Guest Post: The inspiration behind Stolen Lives by Matthew Pritchard

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From 2nd May to 5th May – Kindle readers can enjoy Stolen Lives for free!

Here is the inspiration and history behind the novel itself:

Illegal Adoptions and Stolen Lives – Spain’s Secret Shame

Spain’s civil war casts a long shadow – it is still an occasional cause of argument in bars and at family gatherings – but as the years pass, its effect on Spanish society diminishes.

Except in one case. 

Television and newspaper reports continue to appear detailing the judicial exhumation of stillborn babies. What the police find in the coffins beggars belief: sometimes there is nothing; other times, there are bags of sand, or bones belonging to much older children; in one case, the remains of a dog were found inside a coffin.

And every time these coffins are opened, Spanish society is forced to confront a secret that is almost too terrible to contemplate: the theft of tens of thousands of children from their rightful parents and given away in illegal adoptions.

The practice began immediately after the war. The state and church ran hospitals, and doctors and nuns targeted families stigmatised as being “Reds” or the poorly educated. Their modus operandi was very simple: upon birth, the child would immediately be whisked to a separate room. A doctor or nurse would then go straight back to the mother, inform her that her child had died, and that the state would pay for the burial. 

In some clinics and hospitals, they even went as far as to have a dead baby’s body frozen, which could then be presented to parents as “proof” of the child’s death. Nuns even took photos of mother’s holding their supposedly dead babies, to allay the suspicions of other family members, and then the mothers were hoofed out onto the street. One mother describes being discharged within an hour of giving birth, ‘numb from grief and with my thighs still wet with blood’.

The real babies were then given away to families close to the regime, or sold to those who could afford to pay for them. And meanwhile, empty coffins were being buried all over Spain. 

Doctors, priests, nuns, and orphanages were all complicit in this and could act with total impunity: with the Franco dictatorship having a firm hold on Spanish society, no one ever dared questions – but because of this overconfidence, the paperwork relating to the illegal adoptions was extremely sloppy and left paper trails all over the place. One clinic had listed 37 stillbirths due to “earache” in a two year period, all signed by the same doctor. 

Once democracy returned to Spain, people began to ask questions, but it was not until the onset of widespread internet access that the scale of the problem became apparent. People who had assumed their case was an isolated one, suddenly realised there were dozens of others; and those dozens became hundreds; and then thousands; and then tens of thousands. 

It is now estimated that the problem could even run into hundreds of thousands of cases between 1939 and 1987 – the practice was so ingrained in Spanish society that it continued for 12 years after Franco’s death in 1975.

And so, the heartache continues as mothers seek children, siblings seek brothers and sisters, and men and women seek parents. And every time those coffins are dragged from the ground, a little part of Spain’s soul is dragged with them.

Matthew Pritchard’s new crime thriller, Stolen Lives, is based on the scandal of the illegal adoptions and is published by Endeavour Press.

Stolen Lives

Stolen Lives by Matthew Pritchard

The synopsis:

Almería, Spain. A missing girl is found in a landfill, dead…

The right-wing press has an obvious spin: a drug user with prior convictions and a history of running off pays for the hazards of her lifestyle.

Journalist Danny Sanchez doesn’t buy it. Teresa del Hoyo had been clean for over a year.

More importantly, she’d been looking into murky events dating back to the Spanish Civil War, and of her two partners in crime, one is missing and the other is dead.

A simple article about the murder of a young woman for the tabloids leads Danny to the morbid, heart-breaking stories of the niños robados por el franquismo, children reported dead to their Republican parents to be given to “approved” families during Franco’s reign.

Danny knows he’s struck something big as he tries to connect Teresa’s political activism and the Church’s interest in the case with her research into the history of Almería.

With every step bringing him closer to the truth, it becomes clearer that these 50-year-old secrets still hang over the town… and that someone would kill to keep them.

Authors Links:
Web: https://matthewpritchard.co.uk/
Twitter: @whynpritchard

Author Q&A with Matthew Pritchard! One of my favourite writers of 2016!

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Matthew Pritchard author of Scarecrow & werewolf – Q&A

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Q) I found the character of Danny Sanchez very unique. I loved the investigative journalism edge & the Spanish/English/ex-pat themes in the novel. Can you explain for the readers the background & creation of the character Danny Sanchez?

A) Danny is my alter ego. Physically we are the same, our music tastes are the same, as is our clothing and sense of humour; we are also both obsessive about writing and research, and are both loners.
I was a journalist in Spain for 10 years and worked closely with the expat community, hence the ring of authenticity to some of the scenes depicted in the book.
Danny, however, is a far better reporter than I ever was and he works the sort of juicy stories I dreamt of discovering, so I guess there is an element of wish fulfilment in the character, too.
However, unlike Danny, I have managed to give up smoking, eat well and get myself relatively fit, but he is still the conduit through which I examine the world, and his progression over the three books I have written that feature him closely mirrors my own life experiences. 

