Saturday, 22 October 2016

**KillerWomen** Inside the Killer's Head

Jane Casey, Tammy Cohen, Kate Medina and Emma Kavanagh discuss the psychology of fictional killers in a conversation hosted by Kate Rhodes

After the Fire (Maeve Kerrigan #6)When She Was BadFire Damage (Jessie Flynn, #1)The Missing HoursBlood Symmetry (Alice Quentin)

What was the scariest thing these women said? That all their writing is based on reality!!! 

  • "Real things often get more twisted than anything I could imagine. Most editors would take out the 'real event' from your plot as too far fetched!" Emma Kavanagh 
  • "The news can be unbelievable. People often think that the things in books would never happen in real life but people can be very irrational." Tammy Cohen
  • "My experience in Cambodia taught me that people show extreme behaviour when they need to survive." Kate Medina
  • "You can start with something that is real and grow it into something that intrigues the reader - something that becomes more fictionalised or magical." Jane Casey 

Have you ever created a character who has disturbed you too much?


  • "What's happening inside a person's mind - psychological fear- is much more frightening than physical violence and crime. And characters that are 'real' or 'ordinary' people rather than random psychopaths are much more frightening to me." Kate Medina
  • "Real people scare me more than characters, people like Fred and Rosemary West - people you wouldn't notice in the street as they are so normal. When you create a character they are your own creation and you control them so they are not as frightening to you." Tammy Cohen
  • "When you are embroiled in a character's psychology and their mind, you are so absorbed in their mental workings that you understand their motivations, the evil becomes more banal." Emma Kavanagh 
  • "You spend so much time with your character; you know what they are doing and why, you understand them from the inside out so you end up actually feeling something for them. With short stories you are less involved with your characters and they can be more frightening because you're not going to spend five months living with them." Jane Casey*
  • "Writing about my psychopath in 'Dying for Christmas' was actually quite liberating as I just wanted to see if I could do it. I really enjoyed playing out all the things he could do, pushing him further and further to see what he might do - it was actually good fun!" Tammy Cohen

How much research do you need to do for your novels?

  • "I'm a former police and military psychologist and have provided training throughout the UK and NATO so I don't need much additional research for my books. But I couldn't have written them without understanding what makes a killer. Being involved in a disaster or a crime strips a character right back - it takes away their mental capacity to keep up any front. I like to put my characters in the worse position and see what happens. But my job used to be to get inside the heads of a killer so I guess I'm just interested in the mental place a person goes to when under extreme pressure." Emma Kavanagh

How do you maintain psychological tension throughout a whole novel?

  • "Sometimes it reflects your own psychological state - I was personally very tense writing 'Missing Hours' due to having young children, grabbing time to write under pressure and writing a story about a mother so some of the tension comes because I was very tense!" Emma Kavanagh
  • "The situation and characters create the tension. I like to look at the layers of complexity in people's brains and how much trauma they can sustain." Kate Medina
  • "I use the theme or motif of fire a lot in my novels. Fire destroys evidence, it complicates a crime scene. It can bring a person relief, entertainment, power, fear and cause immense damage. The psychology of how people behave in a fire is fascinating - that moment when the brain can override rational thought so they end up going up an escalator, leaving the building on auto pilot via their normal route rather than following safety procedure or looking for a safe escape. ....Fire can quickly force a situation to get out of control very quickly and then everything will unravel." Jane Casey

What tips have you got for making a character more dynamic or more nuanced?

  • "Give him an obsession! A nervous tick, funny teeth, a lisp -something that makes them scarier....think Hannibal's obsession with moths!" (all the authors chipped in with this one!)  

What's your top tip for devising a believable motivation for a psychopath?

  • "They act in a particular way because they think they have no other choice." Emma Kavanagh
  • "Make sure it is true to that character rather than the plausibility of the action." Tammy Cohen
  • "The motive has to stack up with their behaviour and character - keep it believable." Kate Medina


Added to my TBR pile:

Dying For ChristmasFire Damage (Jessie Flynn, #1)HiddenTrouble Is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers

*"Trouble is our Business" includes a short story by Jane Casey which she claims has the scariest character that she's ever created in - I can concur, it is terrifying!!!

For more reviews, recommendations and articles about Killer Women Crime Festival please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

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