Northumberland author in ‘fictional relationship’ with novelist stalked her to San Francisco

A novelist in a “fictional relationship” with another author followed her to a book signing in San Francisco and said she would get rid of her husband and kill her chickens.

Sarah Stovell and Amanda Hodgkinson were initally friends, having met through their shared passion for writing. But there would be no happy ending because deluded Stovell became convinced she was in a relationship with the married mum – but it was all in her deluded mind.

Over time, the Northumberland-based writer started sending bizarre emails to the victim, who was shocked when she turned up to a book reading in this country unexpectedly. She then travelled all the way to San Francisco to attend another book reading, to the victim’s horror.

Liam O’Brien, prosecuting, told Newcastle Crown Court: “Amanda Hodgkinson, like the defendant, is a successful author and they met through their shared passion for writing in 2005 at a creative writing course. They got on well and kept in touch.”

Mrs Hodgkinson lived in France at the time with her husband and daughters but the two women kept in touch via emails and a friendship developed. They would discuss their literary efforts and attempts to get publishing contracts.

After Stovell separated from her partner, Mrs Hodgkinson invited her to France to spent time with her family and she did so. Mr O’Brien said: “The first sign the story would not have a happy ending was in 2006.

“The complainant was due to travel to London to meet a literary agent and the defendant was living in Brighton and offered to go with her. The complainant was shocked by the appearance of the defendant, who had cut her hair short and smelled strongly of alcohol and looked like her clothes had been slept in.

“Her behaviour was unusual. She seemed strangely clingy and was gazing at her with a strange intensity and was not really making sense.”

After that, the victim got a series of bizarre emails from Stovell, including claims that seemed odd and were unfounded, including claiming that Mrs Hodgkinson loved her.

Stovell would wrongly read things into neutral communications, believing they related to her, which was “consistent with the infatuation she had with the complainant”. When she said her favourite TV programme was a documentary about the coast, she took that to relate to her as she lived in Brighton at the time.

Sarah Stovell pictured at Newcastle Crown Court
Sarah Stovell pictured at Newcastle Crown Court

In 2011, the victim was making good progress with getting her first novel published and Stovell got in touch with her publicist to ask for a copy and later turned up to a book reading by her in the UK and spoke to her and there was a “polite exchange”.

A week later, Mrs Hodgkinson went to San Francisco for another book reading. Mr O’Brien said: “She was shocked and horrified to realise the defendant had followed her to San Francisco.

“There was a bit of a scene and the complainant asked her to leave the book store. It was very awkward, with the defendant glaring at her with utter fury.”

When she got back to her hotel, the victim found another series of emails, some of which were threatening. She said she was owed £3,000 to cover the cost of flights and that she “would be sorry” if she didn’t pay it and went on to suggest she would get rid of her husband and kill her pet chickens.

Mr O’Brien said: “For the rest of her tour in the United States she felt terrified.” When she got back to the UK she contacted police and Stovell went on to accept a police caution covering her behaviour between 2006 and 2011.

After a period of leaving her alone, she was “unable to prevent herself falling back into her old ways” and in 2018 she subjected her to a barrage of unwanted communications, sometimes explicit and continuing into 2019 and 2020.

Mr O’Brien said: “Some of the messages were jovial, others requested she contacted the defendant. They became angrier and more sinister.” The victim deleted some of the messages and ignored others.

The court was told there were 57 pages of messages in total, including one including the phrase “I’m not sorry about hurting you, you deserve to be hurt” and in another message she said “I nearly got in my car and drove to Suffolk to beat you up.”

In May 2020, having got no response, Stovell contacted Mrs Hodgkinson’s adult daughter, claiming she was in a disfunctional emotional relationship with the victim and saying the victim had spent years communicating with her by posting material online.

Mr O’Brien said: “She said the complainant was gaslighting her, had lied to everyone and would never go to the police because that would result in an investigation showing everything she said was true.”

When the daughter told her mum, she took the view Stovell had crossed a line and reported it to the police.

The 45-year-old, of Weswood Farm, Hexham, Northumberland, who has no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm and distress between September 2018 and May 2020. She pleaded guilty on the basis she did not intend to cause significant harm and distress but accepts her actions did cause that. The court heard she was “not equipped with the skills to restrain from behaving as she did”.

Mrs Hodgkingon ended up deleting her email address from her contact page for her work as a writer and said she didn’t feel safe online and had to be careful not to disclose her address. She added: “My life as a writer and university lecturer is compromised and I’m extremely upset by her behaviour.

“I’ve asked her to stop sending messages in the past. Sending a message to my daughter has made me incredibly upset and I find the interactions exhausting.

“I’ve been stalked for more than 15 years. I was worried I would not be believed and would have to live this way for the rest of my life. I feel uneasy about the safety of my daughter.”

She added that Stovell has made “delusional, upsetting claims” and said her “vitriolic hate” left her terrified and fearing violence. Mrs Hodgkinson said: “I honestly believe she could be capable of inflicting serious harm on me and feel I will probably carry that for the rest of my life.”

Mr Recorder Watkin said “the relationship was a fantasy but real in her mind” and that she was “deluded into thinking she was in some form of relationship and being ignored”. He added: “She travelled half way across the world to see her, witout invite.”

Passing an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months with a mental health treatment requirement and an indefinite restraining order, the judge told her: “You deluded yourself into thinking, without any foundation, she too had fallen in love with you and you were in some form of relationship with the complainant. Nothing she said could have reasonably led you to conclude that.

“You conducted yourself in that other-world reality and perceived everything she said or did to be directed at your fictional relationship with her. There was persistent and prolonged unwanted conduct towards this complainant.”

He added: “It seems clear you had fallen in love with her and convinced yourself into thinking that she had fallen in love with you. She made it absolutely clear she didn’t reciprocate those feelings but you refused to accept this.

Sean Summerfield, defending, said the background outlined by prosecutors was not part of the charge she faced and said she did not intent to cause distress. He added: “Her world view is clouded by her sturggles with her own mental health and the delusions she suffered must reduce her culpability. Her mental health issues underpin the offending.

“She is otherwise a successful novelist and dedicates her life to lecturing university students and she’s a valued member of society. References speak of her kindness and generosity.

“She is someone who can wear her heart on her sleeve but would not intend to do harm. She is a good person struggling to find her way when it comes to relationships.

“She’s sorry for the hurt that has been caused. She didn’t intend it at the time but realises now, looking back, the impact her actions have had.”

Mr Summerfield said the court case had impacted Stovell mentally and physically and added: “She’s hoping to put this chapter of her life behind her.”

Read The Full Story Here: Source