Will and I had a lovely long chat about all sorts of disturbing subjects, including psychopaths and the absence of guilt that allows many a murderer to do what they do.
Will has also generously offered It’s a Mystery Podcast listeners a free copy of the audio version of his book, Remorseless! If you would like one please email me, mention the podcast and I’ll connect you with Will.
You can also click here to watch the video on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Will Patching
Alexandra: Hi everyone! I’m Alexandra Amor, and I’m here today with Will Patching. Hi Will!
Will: Hi Alexandra, thank you for having me.
Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. How are things in Thailand this morning?
Will: Pretty warm, as usual. It’s a very nice place to be, beautiful scenery, spectacular place. I live on the island of Phuket. It’s a tourist destination, so I’m very very lucky.
Alexandra: That is nice. Well, that’s lucky. By way of introduction, I’m just going to tell everyone a little bit about you.
Will Patching is the author of “Remorseless”, a British crime thriller featuring forensic psychiatrist Dr. Powers and London Metropolitan Police Officer D.I. Jack Carver. Carver assists Dr. Powers as he tries to unravel the truth about violent psychopath Peter Leech, while battling demons of his own. So first I want to ask you, Peter, you’ve got a website dedicated to psychopaths?
Alexandra: And as we were talking about just before the call… We talked about how your book is quite gritty. I think I saw it described somewhere as a British noir thriller, which is fantastic.
I noticed one of your reviewers described it as ‘relentless’. So are those the types of books you like to read as well?
Will: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been reading all sorts of books since I was a bookworm as a child. Mysteries, and thrillers, and crime fiction for me has been the biggest draw. And I think it’s the most popular genre generally anyway with everyone. So for me that was an area where I loved to read, and I always wanted to write.
I thought violent psychopaths were particularly fascinating, and I wanted to create a novel where one of the key individuals, the villain Peter Leech in this case, is actually a genuine psychopath and to put readers into his mind as part of that. A lot of people have found that quite a difficult thing. It’s a little more disturbing than most people are used to, because they’re in the driving seat, as it were, with this absolutely crazy guy, really. So it’s gritty, it’s dark. It’s not a normal, procedural detective story. But it has a big element of mystery in it, which is why of course we’re talking.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly.
I looked at your website – you have one site specifically dedicated to information about psychopaths. That must be a topic that really fascinates you.
Will: Yes, I had a run in with somebody that at the time I didn’t realize was a psychopath. I was down at the time, and he took advantage of me. And it wasn’t until after that event that I started looking into the different character defects that people have, genuine psychopathic nature. I realized that’s what I’d been tangling with. And he actually became the inspiration for my criminal psychopath, Peter Leech. As far as I know he’s never murdered anyone. As far as I know, too, I’ve never met anyone who’s murdered anyone.
But it was the inspiration. With the background of reading a lot of crime fiction, I decided that he would make a great character in this novel, “Remorseless”. And he is a relentless character. It’s a hallmark of psychopaths, that if they’re wronged in any way, or if they have an objective, they will go for it. And they will continue doing whatever they need to do, at anyone else’s expense, to get to their goal.
I tried to make this novel a relentless experience for the reader as well. The feeling that it keeps on going, and going, and going. And you get inside the mind of a psychopath, which again is a little bit against convention. Normally, when you’re… I don’t know if you’ve ever had any classes on writing, but we’re told that we shouldn’t be in the point of view of somebody that the readers can’t sympathize with, or empathize with. well of course, nobody really wants to be a psychopath, but I put you inside the mind of this guy for quite a bit of the actual novel, and for some people that’s quite disturbing. For others of course it’s a thrill ride, like being on a roller coaster. You know you’re safe, but actually it’s thrilling. So it’s dark, it’s gritty, and it’s not for everyone. It’s not a procedural, but there are elements of mystery, and detection, and so on in it.
Alexandra: Right, yes. And I think there are fans of that kind of grittier book. Even the types of books where you go into the mind of the bad guy. Thomas Harris comes to mind, right? There’s an author here in Canada named Giles Blunt, and he writes procedural mystery novels, but what he does tend to do is go inside the mind of the bad guy in alternating chapters, and I really admire that as a technique.
Will: It’s unusual, it’s against convention. But yes, of course people do it. I just wish I had half the success that Thomas Harris has had. I’d like to be compared with him, but I’m not, really. I couldn’t say that. But yes, it’s a different way of approaching it.
