Chris Westlake - The Subtle Power of Manipulation and Brainwashing
After completing a Creative Writing course in 2010, Chris Westlake's short story, Welsh Lessons, was awarded 1st place in the Global Short Story Award (not bad for the first writing competition he had entered). He followed this up with 1st place in the Stringybark Erotic Fiction Award and 2nd place in the HASSRA Literary Award. Chris has written four novels. 30 DAYS IN JUNE is his first crime thriller. His latest novel, I AM HERE TO KILL YOU (this is not a cozy romance!) was released on 31 December 2020. I AM HERE TO KILL YOU is a psychological crime thriller, with a key focus on cults, the power of manipulation, and brainwashing. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about this book.
Please give us a short introduction to what I Am Here to Kill You is about.
I AM HERE TO KILL YOU is a psychological thriller that explores the subtle power of manipulation and brainwashing.
The novel opens on Saturday 17th August 2019, when a man is tied up and left for dead in a burning barn. We don't know who the antagonists are, or their possible motive. There could be two killers, but possibly three. We do know that they are female, and they appear to have a vendetta against men. But why...?
The second chapter begins 12 months earlier when Sheena Strachan joins a local support group. The story culminates on the same day it began - Saturday 17th August 2019.
There are 6 central characters - Sheena, Katherine, Apinya, Rose, Ray, and Bernard. One key challenge is deciding which of the characters are the protagonists, and which are the antagonists.
Tell us more about Sheena Strachan. What makes her so special?
On the surface, Sheena appears to be the ultimate femme fatale - she is young, beautiful, and charming. But she is clouded in mystery. Why has she suddenly appeared in a sleepy rural town from London? Why does a support worker visit her?
Sheena is the ultimate narcissist - this is her most powerful weapon and what, in my mind, makes her special. She uses her charm and charisma to manipulate and deceive and plot. She thrives on this power and views herself as some sort of god.
One mystery dominates, though - is she really the puppeteer, or she just another puppet?
What inspired you to write about a local support group?
I was driven by cults - think Charlie Manson and Jim Jones - but on a much subtler and less transparent level.
The attendees of the group are vulnerable and easily influenced. The group is formed for a positive objective. I was intrigued by the concept that, with a charismatic, sinister leader, the group could be manipulated in the worst possible way, with dangerous and devastating results.
The book contains some twists and turns - did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
However much I plot and plan, the best twists always occur to me as I write! Some of the best twists came to me quite late in the writing process!
Why did you title this "I Am Here To Kill You"?
I only decided on the chapter when I reached the final chapter of the book! I had pondered various titles throughout, but I wasn't convinced by any.
I remember browsing the books in the local supermarket and shuddering when I read the title I Am Watching You. It made the book feel like a living entity, that it was watching me. This definitely inspired my title. I wanted the title to be unflinchingly blunt, for the reader to take a second look.
I believe you'll understand the title more once you've read the book. Each of my characters is a suspect. Throughout, the reader should be asking...
Who is here to kill who?
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
I strive to challenge the reader's emotions. For example, I dare them to be drawn to Ray who, on the surface, is sexist and chauvinist and violent. Katherine's appeal is more subtle, and she has more layers. On this basis, I'm opting for Katherine.
Tell us more about the book cover and how it came about.
My book cover designer is Elizabeth Ponting, of LP Designs & Art. Elizabeth designed the cover for 30 Days in June, which readers loved, so I didn't hesitate to contact her again. I came up with a few ideas. I wanted to keep it simple, focussing on the eyes. Elizabeth did the rest!
What was the best writing advice you have ever received?
I'm always developing my craft - reading books and watching videos on dialogue, narrative, plot etc. Therefore, I've received plenty of writing advice - some good, and some horrendous.
There are many contenders here, but I'm going to choose "keep it authentic." It took me a while to fully understand what this meant. I was always worried about each and every reader. I tried to please all. Of course, this isn't possible. Now I know who my target reader is - they are intelligent, open-minded, and keen for a challenge. So long as I genuinely believe in what I write, and I believe my target reader will, too, then I've achieved this objective.
Why a psychological thriller? What drew you to the genre?
I had a long, hard think about genre after my second novel, At Least the Pink Elephants are Laughing at Us, failed to gain any real interest. After putting so much time and effort into the novel, I was devastated. I went back to the drawing board. The problem, I decided, was that I didn't write with any specific audience in mind. And so I wrote my first thriller, 30 Days in June.
I wanted I AM HERE TO KILL YOU to focus on the power of the mind. The real danger wasn't physical, but mental. After piecing together the characters and drafting the plot, I questioned what genre the book fell within. Undoubtedly it was a psychological thriller.
That said (and I can't say too much) there is definitely a serial killer thriller element to the book!
Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do to combat it?
This subject is kind of fascinating, don't you think? It is still up for debate whether writer's block actually exists.
Personally, I think it stems from perfectionism. I think we always have the capacity to write, just not the perfect words we want to come out. A journalist, for example, doesn't suffer writer's block when they have a 9am deadline. I definitely lost my way writing in Least the Pink Elephants are Laughing at Us. I started questioning my style, and as a result I lost my confidence, and I kept redrafting and redrafting. 30 Days in June was my bravest novel because I had to dust myself down and start again.
I try to follow the advice I picked up somewhere. If I am struggling to write, then I write 200 words of nonsense. This soon turns into 1,000 words of something half-decent.
Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with?
Wow, this is an interesting question! As a kid, I knew I was going to write when I was older. I studied the dusty books in the library and thought, wouldn't it be amazing to create that?
I am compelled to write. A few years ago, the writing process was damaging my health. I suffered from back pain and neck ache, and this caused horrendous migraines. I went for MRI scans and physio. Clearly, this was caused by crouching over my laptop. It was suggested that I stop writing. This just wasn't an option!
Writing provides an outlet for all my crazy thoughts and ideas. By creating a fascinating fictional world, it allows me to live quite a straightforward, normal life, and still remain relatively sane!
What are you working on right now?
I'm piecing together a plot for my next novel. I'm looking to tell the story from the POV of the serial killer, Spartacus. This is an exciting prospect.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I still view myself as a developing author. I'd love to hear from readers with feedback and constructive criticism.