Q) The book briefly covers the realms of mental health & psychiatry. Also the damage of abusive childhoods on an individual’s growth. I found this fascinating as it is well documented & society is desperate to uncover what causes a warped mind. Did you research mental health?  Were there any particular cases in the media that have stuck with you or you were reminded of in the writing process?

A) I did a lot of research on serial killers during the writing of the book, and the one factor 95% of them had in common was abusive, miserable childhoods.
Also, since Hannibal Lector became a cultural icon, many other writers have chosen to portray serial killers as suave, intelligent and sophisticated individuals, when the opposite is almost always true – the majority of serial killers are really very mundane people with a history of failure, who are only distinguished by their complete lack of empathy with other human beings and their manipulative, predatory nature, and I wanted to really hammer that point home in Scarecrow.

Q) As stated in my review, several times Scarecrow is a very dark & gritty novel. It certainly isn’t a novel you forget too quickly. Was that always the intention, to write a novel that also had a shock feel to it?

A) I knew from the start I wanted to do something different and unusual with my book, so I decided to make men the victims of my serial killer rather than women, and began to research killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and Dennis Nilsen.
When you begin to realise how disturbing, violent and bizarre their crimes were, it is very difficult not to write something that deeply affects the reader. 

Q) In my review I reference a recent factual case with similar themes as the motive of The Scarecrow killer. As a former journalist yourself, are you influenced by real life criminal cases?

A) Some writers seem to delight in imagining crimes of an almost impossibly grotesque nature and then describing them in  pornographic detail.
I, however, always stick to things that have actually occurred in real life and use a “less is more” approach, only hinting at the most disturbing elements of the crimes depicted in my stories.
I have also befriended a professor of forensic science, so he checks all the details in my books, and sends me examples of real life case studies of murders – truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is usually also better.

Questions re: Detective Inspector Silas Payne series

Q) Werewolf was in my favourites of 2016 list. This is how I discovered your writing & was previously unaware of the Danny Sanchez novels. Does it benefit authors to have various different series?  Is it difficult in the writing experience?

A) I can’t speak for other authors, but I enjoyed the change in setting immensely. I did not find the transition particularly difficult, mainly because discovering the historical details about the period – especially the demobilisation of the German army and the constant search for SS and Nazi Party members hiding among normal soldiers – was so fascinating.

Q) Where did the idea behind Werewolf come from? Why the WW2 era?

A) My father is a collector of WWI and WWII books and military memorabilia, so I grew up in a house filled with gas masks, helmets, uniforms and rifles – it was pretty much a given I would write a book set around that particular time period.
The specific genesis of Werewolf came when, as a teenager, I met a man who had served in Germany in August, 1945, when the British Zone of Occupation was being established. He described the chaos the country was in and the fear of attack by “werewolves” (German soldiers who had taken to the forests to continue fighting) while doing night time sentry duty.
The name stuck in my mind and 20 years later I began writing and researching the project. 

Q) Both novels are incredibly well written, how long is the process from idea to publication?  Can you talk us through your writing process?

A) It takes me roughly 10 months to start and finish a project. My writing style developed as a result of reading authors such as Elmore Leonard and Cormac McCarthy, both of whom use simple, declarative sentences filled with nouns and verbs, and only sparsely seasoned with the odd adjective or adverb.
I am ruthless in paring down my own work, and normally only use 30% of what I actually write for any given project. I also try to avoid using metaphors and similes whenever possible – instead, I seek concrete specific nouns that require no further explanation. This is what (I hope) gives my writing style its edge and relentless pace.
As for my routine, I wake around midnight and work through the night until about 08:00. Then I sleep for a while, do a bit of reading then hit the hay around 16:00. I don’t like socialising, so the weird hours I keep are not a problem – I love solitude and, apart from my girlfriend and a very few specific friends and family members, I try to minimise my contact with the outside world as much as possible. 

*Huge Thank you to Matthew for answering my questions!

Review: Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard 5*

I recently discovered the author Matthew Pritchard when I read his post WW2 novel Werewolf for review via netgalley. It ended up on my list of favourites of the year. From a staggering 242 novels I picked just 20 fiction novels as favourites. When I am this impressed by an author I immediately go & seek out their other work. This led me to Sacrecrow!

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Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard 5/5*

The blurb:

Follow the road to murder…

Investigative reporter, Danny Sanchez, has lived eight years in Almeria, southern Spain, working for the British expat paper, Sureste News.

While working on his latest story – Kafkaesque bureaucracy leading to the demolition of an elderly couples’ home – a startling discovery is made: as the diggers begin to tear down the house, a decomposed body is revealed dangling between two walls, its head swathed in Gaffa Tape.

