His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

His bloody project

His Bloody Project is the 2016 novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I picked it up on a whim whilst I was browsing the tables in Waterstones at the beginning of the year. I had come to read it a couple of times but for a reason I cannot pinpoint I just never got further than the first few pages. However, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in my ‘reading zone’, so I thought I would try again. This time, I had my full attention on the text in front of me, and I found that I just could not put the book down. I am usually quite a slow reader, so I was surprised to find I had finished the book in two days.

The story itself is set in 1869 and tells of the brutal murders of three people in Scotland. There is no mistaking who committed these murders, however, what we do not know is how the boy responsible found himself in the positon to commit the crime. And, at a time when hanging was still a punishment, we are taken on a journey to establish what will be the consequences of his actions.

I feel Burnet created something truly unique with his creation of His Bloody Project. I have searched online repeatedly trying to establish whether this was a true story, or whether it is simply imagination. I found myself doing this because the novel is so well structured. We are given witness accounts, a memoir written whilst the alleged murderer is in jail, doctors reports and a day by day retelling of the trial. Therefore, the novel is easily mistaken for being simply a collection of found documents. So, although as far as I am aware it is completely fiction, we get a sense of an author who has done thorough research into his subject. As a reader this gives us a real sense of rural life in Scotland in the mid-19th century, as well as insight into the approach taken in the criminal justice system at the time.

If you have read one of my previous blog posts, So much history…, you will be aware I am currently taking part in a research project, Writing Lives, which looks into working-class autobiographies. Throughout my participation in this project I have been focusing on a memoir written by a man in rural England. So, when it came to reading His Bloody Project I was completely in my zone. The ‘memoir’ that Burnet includes was my favourite section of the novel. This is because we got a sense of what the alleged murderer was thinking leading up to the crime and whilst he was in prison. Through my participation is Writing Lives I have acquired the skills to look at a piece of autobiographical writing and read between the lines, thus, the memoir that Burnet created was a joy to read…even if it is fiction.

Although His Bloody Project does not follow the traditional ideals of novels that I am used to, and that I love, I would recommend the book for others to read. It provides brilliant insight into a world away from the one many of us are used to. Each, and every, section of the novel entices you to want to continue in your journey. Therefore, do not be surprised if you, like me, rush through this novel in a couple of days. It an interesting and remember able journey and destination that the Burnet takes you to. And, if you do enjoy this book, make sure you do check out the Writing Lives project, for some fascinating and very true memoirs penned by the British working-class.

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So much history…

I am going to use this post to talk about a separate project I am currently working on. Usually I would not blur the lines between my personal blog and the blogging I do for university. However, it is a project that I enjoy taking part in, and it has taken up much of my life, so it would be wrong not to have it mentioned here.

This project is called Writing Lives. It is a module on my English course at Liverpool John Moore’s University. The aim of this project is to make working-class autobiographies available to the public. To do this, each student is required to pick an author from the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies and write weekly posts regarding the author’s writing and life experiences. I have an interest in the first world war, so I made it my mission when searching through the archives to find an author who talked about their experiences of the war. As a result of this search I came across a man called Walter John Eugene Elliott (1890 – 1977). Who, to my excitement, served in the first world war 1914-1918 and had a lot to talk about regarding his experiences in the war.

Following my selection of Walter’s ‘Untitled’ memoirs, I spent a great portion of my time researching his family history and where he grew up. Luckily, he provided a lot of detail of his family ancestry prior to beginning his written memoirs. However, what I was really intrigued about was the family he did not list, the family that came after him, his children,
and grandchildren. This is because I was eager to find photographs of Walter and some more information about him that he did not necessarily divulge in his memoirs. Unfortunately, this search has not been of great success, I am yet to find a living relative of Walter. However, I am continuing to research aspects of his life that are mentioned inCaroline-Place-c1948-Royal-Oak-Hotel-awaiting-normal-demolition. his memoirs. For example, Walter goes into detail about some of his hobbies as a young adult. He names a hotel where he spent Wednesday evenings attending the Hastings Bird Club. I have from this come across a website that features many old photographs of the Hastings area and found a photograph of this hotel in the 1940’s.

I wanted to talk about this project here, on this blog, for two reasons. One, I wanted this project to reach an even wider audience that would not necessarily stumble across it otherwise. This is because I find a project like this to be so vital to our history in the United Kingdom. We often hear about the big events and the famous people, but why only them? These working-class autobiographies provide an insight in to the everyday, and how most people lived their lives at various points in history. Therefore, surely these accounts of life are just as important, if not more important, than the accounts of those who were considered remarkable and exceptional.

The second reason why I wanted to talk about this project is because it has led me to become more interested in my own family history, and where I came from. Thus, over the last few months, I have carried out research into my own heritage. I have always been intrigued in ancestry but I never believed I would get much further than my grandparents. This was mainly because I was unaware just how many sources are available to an amateur researcher. By this I mean I did not realise what I could access from my bedroom, using only my computer: from census, to marriage records, it is all available to us! It was the Writing Lives Project that opened my eyes to all of this “hidden” information. I began to realise how easy it is for me, and everyone else, to access the documentation needed to trace my family footsteps. Granted, there are some documents that you either cannot access or you need permission to access, but what there is out there is plentiful. Therefore, I wanted to bring this to light for those that were, like myself, also unaware of all the information available at our fingertips.

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Researching real people, whether they be connected to you or not, is an extremely satisfying and rewarding process. I know many people myself who have considered researching their family history, but have believed it would be a fruitless task. So I know for sure many of you reading this will believe that too. However, I assure you, it is not! I therefore encourage you to take this journey, to discover where you have come from, if you have not already done so. You may find some fascinating stories, from your own history, and I promise you, it will not be a wasted effort!

  • You can find all my posts on Walter John Eugene Elliott here on the Writing Lives website
  • Check out my Writing Lives Twitter page for all the latest updates regarding my research on Walter, or check out the Writing Lives website Twitter page for updates on the project as a whole.
  • If you would like any advice or information as to how to go about beginning your own search, please don’t hesitate, contact me!

Until next time…

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