VISITORS to Swindon Art Centre were yesterday treated to a discussion on crimes of passion.

The lunchtime event on the fifth day of the Swindon Festival of Literature was a question and answer session with broadcaster and novelist Lisa Appignanesi, who was in Swindon to discuss her new book Trials of Passion.

It takes examples from history of when intense emotions have boiled over into insanity, often with criminal consequences. Lisa looks at criminal acts where passion was involved and examines whether they can be considered the result of insanity caused by obsession.

She said: “I think we are all capable of extreme emotions from time to time, even when we are just listening to the radio and when hearing about something horrific taking place around the world.

“What I am keen to understand is how this shows itself in love or lust and the relationship between crimes of passion and the relationship with insanity.

“Julian Barnes said ‘every love story is a potential grief story’ and what I was trying to look at is when relationships boil over into crime.”

Examples include a woman in 1870 who sought to murder her lover’s wife through poisoned chocolates but ended up killing a child by accident.

Another case is of a popular performer who stalked her cheating lover before later killing him.

“What is often most interesting is in the minds of these people they are not doing anything wrong,” said Lisa. “The question needs to then be asked as to whether they are what the courts would term insane or are in fact committing one-off acts of passion.

“What is common with most of the cases in the book is that when you take the element of passion away then they are not people who would ordinarily commit crimes of this nature.

“I do think, though, that if people commit these crimes then they should face the law, because we cannot have a system where crimes are punished arbitrarily.”

Lisa put the cases together after months of researching court and asylum records, letters and newspaper accounts.

Although the individual cases which the book is based upon are based on fact, it is written in the style of a fiction.

After a discussion about the book, visitors asked questions on whether modern society means crimes of passion are more likely. Lisa also spoke to the audience about how she finds influence for her books.

She was followed at the Arts Centre last night by Observer columnist Nick Cohen and Cambridge University professor Steffan Collini.


THIS weekend at the Swindon Festival of Literature:

  • Students from eight secondary schools will take part in the Swindon Youth Slam! at the Arts Centre at 11am today with tickets costing £6 or £5 for concessions, while under-16s go free.
  • This will be followed by one of the festival’s flagship events – the Swindon Slam! It will take place at the Arts Centre at 7.30pm tonight with tickets costing £8 or £7 for concessions.
  • Headlining the festival tomorrow will be children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson, who will be talking and answering question at 3pm at the Arts Centre.
  • Also tomorrow, at the Lower Shaw Farm, the festivities continue with a family day between 10am and 4pm, for £5 per adult and £4 per child.