The theme of the novel is actually guilt, so remorse-less is remorse free, and psychopaths have this as part of their innate character. It’s a trait. A clinical, observable feature of being a psychopath. They have no guilt. So they don’t have the internal policemen that you or I would have that stops us from doing bad things to other people, because we know we’re going to feel bad about it. But if you have no remorse, you’re remorse free, guilt free, remorseless, then of course you have no internal mechanism that’s going to control your behavior. And it’s only the external forces that keep psychopaths under control.
The experts in psychopaths, the true experts, believe that a lot of people who are in positions of power, Presidents, in the past, “I did not have sex with that woman”. People like that have been identified as possibly psychopathic in nature. They do get into positions of power. Most of them aren’t in prison, they’re all around us. It’s roughly 1% of the population.
For me, this was a fascinating discovery, and I wanted to create this novel where the guilt free element Peter Leech, the villain, is contrasted with Dr. Powers, who is my forensic psychiatrist who’s suffering from major guilt trauma because of a car accident that involved his family. These two things are two opposing forces that are in the book, and also this relentless nature of Peter Leech, the criminal who’s up for parole. But the element of mystery is the interesting thing I think for a lot of the people that are watching this now. And that comes about from the very opening we realize Peter Leech, who’s in prison for killing his parents on his 18th birthday, who’s up for parole 18 years later, which happens in England, is a killer. We see very early on that he is a killer, so we know that he is a psychopath. He’s all the things that we think he is. But he claims that he didn’t kill his parents, but that his brother did.
So the element of mystery from the beginning is, is he lying? Or is he telling the truth? And the fact is psychopaths love to lie. They actually enjoy it. They like pulling the wool over other people’s eyes. They get a thrill out of treating us like objects to be manipulated.
This is a fundamental aspect of the psychopath’s character. And again, I explore it a little within the novel, but it’s not an academic study. It’s just my story that I really enjoyed creating. These characters, when I created them, took on a life of their own. I don’t know about the writing process for you, but for me it’s very much something that originally I had read, “You must do all of this planning, you plan out every chapter, you must know where you’re going.” I studied English to advanced level at school, and so on. So I knew about how to compose, and write, and so on. It didn’t really work for me, because every time I sat down and planned out a novel, and over the years I’ve tried a few times, I ended up getting bored because I knew what was going to happen. So with the novels that I now write, and I have two already, and another one in 2016 which is the follow up to “Remorseless”, I actually start off in a way that Stephen King suggested in his fantastic semi-autobiographical work “On Writing”, in which he talks about his past, but also he talks about the process of writing.
An absolutely fantastic book, not just for writers, but for readers, and anyone who likes Stephen King. In that, he suggests rather than doing all of the planning, and having a synopsis for each chapter, and back story for every one of your characters, he suggests doing what he calls ‘spitballing’. And it’s a term I wasn’t familiar with because I’m a Brit, but I understood immediately what he meant. From that, you just come up with some ideas.
I had five headlines which were really questions, and they were ‘what if’ questions. One of them was, what if a guy is in prison for killing his parents? What if he blames his brother? What if he’s up for parole? What if there’s a protagonist, a forensic psychiatrist, who’s also suffering from his own problems who’s involved in some way? I put all of this together and I set the characters running. And they took on a life of their own, which for me was fantastic because there are twists in this tale that I didn’t know were coming myself. They actually did some things that surprised me.
For me, as a writer, it was fantastic. I really enjoyed it. I got the main story down within a couple of weeks, really. And then after that there was a lot of work to do to put it all back together and make it all work, because some of the opening scenes that I had didn’t fit with what the characters did later on, so I had to rewrite some of the early plot. Very different way to how we’re taught to write, but for me it works.
It’s also helped with the relentless nature of the novel, to try and keep it moving all the time. Having said that, there’s some quite detailed character study in it. It’s quite a long novel, it’s 122,000 words now. A lot of novels are around the 70-80,000 mark. I like a novel where I can get my teeth into it. I hope there are readers out there who are like me, and I know there are, because I’ve had some fantastic feedback from people. I’ve also had a couple who said the couldn’t finish the novel as well, because it is quite dark and disturbing. So it’s horses for courses, really. Some people will enjoy it, some people wont want to read it.
