Growing up in the north of England, Emma Flint was 10 years old when she wrote her first fiction, an Agatha Christie pastiche replete with a thickly mustached French detective. As a teen she became interested in true crime stories. One particular case, she recalls, which occurred “in Queens, New York, of all places,” piqued her curiosity—the 1965 trial of a young mother, Alice Crimmins, accused of murdering her two young children. Crimmins was maligned by the police and the press for being a woman separated from her husband, who lived unconventionally and maintained a stylish appearance, all of which, they claimed, undermined her innocence. “She refused to play the [typical disheveled and distraught] victim and looked absolutely perfect,” says Flint about the case that led her to explore the fate of a similarly prejudged mother in her debut novel, Little Deaths (Hachette, Jan. 2017), named a BEA Buzz book. “I was intrigued by this woman wearing this cosmetic mask,” says Flint, who is a technical writer in London. She began writing Little Deaths about five years ago, driven largely by a discrepancy in the forensic evidence in the real case that made her want to explore further her fictional creation, Ruth Malone: why would a mother accused of killing her children lie about what she served them for their last meal before they went missing and were found dead? “At the heart of all crime novels is the question of who’s lying and why,” says Flint. “[Dinner] is a really weird thing to lie about—why would she lie about that? It was so satisfying when I worked that out.”
Briefly, Flint thought she might change the time or setting of Little Deaths, but Queens 1965 proved a fascination for her. It was a time when women’s rights and feminism were still rare, Flint says: “Like the real character, Ruth is the kind of woman who likes to drink and consort with men, and the fact that she is doing this in what was then a quiet outer borough of New York made her stand out.”
“I think everything that I write is going to be based on real crimes,” she says. Her next book is set in 1970s London Soho, near where she lives. “It’s going to be so different being able to just go there,” says Flint, who used YouTube and Google Maps to wander around 1960s Queens from her London home. As for bringing Ruth and her story in Little Deaths out into the world at BEA, “it’s the most surreal thing that will ever happen to me.”
Flint is part of today’s “Adult Editors’ Buzz” panel in room 1883, 4:15–5:30 p.m. Tomorrow, 3–4 p.m., she is signing at Table 2, in the Autographing Area.
This article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.