‘Famous Last Words’ is the result of an unwavering fascination with the themes of death and an individual’s passing to the ‘other side’, and how they may approach it. The foreboding inevitability of death creeps upon us all, and Famous Last Words shares in many an individual’s final moments before the grim reaper performs his relentless duties.
The book goes further than a mere collated list of final words however, and as important as the last words, is the charting of how the protagonist arrived at their point of no return. In doing this I hope that behind each case lies a ‘backstory’ which allows the reader to immerse themselves into another life, a one which we all know we will have to bear at some time.
Whilst many of the cases involve final spoken words, included too are a host of written suicide letters, some of which are clearly intended as a final act of humour or bravery, and of course, others that portray a more traditional and perhaps expected frame of mind – those paralysed with fear.
Also of pivotal importance in the book is the evolving nature of British society and how it deals with the often ‘taboo’ theme of death. Certainly, it was clear to see that in previous times the most important feature for many on their deathbed was to seek and gain repentance from God above anything else – as this would apparently ensure a ‘good’ death. Several cases in the book involve a final unburdening of sin, perhaps the confession to an act committed long ago for example – – that, having unshackled themselves of such an affliction, would provide their repentance before God. One such case in the book focuses upon the story of Priscilla Guppy, an 83 year old woman on her deathbed, surrounded by her mourning family as they prepare for their seemingly wholesome matriarch to pass. Yet, there were to be no departing words of comfort or tenderness – instead, she confessed to a murder she had committed some 60 years previously! And herein lies the framework of the book; each individual’s final moments and utterances are as personal to them as their own lives had been before them.
I have loved listening to readers explain which case in the book resonated most with them. Again, each person seems to opt for different stories for different reasons – some have liked to learn of ‘gallows humour’, others have preferred those that choose to unburden themselves in a deathbed confession, or perhaps even the pair that married atop the gallows before being dropped to their deaths. The great myriad of cases involved in the book help extend its appeal for those interested in all matters of the macabre.
We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful resources, archives and libraries throughout Britain, and I know that a huge number of these were contacted at some stage in the researching process. Sadly of course covid emerged and enforced the closure of these, but I was thankful nonetheless that I had utilised them, for the most part at least, prior to the pandemic. These wonderful establishments were all extremely helpful in helping me to unearth subjects for the book, and for this I am forever grateful. Of all of the documents that I had the pleasure of perusing throughout my research, I think one in particular – held in the dim recesses of the Newcastle City Library – has remained with me. It involved the case of a man that was hung upon Newcastle’s Town Moor for the alleged murder of a security guard in an old pottery works. The document is a small pocket sized book which details the account of the murder, the subsequent trial, and also the felon’s death as he awaited the noose. His final words are documented within – largely a protestation of innocence – yet beyond this are also two leathery dark brown pages, which are said to have been made from pieces of skin extracted from the executed man following the surgeon’s anatomisation of his body. A rather ghoulish piece of ephemera perhaps, but wholly intriguing nonetheless – much as I hope readers will find Famous Last Words.
PEN & SWORD: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Famous-Last-Words-Paperback/p/18951
Meet Chris Wood
Chris Wood was born in Northumberland, England, and remains happily there to this day. Chris is a student of criminology and psychology and possesses – perhaps unhealthily(!) – a keen interest in most things of morbidity. In stark contrast to this, some of Chris’ previous roles have certainly instigated much debate, (and amusement!) not least when he masqueraded as an old woman on local radio stations, despite being a twenty odd year old man. He did eventually land a more ‘grown up’ job within the Probation Service which he thoroughly enjoyed, and was certainly better acquainted with his interests.
Today, Chris loves to research and write, with his second book excitingly due for release in 2022. He also writes regular episodes for the UK True Crime Podcast, which has now surpassed 20 million downloads. He is happily married with a young daughter, who still refuses to sleep at conventional times, hence Chris does much of his writing in the dead of night. This being the case, his Twitter and Instagram accounts are aptly named, @hewritesatnight, where he would love for you to follow his journey, and his official website is at chriswoodwriting.co.uk