Today, I’m lucky to have Simon Duke on the blog answering some questions for me. I recently read and loved his book The Perfectionist, and you can read my review here.
As always, I’m extremely grateful to authors who take the time out to answer a few question, and if I haven’t said it enough, thanks again Simon!:)
– First off, can you tell everyone a little about yourself?
I was born in Stoke-on-Trent (UK) in 1979. I lived a while in rural England and had a very happy childhood. My family moved to France when I was eleven and I was parachuted into a French school without really speaking French. It took me a while to get up-to-speed with the other kids and I was (and I guess I always will be) an outsider and an observer. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, reading books and watching many American movies of that period. Meantime I grew fond of the modern gangster and of the transition from film noir and epic to the more gritty and realistic portrayal of crime in more recent times. Today, I’m a journalist and I’m often on the lookout for good stories. I’d also like to reassure you that, contrary to the dark subject matter of my books, I’m considered a rather well-rounded person with my heart in the right place, more often upbeat than a preacher of gloom and doom. I have yet to murder someone, but I do keep a list of potential victims in the drawer of my bedside table!
– How did you start writing?
During my teenage years. But I really started proper novel writing with Out of Bounds in 2012 (N.B. Out of Bounds is my first novel, published in 2014). Until then I’d only managed to write short stories, and my writing was infrequent, despite my mind over-spilling with ideas. I like to remember one particular day; a day when I had car trouble on my way to work. I took my car to a garage and the mechanic quoted me a hefty amount of money to carry out the necessary repair work – an amount I wasn’t willing to invest. So I began commuting by train and rediscovered the joys of reading, and devouring books in under a week. By doing so I discovered crime fiction authors whom I’d never heard of before. I’d read good books and not so good books. All this influenced me immensely. And at some point I wondered: why not me? This led me to writing the opening scene of Out of Bounds. In May 2013, I’d penned down the first draft.
– Can you tell us how you got the inspiration for The Perfectionist?
I’ve always wanted to write about serial killers. I’ve read many serial killer books (fiction and non-fiction) and watched my fair share of movies on the persona. Some direct movie influences for The Perfectionist include Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986), Se7en (David Fincher, 1995), Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986), The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)…
Serial killers fascinate me. In fiction, they are highly stylized, and even real-life serial killers have become celebrity monsters through media coverage. I read somewhere that serial killers are for adults what monster movies are for children: that is the guilty pleasure of scary fun. Serial killers are so extreme in their brutality and in their behaviour that we can be drawn to them out of basic and intense human curiosity. Their behaviour is seemingly inexplicable, so we feel a duty to try and understand what their motives are. And they appeal to our most primal feelings: fear, lust or anger. So I reckoned I’d give it a shot myself, but with a novel angle.
The killer in The Perfectionist could be considered the ultimate serial killer. He seemingly chooses his victims at random across America; he has been at large for more than two decades; he has flown under the radar of the cops and the FBI by navigating through the loopholes of the federal law enforcement system; he respects a unique and horrific modus operandi and fine-tunes methods of execution to seek artistic perfection. In the world of law enforcement, there exists a scale on which to rate killers. My killer does not feature on the scale.
Finally given my journalistic background, I’ve always dreamed of stumbling on a killer myself and pursuing him before submitting the proof of his guilt to the police. Gerry Stokes in the book lives that dream for me.
– Some of the killing methods are very violent, I bet your browser history is fun! Are they true to life and as gruesome as they are described in the book? How did you decide on the various modus operandi?
Indeed, I hope the FBI hasn’t hacked my computer. I’d have trouble justifying my highly suspicious Internet history! I must’ve researched dozens of the methods of execution and selected just some of the disturbing MOs that are out there. It’s a frightening realization that some of the methods of execution in The Perfectionist are shockingly quite commonplace. The Colombian necktie, for instance, is a frequent statement that is made in the world of drug cartels. Other methods I refer to in the book where used on a regular basis in the Middle Ages, Feudal Japan, or in Roman times. The killer in The Perfectionist respects a unique and horrific modus operandi and fine-tunes various methods of execution to seek artistic perfection. He has surgical precision. He’s highly intelligent and methodical. The human body is his canvass and he’s not afraid to experiment.
– When you began writing The Perfectionist, had you the ending mapped out or did it all just lead up to the events naturally?
I have tons of story ideas, and I note them down as soon as they begin to gain in substance in my mind. If inspired, I will look into them deeper and weigh the possibility of taking some further and writing them up. So, be it with The Perfectionist or with Out of Bounds, I started off with an idea and wrote it down in a summary. I began by writing a few scenes and things gradually fell into place. As soon as I had a solid enough backbone to the story, I fleshed it out and divided the result into chapters. From then on, I wrote bit by bit. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t alter things along the way. Sometimes I realised the storyline was weak and needed beefing up, or I had a change in mind with regard to how events unfolded. I then went back to the backbone and fitted in these new ideas. The first ending of The Perfectionist for instance struck me as not very satisfactory. The whodunit aspect needed a bigger concluding twist. So I went back to the drawing board and came up with an alternative finale.
– What’s a typical day for you when writing?
