Thursday, 13 January 2011

C.A.R. Hills (Charles Hills), Author

When I began to grow old, my life took on a strange pattern. Rather than moving towards peace and stability, I began to think about murder. I couldn't help it. I had always thought of myself as a peaceful person, but violence became the sole longing of my thoughts. Madness - or at least huge disturbance - followed, then a suicide attempt, then two and a half years in prison after a guilty plea at the Old Bailey.

I had not wanted any of this. I didn't plan it. I would never have believed it possible. I still think similar things could have happened to almost anyone if they had been faced with an equally horrible situation. Perhaps all criminals say that. Perhaps Dr Crippen would have said it, or Christie, or Myra Hindley. I didn't commit my murder, though. If I had, I would not be here to write this blog.

During the period of my obsession I was trying to write a book about what I was going through. I didn't want it to be just the record of my own terrible thoughts, so I wrote it in a variety of voices, including that of the person I was hoping to kill. Chapters in my voice and his alternated, and I also wrote pieces in the voice of a hitman I tried to hire, of one of my aunts, of a man who birched me by arrangement, and of my best friend.

Then I had 12 chapters, which seemed like a perfect number. So I began writing what I planned as a long central chapter investigating the philosophy of murder. By this time I was negotiating with more possible hitmen, who were in fact undercover police. Day by lonely day, usually first thing in the morning, I would add a paragraph of painful thoughts.

Two or three days after I had written the final paragraph of the book as it now stands, and about a week before Christmas 2006, my door was kicked down early one morning and a posse of policemen broke into the room where I was naked in bed. I admitted my guilt to them, they arrested me, and before they took me away I pointed out the manuscript of the book as evidence that might be useful to them.

It was in fact quoted in court by the prosecuting counsel. But he had no idea it was a book. The opening sentence of it was just useful to him in proving my guilt, and he thought the title of that first chapter was the title of the whole work. In this and other ways, I felt thoroughly misunderstood by the British legal system, and this increased my resentment against England much more than the actual penalty, originally seven years. That, harsh as it was, I half desired.

During the later part of the time I was in prison, things became so dreadful for me that I decided I would leave England when I was released. I felt deep anger that I had been allowed to get into a position at HMP Lowdham Grange where I was in fear of my life. Just before Christmas 2008 my estrangement from the four men who had been my chief friends became definitive. It seemed to me imperative that I leave all four, although I kept a mental reservation about the one called Bill Hicks.

In going abroad, I would of course be breaking the conditions of my licence. It might perhaps never be possible to return, unless I gave myself up when my money ran out. I didn't care. I told no one of my plans, and definitely not the four friends, one of whom I had already broken with before leaving prison.

In the four months after my release from HMP Belmarsh, on 19th June 2009, I concentrated on seeing as much of the beauty of my own country as I could, on being as pleasant as possible to anyone I managed to meet, and on deceiving the three remaining friends.

Only one person suspected my plan. On the Monday evening before I fled the country, I invited Bill Hicks to my flat with a playwright and aspirant film-maker called Alecky Blythe who wanted to produce a drama about me. They were standing in my sitting-room, and I was in the hall facing them, and Alecky said, "Bill, he's planning something." She, the blonde, attractve, ambitious, untalented woman, seemingly successful, but not knowing that she faced the imminent decline of her career, had seen it in my eyes. Shrewd Bill, that unassuming and discreet man, the perfect spy, saw nothing.

But before that encounter, during the four months, I had really used my time well. My social life was OK, although in the evenings I was generally alone. But what wonderful trips I made! I went to Haworth in Yorkshire to see the home of the Brontes. I took the train to Birmingham, and greatly enjoyed touring the renovated city. I visited Edinburgh, with its historic beauty and fearful charm. On the Sunday two weeks before I left, I went for a long walk beyond Rickmansworth, to the land of the three rivers, the Colne, the Chess and the Gade. And for a minute in that land, on a bare hill, I was as alone as I might have been in the Middle Ages.

