Matthew Pritchard author of Scarecrow & werewolf – Q&A
Q) I found the character of Danny Sanchez very unique. I loved the investigative journalism edge & the Spanish/English/ex-pat themes in the novel. Can you explain for the readers the background & creation of the character Danny Sanchez?
A) Danny is my alter ego. Physically we are the same, our music tastes are the same, as is our clothing and sense of humour; we are also both obsessive about writing and research, and are both loners.
I was a journalist in Spain for 10 years and worked closely with the expat community, hence the ring of authenticity to some of the scenes depicted in the book.
Danny, however, is a far better reporter than I ever was and he works the sort of juicy stories I dreamt of discovering, so I guess there is an element of wish fulfilment in the character, too.
However, unlike Danny, I have managed to give up smoking, eat well and get myself relatively fit, but he is still the conduit through which I examine the world, and his progression over the three books I have written that feature him closely mirrors my own life experiences.
Q) The book briefly covers the realms of mental health & psychiatry. Also the damage of abusive childhoods on an individual’s growth. I found this fascinating as it is well documented & society is desperate to uncover what causes a warped mind. Did you research mental health? Were there any particular cases in the media that have stuck with you or you were reminded of in the writing process?
A) I did a lot of research on serial killers during the writing of the book, and the one factor 95% of them had in common was abusive, miserable childhoods.
Also, since Hannibal Lector became a cultural icon, many other writers have chosen to portray serial killers as suave, intelligent and sophisticated individuals, when the opposite is almost always true – the majority of serial killers are really very mundane people with a history of failure, who are only distinguished by their complete lack of empathy with other human beings and their manipulative, predatory nature, and I wanted to really hammer that point home in Scarecrow.
Q) As stated in my review, several times Scarecrow is a very dark & gritty novel. It certainly isn’t a novel you forget too quickly. Was that always the intention, to write a novel that also had a shock feel to it?
A) I knew from the start I wanted to do something different and unusual with my book, so I decided to make men the victims of my serial killer rather than women, and began to research killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and Dennis Nilsen.
When you begin to realise how disturbing, violent and bizarre their crimes were, it is very difficult not to write something that deeply affects the reader.
Q) In my review I reference a recent factual case with similar themes as the motive of The Scarecrow killer. As a former journalist yourself, are you influenced by real life criminal cases?
A) Some writers seem to delight in imagining crimes of an almost impossibly grotesque nature and then describing them in pornographic detail.
I, however, always stick to things that have actually occurred in real life and use a “less is more” approach, only hinting at the most disturbing elements of the crimes depicted in my stories.
I have also befriended a professor of forensic science, so he checks all the details in my books, and sends me examples of real life case studies of murders – truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is usually also better.
Questions re: Detective Inspector Silas Payne series
Q) Werewolf was in my favourites of 2016 list. This is how I discovered your writing & was previously unaware of the Danny Sanchez novels. Does it benefit authors to have various different series? Is it difficult in the writing experience?
A) I can’t speak for other authors, but I enjoyed the change in setting immensely. I did not find the transition particularly difficult, mainly because discovering the historical details about the period – especially the demobilisation of the German army and the constant search for SS and Nazi Party members hiding among normal soldiers – was so fascinating.
Q) Where did the idea behind Werewolf come from? Why the WW2 era?
A) My father is a collector of WWI and WWII books and military memorabilia, so I grew up in a house filled with gas masks, helmets, uniforms and rifles – it was pretty much a given I would write a book set around that particular time period.
The specific genesis of Werewolf came when, as a teenager, I met a man who had served in Germany in August, 1945, when the British Zone of Occupation was being established. He described the chaos the country was in and the fear of attack by “werewolves” (German soldiers who had taken to the forests to continue fighting) while doing night time sentry duty.
The name stuck in my mind and 20 years later I began writing and researching the project.
Q) Both novels are incredibly well written, how long is the process from idea to publication? Can you talk us through your writing process?
A) It takes me roughly 10 months to start and finish a project. My writing style developed as a result of reading authors such as Elmore Leonard and Cormac McCarthy, both of whom use simple, declarative sentences filled with nouns and verbs, and only sparsely seasoned with the odd adjective or adverb.
I am ruthless in paring down my own work, and normally only use 30% of what I actually write for any given project. I also try to avoid using metaphors and similes whenever possible – instead, I seek concrete specific nouns that require no further explanation. This is what (I hope) gives my writing style its edge and relentless pace.
As for my routine, I wake around midnight and work through the night until about 08:00. Then I sleep for a while, do a bit of reading then hit the hay around 16:00. I don’t like socialising, so the weird hours I keep are not a problem – I love solitude and, apart from my girlfriend and a very few specific friends and family members, I try to minimise my contact with the outside world as much as possible.
*Huge Thank you to Matthew for answering my questions!