I’m not a full-time crime fiction writer… well not yet! Therefore I must write, research, plan, and meditate outside office hours. So it’s weekends, evenings, and sometimes lunch breaks for me. I also have to be present for my daughter and for my girlfriend and have some sort of social life too! I also occasionally work as a projectionist at my local cinema. But if I have a free full day ahead of me, I’m the kind of person who likes to get up early in the morning, have a cup of tea, and write non-stop until lunchtime. In the afternoons and evenings, I prefer to focus on other things and recharge the batteries. I do sometimes dream of a getaway log cabin next to a lake lost in some faraway forest. I believe that Michael Connelly quit his job at the L.A. Times after his third Harry Bosch novel. Maybe one day I’ll get there as well!
– I always assume writers are voracious readers but I’m probably wrong! Do you read much, if at all? And if so, do any authors you read influence your own writing?
As mentioned I am constantly reading the works of my peers. My influences are multiple and varied. The literature influences are also quite numerous. However, if I had to come up with a shortlist of inspirational authors and books which helped me write The Perfectionist, I’d have to mention the works of Michael Connelly (e.g. The Poet), RJ Ellory (e.g. The Anniversary Man), Henning Mankell (The Kurt Wallander series), James Ellroy (e.g. Killer on the Road), Shane Stevens (By Reason of Insanity), as well as possibly Dennis Lehane, John Grisham, and even Paul Auster and Ernest Hemingway. Authors I read influence me in one way or another, and I’m always on the lookout for new favourite writers. I love discovering new talents, even if that means I can be sometimes disappointed by what I stumble upon.
– If you could choose a character from your book to meet, who would it be and why? I’d pick The Perfectionist myself!
It’s got to be Gerry Stokes. He’s a complex character. He’s a rookie reporter stuck in small-town Iowa in the late 80s, working for a local paper, but with great ambitions. We meet him again more than twenty years later. He’s become a seasoned business journalist working for the Chicago Tribune. He’s a self-centred, obnoxious and arrogant guy with a soft spot for sex with prostitutes. Despicable. But he’s got talent and flair. The morbidity and seriousness of the investigation will change him, and so will his relationship with the woman who puts him on the track in the first place, Sarah Howard. Gerry’s evolution in the book is gradual and we grow to like his character. He might not be of the Walter White of Breaking Bad calibre, but I’m sure he’d be the heart of any given party.
– For those who haven’t read The Perfectionist, can you give a spoiler free synopsis?! Sell your book basically! 😉
This 47 second video should get you intrigued: https://youtu.be/6rXPMFLeKTg
It’s a video trailer for The Perfectionist, which I produced myself. I integrated some very eerie footage, still shots of the book cover which was designed by my friends Oscar Sanchez and Bertrand Raes, and I incorporated (courtesy of the Marmoset music agency) a track by Josh Garrels.
And here’s a short synopsis:
“In 1988, a severed head belonging to an unidentified old man is found rotting in an Iowa corn field. Confronted with this gruesome discovery, rookie reporter Gerry Stokes is urged by the local sheriff and his newspaper editor to cover up the affair. But the truth can’t be concealed forever.
Twenty-two years later, Stokes, now an arrogant and unpleasant sex-driven, yet seasoned veteran journalist at the Chicago Tribune, must at last atone for his wrong-doings as the shunned-upon past returns with a vengeance. Payback ultimately comes in the attractive form of Sarah Howard, a young woman who believes she has identified the old man as being her own long-lost grandfather, Ted Callaway. Unwilling to be exposed by the young woman, Stokes is forced into an investigation to discover the truth of what happened in 1988. Stokes stumbles upon an even more sordid truth: Callaway is one of many victims; people seemingly chosen at random across the nation by a serial killer who has been at large for more than two decades: a killer who has flown under the radar of the cops and the FBI by navigating through federal law loopholes while respecting a unique and horrific modus operandi. By fine-tuning methods of execution, the killer seeks artistic perfection. He is “the Perfectionist”.
Three years later, the investigation is given a new lifeline after Stokes is alerted to a series of gruesome Colombian neckties. Stokes realizes that the Perfectionist, who had been dormant for a long time, is still at large and has resumed his hunt for new victims. To obtain confirmation that his killer is still active, Stokes must confront the FBI’s determined lead investigator, Special Agent Elliot Keppler.
At the same time Stokes sets himself an ambitious target and potential path to fame: he wishes to publish a special book, which for the very first time in publishing history will give the police the means to capture a serial killer. With such high stakes, the pressure is on. Stokes is in the race of his life to discover the killer’s identity and publish his bestseller, while bending the notions of what can be considered ethically right.”
– When can people buy your book? Release dates etc.
The Perfectionist will be available in both paperback and ebook formats on January 19, 2016.
The paperback will be available on Amazon’s websites http://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Duke/e/B00J0YEZYE/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
The ebook is already available for pre-order on Kindle
as well as on Smashwords
and at various online retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, FNAC, Rakuten, etc…
My first novel, Out of Bounds, is available at most of these links too.
– Lastly, where can people follow you and your work?
Feel free to connect with me at any of the following:
Author Website and newsletter: http://simongduke.blogspot.com