Talking about characters taking on a life of their own, again I don’t know about you, but when I read a book I hear the characters inside my head. So, when there’s any dialogue at all, I can hear them talking. I’ve got this mind movie going on. well, the same thing happened when I was writing. I’ve just finished recording the audio book version of “Remorseless”, which will be available from January 2016. When I was trying to become these characters for the novel, I wanted to try and emulate the voices I would hear in my head for the listener to hear, rather than creating their own when they read the story themselves. I actually read the novel aloud three times before actually starting recording as practice runs. And each time took me probably 14 or 15 hours, and the entire recording is now 13 hours. So there’s been quite a lot of work going into the audio book, and I think I’ve got the character voices quite well. In fact, what I’ll do is I’ll give you a link, or I can send you some clips from the audio as well, and we can have a listen to what I sound like when I’m not sounding like me. (Click here to access the audio clips.)
For me, again, this was a fantastic experience. To be able to make the characters properly come alive and actually hear them back. When I listen to the recording afterwards, I think, “Is that really me?”
The most difficult bit, actually, was the ladies of course. Because I don’t have the equipment really. But I did my best with that, and tried to make them sound as near as I could to the voices in my head. I hear voices. It’s an interesting thing, I had never thought about doing an audio book. I’ve listened to a number. If you don’t have a lot of time, if you’re down the gym, or out for a walk, or even just commuting to work, it can be a much easier experience listening with your own headphones than it is trying to read. Some places you just can’t read. It might be difficult, if you’re out for a walk, even if you have your Kindle reader, or whatever.
I think for the future, more and more people will be listening to books as well. So for our industry, it’s gone from paper-based, everyone being dictated to as to what they can read, to now where there’s ebooks and independent publishers like us. Ebooks out there for readers who like the books that we produce. And the next step I think in this will be the delivery of audiobooks through the internet. It’s all starting to take off now. Again, I strongly recommend it, but it’s a huge amount of work. It really is. It took me probably three months in total of working most days on it.
Alexandra: Yeah, wow. That sounds like a huge project!
Will: It was for me. If you’re a professional, and you’re able to voice characters, and you can read fluently, and you don’t have lots of what they call ‘mouth noise’, which is the clicks and pops that we probably can’t hear on here, but when you’re recording for an audiobook there’s nothing else, there’s no distraction. It’s just you and a microphone, you realize how noisy you are, or at least I did. So all of that has to be taken out or minimized.
It was a great experience, I thoroughly I enjoyed it. The worrying thing was, I was walking around the house in character, and at one point I was Peter Leech, my villain. He’s not a nice man at all, and I ended up shouting and swearing at the refrigerator, and my wife overheard this. She thought there was an intruder in the house. I had to reassure her that actually I don’t have a split personality, I really am me, and it was just me in character trying to get prepared for my recording session. It’s been great fun.
The actual novel itself, writing the novel was a thrill for me, and I just love hearing from readers as well. Over the years… Because the book is not a new book, it’s been out for years. I’ve actually made quite a lot of changes based on reader feedback. It’s now what I consider to be the final version. Over the best part of 10 years I’ve been taking feedback from people and amalgamating some of that into the novel itself. I think it’s about as good as I can make it. I’m very happy with it.
Alexandra: That’s great. A couple of things I want to follow up on. You’re obviously very interested in the characters, which is really intriguing to me because I love character-based fiction. I like a strong plot, but I’m as interested in the characters, and how they interact, and who they are, and where they came from, why they are the way they are.
One really cool thing I think you’ve done is you have background information on your characters on the “Remorseless” website, which I thought was really cool and you’ve even shown a little character sketch. Was it Doc Powers, or…?
Alexandra: Where you were starting to begin to build the character?
Will: Yes, as I said I didn’t have a lot of background information. It was just some headlines really to get me started, and the characters developed through the novel. I think that makes it more interesting. It’s interesting to me as a writer, and I hope it’s going to translate into the reading experience for the reader at the end of the day. So, for me, yes, I love to get into the minds of people. All sorts of different people. That’s part of the joy of writing.
You are sort of God-like, in a way. You create these fictional characters who, in your own mind, are actually almost real. I killed off somebody in my other novel actually and I came close to tears. I had to take myself outside for a quick talking to because I was thinking, “I don’t want to kill him. I can’t kill him. I can’t. No, no, no.” But I did, and so I thought, “Oh no!” So it’s a bit worrying in a way, but I think it’s this experience, where you set these characters running with sort of this God-like view of what’s going on. Because you know what’s in every character’s head, whereas of course in real life we don’t. If you were the almighty, then you would know.
