Thursday, 24 May 2012

There's a killer in my head

When my husband finished reading the final draft of Bad Moon Rising and told me he was appalled – couldn’t believe what I’d written – I knew I was on to a winner. What he disliked (too mild a word, but it will have to do) was the fact that I had identified so completely with my serial killer. He (the husband, not the killer) was profoundly disturbed by the sections written from the killer’s point of view and couldn’t quite come to terms with the thought of this monster being created in his beloved wife’s head.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I hadn’t created the character, he’d been in my subconscious, hiding behind other characters, and simply pushed his way to the forefront of my mind when I needed him.

Murderers, rapists, torturers and others, even more unpleasant, are all there, waiting their turn to come to life on the page. They are not all content to wait, though. I can be in a supermarket checkout queue, doing the mundane stuff, like unloading the trolley and one of them will have sliced someone’s body with a razor by the time I’ve finished packing the goods into bags.

Anyway, I don’t know why my husband was so horrified about the maniac in Bad Moon Rising – he’s been reading my short stories for years and they all have a dead, nearly dead, or soon to be dead victim in them. He once commented that he feared I was planning his murder and using my short fiction to work on the perfect crime. I reassured him that as long as I was writing it, he had nothing to worry about. Just because part of my mind is focussed on evil deeds doesn’t mean I actually want to carry them out – well, I don’t as long as he doesn’t upset me too much.

And this is where the non-writer doesn’t understand the workings of a writer’s mind. We have all these people living in our heads, all clamouring to be heard. It’s a kind of madness, I suppose. A creative multiple personality disorder. If our characters are going to work on the page they have to be real – to us and to our readers.

I had to get under the skin of my killer and allow him to get under mine. I had to let him come to life with a past, present and future. I didn’t want him to be one-dimensional. My aim was to have the readers feel ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to make my audience feel at least a tiny bit sorry for him. And it’s because I succeeded that my husband was disturbed. He didn’t like the way he was made to feel while reading. He wanted to put the killer into the ‘bad man’ box and shut the lid, but he couldn’t, because my character deserved pity as well as condemnation.

One of the reviewers commented: I finished ‘Bad Moon Rising’ feeling as though I had just eaten a good meal – satisfied, and just a little guilty. The guilt came, in part, from the degree of empathy the author had managed to invoke for the killer. (Full review:

The publisher wants to see the second novel in the Paolo Storey series. My husband was relieved at first when I told him there wasn’t a serial killer in the next book. But then I explained the crime that drives the storyline in book two. At that point he suggested I might be sick and needed to go into therapy. But he’s wrong. I’ll deal with the voices in my head in my own way. Writing is all the therapy I need.

Bad Moon Rising is published by Crooked {Cat} Publishing.

The above article first appeared as a guest post on Dark Central Station


Cathie Dunn said...

A fantastic post, Frances.

Nope, I don't think you're quite ready for therapy yet - at least not until a few more murders have been committed. Just make sure you leave the kitchen knives on the supermarket shelf when a new killer next tells you his (or her) intentions.

I'm always far more intrigued by my bad guys and they inhabit a large corner in my brain. Of course, in my case, the hero and heroine also have their places, so it does get a wee bit crowded sometimes. An absent look, a mumbled 'Huh?', reminds hubby I'm in another place.

Perhaps your hubby is just after some reassurance... :-)

Frances said...

Thanks for dropping by, Cathie. Yes, the bad guys are often more fun to write than the good ones, but my detective is such a complex character that he was fun, too.