One thing about planning any book is the research I’m hurled into. For the last couple of months or so, I’ve been delving into the lives of famous rapists, sadists, mass-slayers and dictators. I’m coming to understand a lot more about a subject I’ve known about for years, yet never gone this deeply into before.
I’ve already worked out the skeleton of my plot, this is just filling in the blanks, building the framework that overlays said skeleton. I’m even re-reading Elliott Leyton’s ‘Hunting humans’ which I’m pretty sure I haven’t read since the late eighties.
One book that’s really grabbed me is Helen Morrison’s ‘My life among the serial killers’, a brilliantly researched work, written after a lifetime of interviewing people who hurt other people – and who seem, in most cases, to be unable to prevent themselves from doing so. In many cases, the emotional understanding of a serial killer appears to be stunted at around what we’d expect from a two-year-old.
I’m finding all this fascinating, looking at the society that the killer finds him-or-herself in. How they relate to that society or fail to. How that sense of alienation can trigger the most horrific of crime sprees. From Edmund Kemper (“I just wondered what it would be like to shoot grandma”) to the Yorkshire Ripper. Their expectations before and during their reign of terror. Their relationship with the police – and the publicity that grows up around their work.
To the serial killer, other people are no more than objects – either something to use in the quest for fulfilment or as obstacles between the serial killer and that fulfilment. There’s no empathy, no sense that they’re violating their victims.
However, once the bodies start piling up, many of them seem shocked by the feelings that explode inside them. Guilt or fear of punishment hit them suddenly, as if it took committing the acts to realise the trouble they were in. Prior to embarking on the murders, most seem to have had no real conception that this might cause problems for themselves.
I don’t think there’s any way to recognise a serial killer. There are no physical or psychological signs that we can point to before they start making the world a worse place than it is already. In tests, most serial killers aren’t intellectually incompetent. If anything, most serial killers are of above average intelligence, although falling somewhere short of geniuses. It’s as if, all that intellect had to get out somehow.
I’m still planning to (one day) write a novel about the care industry and another about psychedelic drugs. From this ‘pre-production’ point in my studies for this book, I can see that researching either is going to change me; my outlook and how I understand my interactions with the world.