Here is my first interview with Writers news Weekly from 11th August 2010
By Megan Morrow and Elizabeth Milo
WritersNewsWeekly recently spoke with up-and-coming British author Jamie Penn about his new novel, The Altruist’s Prey. The Altruist’s Prey is meant to be the first book in a three part series.
WNW: What inspired you to write about a serial killer
Penn: I didn’t start out planning to write about a serial killer. The original idea I had was a story about a man who spoke his mind about everything and didn’t care about what people thought about him. The idea to have this man with no inner-monologue start to receive gifts from a killer just came to me one day, literally as a day dream. I thought about the characters for a little while, got into character in my head, and then began writing as them. I hadn’t been thinking about writing a book; I just started writing and did not stop until it was finished.
WNW: What was it like narrating certain portions from the perspective of the killer and trying to get inside his head?
Penn:Worryingly, I found it relatively easy to get inside the killer’s head– a lot easier than any other character in the book. Once I began writing as the killer I became addicted and I found it easy to do. It seemed that new ways of him approaching and killing his victims would just appear in my head exactly when I needed them.
WNW: What method did you use to plan out the storylines and narrative voices you switched between?
Penn: I originally had an outline to plan the storyline, but then I began to just write whatever came into my head. At times, I needed to put more thought into the structure and the feel of how the interlinking stories were all going to come together, but mostly I just typed it as it appeared in my head. I wrote everything chronologically so I knew exactly where I was in all four of the interlinking stories.
Writing in the different narrative voices also came naturally. On a few occasions I wrote in the third person instead of the first person in the wrong chapters. However, it was soon filtered out when I completed my first edit. I did get into character before writing each part of the story, though, so at times I must have been quite a bastard.
WNW: The staff at WritersNewsWeekly had fun guessing what we thought the ending would be– did you intend to leave hints along the way so that readers could make predictions of their own?
Penn: There are hints and twists all through the book as to who the killer might be– right up until the final three chapters. I did throw the odd curve-ball in there to make people think that a certain someone could be the killer. When it came to writing the final third of the book, I had four different endings in my head. I thought about all of the endings for two weeks until I finally chose one and ran with it.
Someone close to me told me that I should write all four endings and publish all four books, thus making more money.
WNW: What writers have inspired you?
Penn: I love Jeff Lindsay and his Dexter books. I act like a child when the next one is coming out, nervously waiting for the postman to arrive. Stuart MacBride’s writing style slapped me across the face and I love it. His writing is so real and gritty and a pleasure to read. It is cliché to say Stephen King, but his Dark Tower books kept me so gripped that I took them everywhere with me just in case I had a spare minute to read what happened next.
WNW: You and Tim share very similar jobs– how much of Tim is meant to be autobiographical?
Penn: A lot of how Tim feels about the treatment of elderly people with dementia comes straight from my heart. I too sometimes have no inner-monologue, and I just say things that I think are the truth. I was always brought up not to lie, so I don’t– ‘blatantly honest’ is what my wife calls it. Apart from that, I am nothing like Tim. However, there are parts of the killer’s (nearly said the name then) personality that are similar to mine also. Like I said previously, it’s worrying.
WNW: Do any of the objects that the killer leaves Tim have special significance for you?
Penn: Eight of the objects were trinkets that I recollected from childhood times spent with my parents, brother, and grandparents. The other two were literally just plucked out of thin air.
WNW: Have you noticed a difference between the UK publishing system versus the American counterpart while trying to navigate both systems?
Penn: To be honest, I have not yet. I have yet to be successful at getting a literary agent, though I do have a London-based publisher and an American independent publisher interested in looking at my full manuscript. But when I first started writing, Rob Grant tweeted me that I need an agent first and foremost; they are just hard to come by.
WNW: Do you anticipate a challenge in garnering an American audience because you make frequent use of slang British terms?
Penn: I honestly feel that an American audience would have the intellect to read the novel without many tweaks to it. I think a lot of books have regional slang in them, and that contributes to part of their uniqueness. Obviously if a publisher felt that things needed to be edited for the American audience, then I would endeavor to make those changes. To go back to Stephen King again, he uses a lot of colloquial terms in his novels, more so the earlier ones, and although I sometimes had to puzzle out the phrases, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. A good story will out, if you will.
WNW: What plans do you have for future works?
Penn: I have three more ideas for future books: a prequel to The Altruist’s Prey, a sequel, and another story in a completely different genre to this one– more of a fantasy novel.
Although the books in this as-of-yet-untitled series will be released out of order, I feel that The Altruist’s Prey needed to be written first; if it wasn’t for this book, there would be no prequel or sequel. I will write the prequel so that it can be read as a stand alone book or as answering some questions from The Altruist’s Prey.
After I complete the series, I have another definite story idea, which I had actually been planning to write after The Altruist’s Prey was completed. However, due to my interest in a particular character from The Altruist’s Prey, the prequel has now taken over. I do intend to write the other story eventually as I feel it will be just as hard-hitting, but in another genre. I also have a few other ideas floating around for various genres.
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