The following weekend, the last before I left, I stayed in deepest and quite rural Herefordshire, and after a long and ecstatic Sunday afternoon hike through beautiful country to Much Markle met a most lovely boy called Joe who worked in a country pub and drove me back to Ledbury, where I was staying. Oh, to be with him rather than my friends and acquaintances!

The timing for that trip was far from ideal, because I had to meet my friend Mark Casserley for our weekly Saturday lunch at a restaurant near Clapham Junction, so had to leave in a huge hurry that afternoon, and then delay my return home until the middle of the day on Monday. In order to get enough time in Herefordshire. But I wouldn't have missed the farewell lunch with this ambiguous person. As I left him I said how much I was looking forward to seeing him the following Saturday. He never told me his own thoughts, so he could not read mine. There was deep joy in deceiving him, more than with the others.

And two days before I left, on the Wednesday, I made a long day's excursion through eastern England, all around the Fens, and went beyond the limit of my railway ticket, and was terribly frightened as I sat on the train that I would be caught. But the inspector only came round when we had passed beyond the station on the return journey where the ticket became valid. And, in the evening, I played host to my friend Stephen Cviic, and this once very handsome man watched a film on television and I went to sleep on the sofa in sheer exhaustion. He showed annoyance with me when I woke up. Was he that boring to me now? I only smiled lazily.

And on the Friday, the appointed morning, Friday, 16th October, 2009, I got up very early, played five of my favourite records, leafed through the thirteenth or thirteen secondhand books relating to Jesus that I had bought at a church bookshop some weeks before, and said farewell for ever to my flat of thirty years. I closed the door in a mood of cheerful abandon, and walked to Wandsworth Road Station. I took three trains, the first to Peckham Rye, the second to Bromley South, the third to Dover. The afternoon was sunny as I walked with backpack and bags, wearing my smart suit, towards Dover Eastern Docks.

Since then I have seen many places in Europe, because the restlessness engendered by my years of misery has not left me and I cannot bear to stay long in Portugal, the country where my troubles began. The places I have visited were almost all in the Schengen Area, because in those countries you do not have to show your passport on crossing a frontier. Friends and family members, prompted by the police, have urged me to come back, and I have tried to explain, as gently as I can, that there is only a limited amount to which I could return - some places, a few friends, a lot of acquaintances.

Once I phoned Bill Hicks one aftrnoon from a small shop with a telephone in Bari in southern Italy. I was on my way to the Spiaggia Pane e Pomodoro (Bread and Tomato Beach), but had stopped by the phone because I longed to get some news. And Bill told me that a television company wanted to make a programme about me, or more precisely, about my crime. Two or three weeks later, a pleasant and talented young film maker, called Will Rowson, came out to film me, in Otranto, a bit further south from Bari, which was the next stop on my peregrinations. I loved the intense day I spent with Will. Posing to camera pleases me more than talking to people.

The programme is to be shown in England, this March or April, on Sky´s Crime and Investigation Channel, as part of a series about testamentary battles called Battle of Wills. The programme includes two extracts from the book I was writing, which was used by the police to question me and then quoted at the Old Bailey.  Because I didn't have the manuscript with me in Italy, these extracts are read by Bill Hicks, the best friend whose portrait I painted in one of the chapters. I had left all my manuscripts with him.

The book is called The Olinda Angel. Olinda is a place in Brazil, and I saw a picture of an angel in my hotel  when I stayed there in November 2002. It seemed like an emblem of the ambiguous mesh of feelings that entrapped me when I contemplated murder. The long unfinished chapter about killing begins with my telling about the angel.

I could never return to the feelings,  the angel, or the book. But I hope it might interest you to read the fragment I succeeded in writing. I am running short of money on my travels, so also hope you will not mind paying £4.95. I will include details of how to buy the book as I continue with writing this blog, to which I welcome any reactions, as to the television programme.

Even if my book has no literary merit, it will tell you about a state of mind that I hope you never experience.