Richard Godwin is a London-based writer of dark crime fiction, and his first novel “Apostle Rising” will be released this spring from Black Jackal Books, and it can be ordered here. Richard Godwin’s Website: http://richardgodwin.net
Interviewed by Lynn Alexander for FOC Prate
LA: I will start with the usual items that writers are asked about: current projects, books, the things that need to be promoted and where to find them. Please give me a brief rundown, and then we will focus on “Apostle Rising”, your forthcoming novel, specifically. After that, I hope that you will indulge my curiosity about some other matters. So, to start with an introduction, what is going on with Richard Godwin?
RG: I’m writing various stories as can be seen from the net and other publications.
I have a story I’m particularly fond of in the latest edition of Needle Magazine, ‘Pike N Flytrap’. I also have ‘Face Off’ in Crime Factory Issue # 5.
I’ve been working on some art stories. I’m fascinated by the characters of artists, I think if you aren’t interested in people, all types of people you shouldn’t bother writing.
I’m also conducting some more Chin Wags with some more great writers.
I’ve written a second novel and have started writing poetry again recently. I was recently interviewed for the radio by The Authors Show, which can be heard here
LA: “Apostle Rising” has been described as a novel that explores “the blurred line between law and lawlessness” and why men kill. Is it fair to say that killing can be looked at in terms of context, two categories- situational/reactive and in rare cases, something sought? Most of us can wrap our minds around situations where people kill because of a situation like self defence or even jealous rage, and understand that these same people would not take a life in another context. But then you have killers who kill for the sake of it, who pursue their victims, who are driven to kill, and that is a very different kind of mindset and one that is not fully understood. This is the kind of killer that your main character needs to understand, right?
But first, do you think that it can be understood, this level of pathology? And how do we go about doing so when it constitutes a behavioral extreme that is so alien to most people? How can we understand something that is so difficult to relate to?
RG: I agree with your basic divide.
We have the husband who comes home and finds his wife in bed with another man and gets his gun.
In France until recently that was viewed as a crime of passion.
Then we have the horror merchants, the serial killers.
I think it is possible to understand their motivation in terms of psychology. Extreme trauma causes splitting within the human psyche, people develop behavioural patterns to offset the emergence of a memory the repression of which their basic survival depends upon.
That is not to say they all end up killers.
The public is fascinated by serial killers because they cross into a realm we do not comprehend but want to.
Explorers of lands with two headed monsters told the tales that gripped us all. Once upon a time. And this appeals to the same part of the human psyche, we are voyeurs at the breakfast table.
And it is also about our own image as the good guy the good wife.
Pariahs in moral conviction.
Go back to the husband. Does he kill because his wife is his property?
OK so you get back from delivering a bunch of string beans to Utah as Frank Zappa sings in ‘Truck Driver Divorce’ and find some ugly looking son of a bitch pooching your home town sweetheart, ain’t that a bitch?
Many cultures wouldn’t see it as a big deal.
It’s inbuilt into the economic structure of dependency and control.
Interestingly, Sparta, that engendered one of the fiercest armies the world has ever seen, was based on a system that discouraged attachment to the mother in male children.
Runts were left in the wilderness to survive and boys were separated from their mothers early and taken into the army where homosexuality was accepted.
Sparta was the only Greek State where lesbianism was permitted and women were allowed to own property.
Going back to the serial killer.
If you look at the extreme level of trauma and how that warps the human psyche then you have an insight a serial killer’s mind.
They are living in what we see as normality and simultaneously living on the outside.
They are compelled to kill.
Often to them their victims are symbols.
The subconscious level of the psyche is symbolic and that is where you can get the chilling sense of dehumanization we feel in these horrific acts.
Religion is heavily loaded with symbol.
And moral judgement.
Maybe there is a key in that juxtaposition as to why it is such an effective military propaganda machine.
I think we can understand it intellectually but not empathize, or at least I hope not.
I think people are interested in what motivates a serial killer because they are alien.
Equally I think we are fascinated by alienation and otherness.
If we can feel in control of the process of discovery.
The popularity of sci fi, of literature and films about aliens belongs to the same interest.
What is out there?
We inhabit a predatory universe.
Serial killers represent a predatory extreme and as such throw light on what normality is.
