The opening was certainly inspired by Stephen King’s The Stand. I like that opening – the guy watching with intent (as far as I remember – it was many years ago).
Then I fancied the idea of working it around a love story. Not a very original idea, but I think I worked it into one. I decided I would build a storyline around a girl who repairs a damaged man, and then betrays him, triggering his descent into madness.
I wanted an atmospheric beginning – a seemingly indestructible villain full of malicious intent. But, unusually, Zen does not want her dead; he wants to reduce her to the mental state he believes she inflicted upon him. This set up endless possibilities. Killing someone is easy and often predictable. But this time my main character had very different tactics.
I certainly owe thanks to the great and little-known British thriller The Debt Collector. Briefly, the movie involves an ex-debt collector (played by Billy Connelly) – rehabilitated after years in prison – who is ruthlessly harassed by the cop who arrested him for his crimes, and who does not believe he deserves freedom. Connelly’s character, Dryden, used to enforce something called ‘The Policy’, whereby, to make his point, he would disfigure the relatives of debtors rather than the debtor them self.
This was to become an effective strategy for Zen; he would torture Jen’s relatives (mainly boyfriend), with the cunning proviso that she would have to be actively involved to save their lives, effectively putting their lives in her hands.
I enlisted the help of a couple of chiropractors to advise me how much pain and damage a human body could take in certain scenarios.
As with most psychopaths, parental influence played a massive part too. It was challenging to think of something original here. As an ex-soldier myself, I created a father figure who was a total army-nut, a Falklands War vet, completely institutionalised and unable to fit in with civilian life. His son was to be a mirror version of himself.
Meanwhile his mother – she was much worse. I actually modelled her on a very aggressive and angry woman I once met who had accused me of keeping money that her husband had apparently asked me to pass on to her. I did not have the money – must have been miscommunication between her and her husband. You know when someone just won’t see anyone else’s point of view? It was like that. She was adamant that I’d kept the money and said I’d be ‘done over’. Even when her husband later gave her the money, she believed I’d passed it back to him, and that both of us were actually lying. I remember feeling lucky that I hadn’t married her…
Anyway, my creation of the mother began from that confrontation, but my artistic licence went into hyper drive and I arguably made her the most repulsive character in the book.
Thinking now, I wonder if she was inspired by Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I think she’s one of the most evil characters in film. I’m not comparing her with serial killers and supernatural villains, but instead with your average person who works in a position of responsibility. Pretty sure I’m not alone in wishing Murphy had finished the job. Actually, having just refreshed myself about this via Wikipedia, I think I’m going to read the book as there appears to be differences between that and the film.
Anyway, she angered me immensely, so much so that I can hardly watch the film again, and perhaps her abuse of her power and position lent itself to Karen’s approach to her son.
I’ve never been interested in writing about sexual abuse, but the initial draft did have her abusing her son physically in a non-sexual way. I decided however that it was too grotesque and amended it to the temporary suffocation scenes in the novel.
I’m a big Star Wars fan (note – episodes 4-6 only!). I’ve always felt that Darth Vader was such a powerful presence because he doesn’t feature too much. This is certainly the case with Boba Fett. I mean, how many minutes air time does he have?
I wanted to use the ‘less is more’ approach with Zen. Have him appear occasionally, sporadically… you know he’s coming, but when? I definitely aimed to keep his scenes to a minimum.
When I think of books that influenced me, well Iain Banks’ Complicity was up there, as was American Psycho. Personally I felt that American Psycho was a bit much. I’m certainly not squeamish, but when Bateman took another woman back to his pad, I was less than keen to turn the page to find out what he was going to do to this one. After reading that novel, I felt that I could get away with writing pretty much anything!
I occasionally meditate myself, and I liked the idea of Zen doing it in chapter 6. Having the audacity to do that in the middle of a field after the threats he’d made to Jenny – and the possible police interest arising from that – was testament to his belief in his own ability to evade the law. When John-Paul approached and tried to make him see sense, Zen didn’t even flinch. Of course we learn that this is all mind games with John-Paul, and Zen knows there will be no police involvement at that point, but John-Paul wouldn’t have seen it that way.
The rest is pretty much all from scratch. I knew a fair bit about Morphine; Black Forest in Colarado- I personally visited to check its suitability for the fight scenes. I took a trip on the Gatwick Express for the train scene – checking the banks either side of the track for undergrowth. I was going to mention the ending, but had the tact to hold off!
More to follow, and thanks for reading.