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Lia Middleton: ‘it is the human element of crime that has always drawn me’

People are sometimes surprised to hear that I ended up working in criminal justice. In my life outside of work, I am highly emotional – a sad song, a film about lost love, even an advert can make me cry. So when I went from studying drama and theatre at university to training to be a barrister, my sights set on criminal law, some people showed concern for how I would cope with the onslaught of cases that are always about some life-changing event – even less serious crimes have a victim somewhere: a life that in some way is changed.

And similar questions have been asked of my writing. When They Find Her is a psychological thriller about a mother who experiences the greatest tragedy of all – and lies about it. So, how is it that I can write about such dark, emotion-fuelled topics when I cry telling a sad story or reading a heart-felt message from a friend?

But my interest in crime began at a young age, years before it would inevitably influence my writing. My father has been a magistrate for thirty years, and when I was ten, I went to watch him at Uxbridge Magistrates’ court. I was immediately fascinated. I watched, taking everything in as the two advocates – the prosecution and the defence – made their legal arguments and examined witnesses. And from then on, I was a regular visitor.

For a long time I couldn’t pin-point what it was that I found so compelling about criminal law. Not just in real life, but also in culture: in books and in film. It was more than the fact that criminal justice is like a microcosm of society, a zoomed-in look at the darker parts of human nature. Then, one day, I was observing a case during my pupillage (the training period for barristers) when a defendant who had been so adamant that he was not guilty, quickly apologised for lying when the magistrates moved on to sentencing. And that’s when it hit me – while I was interested in the mechanics of our justice system, and I adamantly believe in innocent until proven guilty, it is the human element of crime that has always drawn me. The human ability to go so far for self-preservation – to lie.

So when I finally decided to write a novel, something I had dreamed of doing since I was a child, it came as no surprise to me that the idea that formulated in my mind was one that centred around a lie. When They Find Her touches on several topics that are important to me: motherhood, mental health, family, grief – but at its heart, it is the story of a lie. It is a story about a woman and how far she will go to do what she thinks is right – not right in law or morally – but to try to preserve what she holds most dear. It was important for me to place the reader in the mind of a character who makes decisions against all her better judgement: to humanise rather than demonise.

Crime has always, and will always, be an endless well of influence for creators of fiction – it is a window into other worlds, other lives and events that most of us will luckily never have to experience first-hand. Behind every crime, there is a story, sometimes multiple versions of the same story. And people, living their real lives. And that’s what I will always try to reflect in my writing – the reality of crime and all of the lives it affects.

When They Find Her

Lia Middleton

Photo of Lia Middleton, author of When They Find Her
Photo of Lia Middleton, author of When They Find Her
Lia Middleton

Lia Middleton is a barrister who specialises in crime and prison law, and lives with her husband and two young children in Buckinghamshire. When They Find Her is her first novel.

Follow Lia on Twitter.

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