POISON PENS

Now better known as the biographer of the Prince of Wales, Anthony Holden published his first book, The St Albans Poisoner, in 1974. It has been reissued (Corgi pounds 5.99) to tie in with the gleeful, blackly comic new film The Young Poisoner's Handbook.

Graham Young was sent to Broadmoor in 1963, aged 14, for attempting to kill his family (he actually did kill his stepmother, but this did not come out in court, her death having been put down to other causes). The superintendent there was Dr McGrath, father of writer Patrick McGrath whose novels The Grotesque and Spider owe so much to a childhood spent alongside disturbed inmates. After a small incident involving Harpic and the nurses' tea-urn, Young proved a model prisoner and was released in 1971; he obtained a job in a company which made photographic equipment, and promptly began poisoning the workforce. Sylvia Baker, whose debut novel A Certain Seduction has just been published by Hodder Headline (pounds 9.99), lost her 60-year-old father to the odd young man he had befriended.

"I never felt angry with Graham Young," Sylvia Baker says, "because I knew he was very sick. If anything, he liked my father and bore him no malice. But when we found out the police had arrested someone for murdering my father, my mother knew immediately it was Graham Young: he'd been ringing her up every day to ask how he was doing. I feel more hatred for the people who made this film. I read recently that one of the film-makers said there is something humorous in pain and suffering, and that 'I have no problem with that.' Well, I do have a problem with that." Baker is unlikely to be rushing off to the cinema: "I didn't even read any press cuttings until long after. I haven't read the Holden book."

Some readers of her novel have said for emotional intensity it's on a par with Josephine Hart. Baker acknowledges that her family trauma has seeped into her work. "I don't like happy endings. My agent tried for two years to wean me off writing really gloomy endings. The odd thing is, my second book features a young boy who accidentally poisons half his school with a 'love potion'. When I wrote that, I had no idea that Graham Young had also poisoned a couple of his schoolfriends."

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