, she saw the fluorescent jackets of police officers searching a field on the other side of the hedge. Maybe, she mused, the man might have a point.
No-one who lived through Steve Wright’s killing spree will forget the sense of fear and unease that gripped the normally-peaceful Ipswich area in the weeks before Christmas 2006. Five young women disappeared. All were found dead, over 10 dreadful days.
A couple of years later, Channel 4 documentary Killer in a Small Town told the story of women whose lives had been damaged by drugs and sex work.
It was thought-provoking – and gave Caroline an idea. Over the years she wrote a story, inspired loosely by the dark events of 2006. It was slow going, but she finished it. Now her book, Tangent, is shortlisted for The Selfies. The awards are for writers who have self-published a novel. Caroline is one of eight contenders, and she’ll find out on March 12 if she’s won.
Tell us about the impact of that Cutting Edge documentary
“It was a very powerful story and I realised that the young woman who was the central figure in the documentary was someone I had been aware of – I won’t say ‘met’, as we were never introduced – when I was learning to kickbox.
“It was her story of her friends, her drug habit, how she got pulled into drugs, and trying to kick the habit. In the documentary she was a very compelling figure and I wanted a character like that.
“In 2010 I did some voluntary work at Iceni” – by tackling the causes of addiction, poverty and other inequalities, the charity supports families to give children the chance of a safe, healthy and happy start in life – “and I met two other women who impressed me in the same way with how strong they were in their determination to get off drugs and get their lives back.
“I was very open and honest with (chief executive) Brian Tobin about why I wanted to volunteer and I did let him know recently that I’ve published the book. I should probably let him have a copy...”
Had the killings started before you moved to Suffolk?
“No. The murders started late November 2006 and I moved into my house (in Kesgrave) in the September.
“I think like most people I was stunned that it was happening in Ipswich. It seems such a nice quiet town. I don’t think many people realised there was a different Ipswich under the surface. I came to find out about that later.”
What’s the novel about?
As a junior detective constable, Ronald Carlson pursued a serial killer who preyed on the working girls of Lytham. Young, vulnerable, on the fringe of society, the girls lived at a tangent to the world known by most of Lytham’s residents.
Twenty years later, is the killer back? Or is it a copycat? Det Ch Insp Carlson and his team must find the truth – and quickly – as the body count rises and the media start to sensationalise the story.
How much is influenced by the real-life Ipswich murders?
“The time of year definitely: I wanted the chill of the winter in Suffolk to be as big a character as the people.
“The first two body sites are my version of what did happen. The police team are completely different. I had no access to any of the team working on the case and felt a bit intimidated by asking.
“The killer: no – definitely not. I wanted this story to be about WHY someone would one day just wake up and go out and kill people. I didn’t want this book to be about the Ipswich killer; I wanted it to be about the women and I didn’t want them to be just cardboard cut-out victims. I wanted them to have real lives and hopes and dreams.
“I had often wondered why one of the young women came back to work in Ipswich. I think it was reported at the time she’d got off the game and got clean, and I often thought about her when I was coming back from meetings in London – wondering why she came back.
“I’ve given her a role and a goal in my novel. Whether it’s true or not I have no idea. The women I met at Iceni, they were some tough ladies. So strong in their journey of getting clean. I wanted to shout out ‘Yay; I think you are amazing’.”
Sounds as if you have firm views…
“My attitude has always been that a girl has to make a living; and for someone using heroin, you can’t hold down a steady job. The drug takes over your life entirely. So a living has to be made somehow.
“Prostitution is a question of pure economics – if there was no demand, there would be no supply. I’m aware that many towns have a crackdown every so often, but it’s the oldest profession in the world. It’s not going to go away.
“My concern has always been for the women. Nowadays we refer to it as the sex industry or trade, but there’s still a lot that could be done to protect the women and men who work in the industry.
“However, I’m also aware of the concerns of people who actually live in red light areas and how it impacts them. So you have to wonder if legalising it makes sense. But then that has to be balanced with other concerns about human trafficking.
“It’s a very complex question. And there are no easy answers.”
Why did you move to Suffolk?
“I was brought up in Colchester and moved to Grange Farm in Kesgrave in September, 2006. By that time I’d been working for BT for nearly four years – for most of that time I was contracting, and became permanent in June, 2005.
“Much of my social life was in Ipswich by that point, so, with work too, it seemed to make sense to move here.”
Why Caroline left work
“I went to uni late in life and did a four-year degree (at Essex University) in Spanish language and linguistics, and then won a scholarship to study a Masters in second language acquisition. After that I worked in London for a while – including on projects such as the transition and takeover of Nat West by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
“I left BT at the end of October last year to focus on my writing. Financially this has not been the smartest decision, but for my writing and my mental health it’s been a perfect choice. I’ve had three bouts of depression in the last 20 years and needed to take some time out.
“I think it’s important to talk about mental health, especially since my father killed himself during a depressive episode.”
The important bits
Tangent is stocked by The Woodbridge Emporium, The Wivenhoe Bookshop, and Amazon. (Likely prices £10 paperback, £3.99 Kindle).
Events – April 28: Skulduggery crime-writers’ festival in Stowmarket.
Caroline’s hoping to organise something with The Woodbridge Emporium, too. Check www.carolinegoldsworthy.com for details.