So again, for me this understanding of characters is an important thing. As I said, it’s not a procedural. It’s partly a psychological suspense, it’s partly crime mystery, and it’s partly thriller, out and out thriller. It sort of goes through phases as you read. I actually had that feedback from one reader, “It’s like three genres in one, really.” Which of course makes it very difficult for a normal publisher. They like their particular genre to be a genre because it’s easy to sell, they can brand it, they can push it. But of course certain readers don’t want that.
And I think that’s a great thing about the internet now, is this new indie publishing phenomenon where people like us can put our books up. And even if just a few thousand people read, at least you’ve got those people there. Without the big backup of a publishing house, it’s quite a difficult thing to get going.
Once you’ve found your readers, and you’ve got your niche, it’s a great thing. It’s good, you get feedback from the readers too, and it’s a nice virtuous circle. But on the “Remorseless” website, you’re right, there is some back story. It’s not a lot, and I’ve put up a back story that I was asked about by readers. So if a reader asks me something, I will put more up. The one thing I would say is that if people haven’t read the novel they need to be careful because the back story section of Remorselessthriller.com does actually contain some spoilers. People who do want the book and want to read it with its surprises and twists, don’t look at that part of the website. In fact, I’ve put a big flag up to say spoilers on that page.
Alexandra: Right, I think I saw that too.
You have the follow up to “Remorseless” coming out in 2016, correct?
Will: Yes, I’ve said Christmas 2016, but my plans are to actually do it sooner than that. What I’d like to do is a sort of pre-release launch and send it out to my readers to give me some feedback. Sort of early readers. Then to tweak, and do whatever is necessary to satisfy that feedback, and do a formal launch later in the year. So I’ve set a target for Christmas next year, but I’m thinking it will be a lot sooner than that. I’ve got about half of it done already, so I’m almost there.
My other novel is a slightly different novel, it’s more of an adventure crime thriller. So I’ve got the two novels, and characters within both novels will become probably trilogies. I have in mind three novels for each. I don’t want to go beyond that because when I read series that go into five, six, seven, eight, I stop reading after that number because it’s just too much. I find I get bored with the characters. I don’t want that to happen to my characters, and I don’t want that experience for my readers. I think probably after three novels, a trilogy, which is what I’ve got in mind for each novel, we have ideas of how that can pan out. That’s what I’m planning to do over the next two years. So now I’ve got the time to write, I’m going to write more.
Alexandra: Good for you. Yeah, that’s great.
Your other book is called “The Hack”, correct? And it was previously traditionally published, is that right?
Will: Yes, and in fact both novels were published in 2000… Well, it was actually 2007 when it actually hit the shelves. Only in Asia. And it was a small publishing house in Bangkok, but the financial crisis came along and basically murdered that company. So that was the end of that.
And the idea was, because I live in Asia, we would have the book in the book shops that pandered to expatriates like myself. People who are living abroad who are English speakers, and also to expand into Hong Kong, and then to Australia and New Zealand. And I don’t know how it happened, the company just folded. So I spent some time licking my wounds, and then decided to rewrite both novels, which I did in 2012. I’ve updated them again for 2015 for the launch of the audiobook, and also got into the characters completely now so I can do the trilogies. So that’s where I am with it, Alexandra. It’s taken some time, but I’m getting there.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s good for you. That’s fantastic. It doesn’t matter if or when we fall, it’s how we get back up again. Right?
Alexandra: And was there any trouble for you getting the rights back for those books?
Will: Not a problem at all, I didn’t give up any rights. It was a publishing house, and right from the outset we had an agreement that any time I could pretty much walk away. I had to give 12 months notice but that was it. When it folded he said, “No problem at all, do what you like.” And I did.
Alexandra: Good for you. That’s good. Well, it’s been great talking to you today, Will. So tell people where they can find out more about your book. It’s RemorselessThriller.com?
Will: It’s RemorselessThriller.com. I actually have three websites, but if they go there there are links to the other websites if they are more interested in finding out something about psychopaths. The other site is very readable. It’s not an academic site. It’s designed for people like myself, laypeople, to actually read. Obviously, I have another website for my book called TheHackNovel.com. But yeah, RemorselessThriller.com is the one that relates to the audiobook, and the conversation we had today.
Alexandra: Okay, perfect. Thank you so much for talking to me, and all the best.
Will: Thank you, too. All the best to you.
Alexandra: Thank you. Bye.