Interview – 1 book in 5 questions : The killing lessons – Saul Black

After the recent release of his novel in France, an interview with Saul Black.

The Killing Lessons – Leçons d’un tueur

My review (in French)

You’re a renowned writer in the fantasy genre, as Glen Duncan. With this novel, you’re entering the thriller genre. What was your motivation for this new adventure?

These days, I find it easier to write a novel (or at least attempt to write a novel) if I give myself a brief, if I set myself a piece of homework. As I get older, I’m looking for things I haven’t done before.

It occurred to me that in spite of having written several books which have dealt with the effects of violent crime (a rape in Love Remains, a child abduction and murder in Death of an Ordinary Man, illegal imprisonment and torture in A Day and a Night and a Day, not to mention the corpses that pile up in the werewolf trilogy) I’d never attempted an out-and-out thriller, in which the crime itself was central.

So I thought I’d try that. It was an experiment, really, simply to see if I could do it. As a reader I don’t have much of a crime background, so I came to it more or less tabula rasa. That was slightly daunting, but it allowed me to begin writing without any expectations – which is often the best way to start.


            French cover                                                                                        English cover

It seems to us you’ve wanted to adapt all the characteristics of modern thriller and mix them in you own way…

Yes, I suppose some of the familiar scenarios or genre conventions are present in The Killing Lessons, but my interest is always in trying to get to the (imagined) essence of any experience, no matter how well we think we know it, or how often it’s been depicted.

So of course, in writing a thriller, one has to be mindful of the key ingredients – pace, intrigue, suspense – but my underlying fascination is with the psychology of characters, and what their experiences might actually be like.

If I want readers to really feel the tension, I have to create characters they genuinely care about. Which means getting the balance right between a fast-moving plot and depth of characterisation. There’s no way of knowing if one’s got it right, except insofar as readers find the whole thing compelling. It’s early days for The Killing Lessons, but so far the feedback has been very positive. I hope it continues!

Even if the novel genre is different, we can find a handful of themes you’re cherishing…


Love and sex, cruelty and compassion, betrayal and forgiveness.

Deviant or disturbing behaviour – and the ordinary human sacraments we bring to bear against it: friendship, humour, conscience, courage.

The tale is particularly dark. Did you set yourself limits or rules to tell such a story?

No limits, no rules. I can’t write like that.

Violence is violence, murder is murder – and these are things which happen in the world every day. The notion that one can treat them gently or with deliberate occlusion is nonsense. In fact it’s worse than nonsense; it’s an imaginative betrayal of the people to whom such things have happened.

Did you like this new experience? Can we count on seeing you taking further the characters of this novel?

The truth is I rarely enjoy writing a novel, no matter what kind. That might sound perverse, but I mean it.

The actual day-to-day reality of opening up the laptop and being confronted with the blank page (or worse, the written page from the night before, most of which has to be rewritten or deleted) is, frankly, torture.

But for better or worse it’s the torture I’ve chosen, and there’s nothing else in the world that motivates me in the same way. What I enjoy is the before and the after: the curious pleasure of beginning to explore an idea in my head, and the resounding pleasure of having finished a book.

Everything in between is excruciating labour, impossible without wine, cigarettes, hours staring out of the window…

To answer the other part of your question, yes, detective Valerie Hart will be back in the next book, with a new serial killer on the loose and more puzzles to solve. I feel sorry for her.

Catégories :Interviews littéraires

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