Hello – I’m Charlie Tyler and I’m an author – my first published novel fits rather neatly into the genre of ‘psychological thriller’. A few people who know me, and have read it, now cross the street when they see me approach, no doubt alarmed by the twisted nature of my tale, asking themselves, what on earth is going on in your head? My answer: I like imagining there are devilishly complicated people out there who, unlike me, don’t wake up in the night and run downstairs to put the milk bottles outside for the phantom milkman (who, incidentally, after several years, I have never laid eyes upon and I’m often up at 5am). My retort to those eye-rollers: I have it on good authority that it’s the romance writers you have to be most wary of. I recently attending a Zoom meeting for the Crime Writers Association and I’ve never seen so many jolly, smiley people together on one screen.
If you’re a fan of the psychological thriller genre, you’ll be aware that there are certain procedures which need to be followed here: there should be lots of twists and turns; possibly a major reveal at the end (but something which is not so astonishing that you feel like you’ve entered the realms of Scooby Doo); and absolutely, I repeat absolutely, no character must wake up wondering if it has all been a dream. But a sort of formula exists – add in a few red herrings, a lot of suspicion and, unfortunately for me, a few murders.
This is where the problem lies. The murder bit. I am completely squeamish and unable to swat a fly without retching. I can’t watch torture, especially of the historical variety, and my husband can’t watch anything with gruesome medical procedures in it (don’t ever come over for a movie night at ours – spotting a suitable series for us on Netflix is a whole evening’s entertainment of its own). My biggest, biggest horror, however, is beheading. Books and films on the French revolution are a big ‘no’ for me. My Mum had to pick me up early from a party because I wouldn’t stop crying after a particularly vicious episode of Tom and Jerry where Tom ends up in a guillotine (this was quite a long time ago, I’d just like to add). Nightmares induced by a visit to The Chamber of Horrors as a child (I mean, parents, really?) still occur (I’m 45). My worst episode of post-traumatic-viewing-stress happened at Uni. Now, don’t ask me why, but I ended up watching ‘La Reine Margot’ – I was on a date with my boyfriend (now husband) and can only conclude I was trying to impress him with my willingness to watch a subtitled film. We went along to a little arthouse cinema and were squashed into the middle of the theatre. Fairly soon, I learnt I was watching a film about the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacres. WTF? Not long in and my eyes were permanently shut, hands clamped over my ears, but I could still hear the thwack of the axe followed by screams – it was relentless and I had a panic attack and had to leave, spoiling it for everyone as I clambered my way over the seats, sobbing and feeling faint – a few unkind people hurling popcorn at me in my wake.
During the day I’m quite happy to sit and stare out of my study window, creating alibis and seeding clues throughout my fictional worlds, but when it comes to writing about the death – eek.
I thought I’d got away with it in The Cry of the Lake because I started the book with the murder already done. That’s how I open – there’s already a dead body – end of difficult situation, or so I thought. The first round of edits came back: this is good stuff Charlie, but you’ve cheated the reader – at some stage in the story you’ll have to do a flashback and show us how the girl died. Damn! You’ll be pleased to know, I put on my big girl pants and completed the task. I even let my villain go on a killing spree, but yet again – you only get to see the aftermath. Ask me about this face-to-face and I’ll tell you I avoid being too graphic, as I like the reader to use the power of their imagination. What a lie!
The Next Novel
So, I’m at the end of my second novel, it’s another psychological thriller, and I’m about to launch into the first round of edits. The story starts off with two dead bodies and, yes, they’re dead right from the opening. I’ve conveniently thrown them down an oubliette which is a hole in the ground with only the top as a means of getting in and out. Just as an aside, apparently this wasn’t originally used as a means for imprisonment and torture, but probably more likely a clear-your-clutter castle storage space – I could really do with one of them. This book is quite a lot lighter, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that the focal point of my WIP hinges around an incident which happened in the Restoration era circa 1669, the result of which ends in someone’s death. I’m including a few spoilers here on the basis that you’ll have forgotten what I’ve said by the time the book gets to the shelves. I’d hoped this person could, for my sake, have a quick, clean death, but, and here’s my super clever link to my lovely host, the person in question is a heretic and a traitor! If your history is sketchy, here’s where I can help – they aren’t going to be tickled to death. No – it’s full-on, hanging, drawing and, hand over eyes, quartering. It’s a pivotal event and totally unavoidable. To start with I left a blank space, but when the first draft was done, I had to go back and write the gruesome scene. I was a page into an eyewitness account, retching and crying, and that’s when the postie knocks on the window and I have to go to the front door and sign for a parcel. ‘Alright?’ he asks. ‘Yes – just having a Covid moment,’ I say, wiping my eyes. The rest of the morning I can’t concentrate. I also have to type into my search engine – what does burning human flesh smell like? Plus, how hard is it to drive a nail through someone’s skull? I did, of course, eventually pluck up the courage to finish the gory bits, at the end, vowing I would switch genres and only write mysteries which involve the theft of cute kittens who get reunited with their owners.
One month later and I’m already outlining the sequel – it’s about witchcraft in the Middle Ages. I have a feeling it’s not going to end well …Charlie Tyler - Facebook
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