Now if you change the social context for normality you have some interesting anomalies that cannot be ironed out by some imperialist liberal moral structure.
Leaders sway the public with fairy tales about moral concepts that have little meaning when analyzed against the acts of war.
Is a serial killer committing worse crimes than are committed in wars?
No, but the public focuses on him because he walks among us.
It’s the old fear of invasion.
Who is he?
He ain’t under the bed.
If you think that the Nazis were systematically raping and torturing women in concentration camps, doctors were carrying out castrations of perfectly healthy Jewish males in the name of an empire and medicine, that is a nation in psychosis.
What manipulation needs to take place to make a group or a nation psychotic?
An extension of the same forces that let loose the irrational impulses in an individual the ancient Greeks saw at the Dionysian festivals.
The military one is an analogy that throws light on how the seed of pathology that a killer may bear can be fertilized by propaganda.
There is plenty of material there for analyzing the darker reaches of the human psyche.
People shuffle their newspapers and go to work, distance themselves from the horrors they read about.
And it’s not just a male phenomenon. The idea of the killer has been codified as masculine by a patriarchal power structure and that is embedded in a legal system that is pretty weak historically because the idea of women killers threatens the male psyche too much, too mush inbuilt fear of redundancy. Men at the end of the day never know if their kids are theirs unless they carry out a DNA test. There are extreme levels of darkness in women. Some mothers hate their children and go about killing them with a slow poisoning psychological approach that ends in a convenient suicide. They renounce Gucci for sackcloth.
Victorian murderesses were routinely let off by courts because the judges simply did not believe women could kill.
The acts of serial killers shock us because we simply cannot comprehend doing something like that.
I think we need to get over our moral narratives, the things we tell ourselves about who we are to analyze this.
Where is it coming from?
Bertolt Brecht said interestingly of Arturo Ui, his character who represents Hitler, of the death of a monster:
‘Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again and always will be.’
Is it nature? Is it come collective recurrence that evolution needs?
I think society needs to look at it and understand why it happens. There may be a prevention.
LA: Do you think the ability to understand and portray pathology is essential to crime fiction, and is it important that the “killers” be believable?
I think that the most frightening characters are often the ones that seem like they could be your neighbours, the ones that live among us, monsters that look and behave like we do. When you interviewed Matthew Funk, I thought a lot about why they creep me out and I think it goes beyond the fear of what seems likely or probable as opposed to a fear of something that exists in a fantasy realm. I think what creeps me out about the “killer next door” is the element of indifference, the capacity and mental composition, the ability to do something horrific then go to work and cut the grass.
That seems more disturbing, by far, compared to the “lunatic” whose behavior leads to capture.
RG: I think that crime writing does not have to analyze to this level.
Elmore Leonard, one of my favourite crime writers has great plotting and dialogue and little depth.
James Lee Burke has more character depth.
I think if you look at a writer like James Ellroy he balances the two.
Thomas Harris delves deeper.
The guy next door who you sat and had that coffee with and turns out to be the axe murderer is disturbing.
Maybe you fancied him.
Maybe you projected something of your own need onto him.
But what’s more disturbing?
The fact he killed all those people or you didn’t suss him?
Isn’t that a bit of narcissism?
Maybe that’s why it’s so disturbing.
Did you miss that bit of your own humanity in that swirl of images and thoughts?
What does it say about you?
Easier to focus on him than your need for self-protective insight.
We all want to think we know, we have a suss about things.
Killers do not wear horns on their heads.
What is so disturbing about this?
We use terms like animal and inhuman to convey moral outrage at these crimes instead of learning from them.
We displace our own inner reactions, flickering moments of half feelings onto something horrific.
Look at wars.
Take a good long hard look at war crimes, think of Mai Lai, the rapes that were carried out within an authority structure licensed by politicians, then switch back.
What do you see?
Man survived because he is a killer and our neat liberal moral lifestyles and habits are in conflict with that little red dress.
Man is an unnatural animal.
LA: Do you think that to a serial killer, their behavior is rational or justified, perhaps due to distortion? In other words, do they find ways to reconcile their behavior with forms of justification that they developed over time? For example, the serial killer that targets prostitutes specifically, they might have had an event or experience that led to the pursuit of this victim profile over another. Is this kind of defining history common when we look at fictional characters?