From this sinister beginning, Danny follows a trail of bodies that takes him back and forth between Spain and England, as he is led to revisit the first story he ever covered, the trial and conviction of the serial killer known as The Scarecrow.

But with that man behind bars, how can bodies bearing the same distinctive pattern of mutilation be turning up in Spain?

The Spanish police insist there is no connection – but then times are hard in Almeria and no one wants to admit a murderer is on the loose, and Danny finds himself struggling against corrupt bureaucracy, cowboy builders and a monstrous killer whose motives are so perverse as to defy description…

My Review:

This novel is not for the faint hearted, I repeat definitely, not for the faint hearted! The novel is of the crime genre but it is extremely dark & edgy. It reminded me in a way of The Poet by Michael Connelly but the author gives it his own unique stamp!

The novel opens & we are instantly transported to Almeria Spain; investigative journalist Danny Sanchez is covering the unjust demolition of an elderly retired ex-pat couple’s villa. I liked that the author had featured something we do hear about occurring to ex-pat’s living abroad and found this added authenticity to the story. Danny is well known in the ex-pat community & we learn how such a community exists and operates in Spain. When the dust settles from the demolition a body is discovered amongst the rubbles and not just any body this one is wearing a gimp mask! The body is clearly that of a murder victim. But how did it get there? Why has someone been murdered in such a way? When the builder of the property is attacked with a hammer, Danny & his photographer Paco decide to dig a little deeper.

The builder Hacker & his 3 sons are by no means nice people. They are nasty, violent bullies whom have been terrorising the people of Spain for some time. They’re ex-pat’s themselves but with Rottweilers named Yorkshire & Ripper have done nothing to improve the image of the British. Danny & Paco discover that Alan Reade’s (Hacker’s plumber) villa is also rumoured to have a perfuse scent of death. Cue a little unethical detective work & another body is discovered. The body is covered in perverse clown make-up and appears to have experienced torture/humiliation prior to death. Who is sealing murder victims into walls? Is this the work of a serial killer? Why are the victims being tortured & humiliated in this way? Who is stalking the local community?

This reminds Danny of a previous case he has worked in England & quickly we are brought up to speed on the ‘Scarecrow killer’. Ishmael Vertaness is incarcerated in a high secure psychiatric facility in the UK after his spate of 5 murders. The Scarecrow humiliated, tortured, raped and emasculated his victims. He is rumoured to be on the autism spectrum but due to his failing mental health and abusive childhood, no-one can know with absolute certainty what made him do it. Four of the Scarecrow’s victims were known to be heterosexual men and not linked to the gay community. The Spanish authorities refuse to link the recent victims or have any belief in a link to a UK case. They do this in part to protect the image of Spain & prevent widespread possible international hysteria in relation to the crimes. Danny continues to gather information & evidence. This novel is heavily layered and thoroughly gripping reading! Danny decides that in order to gather more information he must return to the UK and work with old contacts. Did the Scarecrow have an accomplice? Will he agree to see Danny? Is he really autistic & how did this impact his criminal behaviour? With Danny’s return to the Uk we learn a more in-depth scope of the Scarecrow murders & the cross border murders. We learn more about the victim and hear the surviving family’s story’s. As stated before this novel covers the crimes of a violent, dominant & sadist serial killer. It covers a wide-range of issues from cocaine use to rent boys & even gay men who experience self-hatred. How do wealthy boys go from privilege to charging 20 euros a trick? What makes men vulnerable to rape?

But what it also covers without really trying to, is the real life modern day media reporting of covering stories with a possibly theme of gay sex or male rape. In the UK in August 2016 a man named Nigel Wilkinson was arrested & sentenced. Nigel was a serial rapist, whom posed as a male fitness photographer to allow him the trust & access to drug and rape many male victims. What is also frightening about Nigel is he was known to specifically target straight men. Even stating he liked to ‘take their masculinity’. Nigel was able to get away with his crimes for so long, that when finally caught he had amassed far too many victims. I think this novel highlights an area where the media fail & I applaud the author for covering such a crime, despite its dark nature. The issues/themes are covered with sensitivity.

The case builds and builds, with the Scarecrow & one of Hacker’s sons making threats, Paco’s daughter being kidnapped. Danny needs to uncover the killer & fast! The novel has a huge twist, that even I didn’t spot coming! It is one that will shock most readers & also reveals a dark theme not explored earlier. I read this in 24hrs & can’t praise it enough. If you seek a crime novel that breaks the mould, then this is the one for you! Scarecrow is available free for members of Kindle unlimited or available for the bargain price of £2.99 on Kindle E-book. It will scare you……………..You have been warned! 5/5*