I haven't won the Booker or dated Martin Amis or been offered a six figure sum for a supermarket bestseller, but I have finally achieved literary cool. I have a stalker.
My novel, Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, arouses strong reactions, often before people have even read it. It's a fiction about Myra Hindley, a fact which seems somehow to disturb people, perhaps because they think fiction is simply an act of empathy. People are anxious about reading the book or censorious. They worry about the families of the victims. They worry about their own motives, my motives, my eye makeup. When the fabulous Deborah Orr offered to interview me for the Guardian, one of the trolls on the paper's website commented, '
You only need to look at the woman's eye makeup to understand that you are dealing with a person of dubious taste and sensibility.'
I'm still not entirely sure why an honest look at someone real should be so much more upsetting than the often lurid and sensational fictional works about serial killers that flood the market. But I can only think that a person who phones up a writer and claims to be Jack the Stripper is both misogynistic and in some way titillated by a book that has tried to be objective.
I was in France staying with my brother and his partner when he first phoned. It was 10 o'clock at night and my sister Mary, who took the call, thought he sounded drunk or drugged. When she told him I was away he launched into a rendition of the song, The Stripper. This went on for some minutes before he said he was Jack the Stripper. 'Do you really not know who I am?' he asked, when she ran through some of our male acquaintances.
He called again a few days later and I took the call. The voice was light and excited, with that febrile energy you get from DJs or television presenters. Mercifully he sang only a couple of verses of his theme tune, before saying he was Jack the Stripper and would he come round to perform his act?
The original Jack the Stripper murdered six women in London between 1964 and 1965. Their naked bodies were abandoned in alleyways, in industrial estates or down by the river. Some were stripped of their teeth as well as their clothes, and most were flecked with industrial paint. They had been strangled or choked to death.
My modern Jack seems a less malign character, gleeful and maybe a little high on bravado. 'Do you think you could handle it?' he asked, amused by his own double entendre and unfazed by my polite refusal.
What a curious world we live in, though, where a stranger can insinuate himself into your life and thoughts through technology. My phone number is on my website, for work purposes, so I have only myself to blame for his knowing it.
But he said a 'generous friend' had offered to pay for his services. When I asked who, he said 'Mary and Catherine.' One of my sisters is called Catherine, but the only person who ever calls her that is her son, when he's trying to wind her up. The other Catherine in the family was my mother, but even a capable wee woman like her would be unable to book a stripper's services from beyond the grave.
It's not difficult to see how my friend Jack picked on those names. Even without paying credits any casual searcher can see on the people-finding site, 192.com, that I used to live with a Mary and Catherine. (My sister and I cared for our mother for many years before she died in 2010.) But Jack obviously didn't know any of the feisty, high-powered feminists in my family if he thought they'd consider a display of his anatomy a desirable gift.
I suppose he thought he was being scary, though he was too cheery to quite hit the mark. Most truly frightening people don't really have much sense of humour. But then I got the impression he doesn't read enough to know that, certainly not my book.
And I don't think he gets out much either.