RG: I think this is true.
They have had to justify it to themselves with layers of elaborate delusion and lies.
A prostitute killer may have been humiliated by one and so has transferred his rage onto her.
He is trying to purge something.
He lacks the basic ability to process his trauma.
He is battling an inner inadequacy by killing.
It amounts to the urge for power, but at a highly distorted level.
I think it is important to have a defining history otherwise the killer makes no sense.
A crime writer may be trying to do that, make it more accessible.
Serial killers develop their justificatory mechanisms over time to survive.
Dig into someone’s personal history and see what events shaped and scarred them.
You have a snap shot of their psyche.
Killing has a pattern to it.
Society is based on and works through integration, and the serial killer is on the outside of that through means we fail to understand because we belong to the club.
I think artists and writers try to interpret the beyond.
Death is part of the beyond so is murder since it is a means of incurring death and summoning our personal feelings, attachments, value judgements, moral codes.
LA: How important is it for the author to explore that motivation? When they do so through the eyes of another character, such as through an investigating detective, how important is it to convince the reader that they come equipped? Does aptitude matter?
RG: Yes aptitude matters.
The Detective has to be credible and have some insight. However the police are using offender profilers more and more because this is a highly specialized dig into a mind with a radically different structure and outlook.
Carl Jung said the best detectives have strong criminal shadows.
We’re back at all the things we like to project onto other people, the bits off us we don’t like.
Exploring motivation is extremely important.
I think one of the greatest authors who ever lived is Dostoyevsky and no one went deeper than him.
A narrative structure is meant to be safe.
From the old stories we listened to until now.
We allow the author to scare us and disorient us enough but always within the suspension of disbelief.
We want to be thrilled and taken into the dark and we seek resolution, because there is none in real life.
Successful popular literature is conservative.
LA: Richard, we have had some candid discussions and I think of you as a person who would understand the spirit of this next question, from the standpoint of curiosity. It might not be an issue for you, or one that you wish to tackle, but it is something I would like to ask a crime writer.
Because of the nature of your writing, what you depict and the kinds of themes that you explore, do you think that people in the “real world” approach you with anxiety or discomfort, women, for example? Obviously “we” are not what we write, we are creating works of fiction, but I wonder if this tendency we have to be curious about writers comes into play when a writer’s work has that element of “sick”? Did you ever make somebody nervous, that you know of?
RG: My personality is very different to what you might imagine from reading my stories on the internet.
The net itself is distorting.
I write fiction.
I am not what I write.
The people I know are intelligent enough to understand I am spinning a yarn.
I know of actors who have played parts of burglars in films and been assaulted in the street by people who do not know the difference between fact and fiction.
The idea that someone would nervous of me because I write crime fiction is fatuous.
It’s like a child’s inability to understand that it’s fake blood in the movies.
The inability to understand the difference between what you write or act and who you are is in itself a pathology.
I am sure we are all capable of making people nervous.
It is certainly not something I set out to do, I try to make those I come into contact with feel comfortable.
LA: Is sick arousing?
RG: Not unless you’re sick.
However a cautionary note does pathology define health?
LA: Spoon. Lazarus. Symmetry.
Nice earrings Lynn, they don’t match.
LA: Are you comfortable with eye contact? What part of a face do you find yourself looking at the most, when you are looking closely, if you choose to look closely… for you, is it a choice?
RG: There are two obvious reasons for you asking this question Lynn, and the mundane one is that photograph of me with sunglasses.
There are others without sunglasses.
To answer your question.
I am extremely comfortable with eye contact.
I tend to look at the eyes when looking at a face and a woman’s mouth.
LA: Why did you start the Chin Wag interviews? What do you enjoy about the interview process?
I’d been wanting to do something for the online writing community and thinking about how to fit it all in.
I am truly grateful and honoured to have met some remarkable men and women, writers I have a huge respect for.
I wanted to do something of my own.
I was having a run one morning when the name Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse popped into my head and I thought that’s it.
I’m interested in people, that’s why I like interviewing.
I like moving sideways in a conversation as Bill Hayes knows.
LA: What is next for you, now that your novel is done?
The publication of my next novel and writing more.