Monday, March 5, 2012


That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
(Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1.5.105)

When I wrote VENOM friends who read the book asked me how I could dream up such a thoroughly evil villain. Because they knew me, they wondered aloud at my devious mind.

In life I don’t consider myself devious at all; I can be quite naive at times. But there are two reasons I managed it. One, it was based on a real character: Michel Christian is not Charles Sobrajh, but his life was the inspiration and I borrowed his MO. 

I also wanted to write the story because I knew how close I came to being one of his victims when I was backpacking through Asia in my twenties. Our paths crossed several times and in several places.

But I believe it’s Michel Christian’s character that makes the book; it not serial killing that fascinates me, it’s charisma. Because true evil is irresistible - until it’s far too late.

I wrote VENOM as an edge of the seat thriller; when it was released in the UK I treasured the letters blaming me for a bad day at work. I was up to 4am finishing your damned book!

But my ambition was to do more than this. I wanted to describe the kind of man, or woman, that we should all learn to treat more warily; the charmer, the beauty, the charismatic life of the party. They are either the most loveable - or the most lethal - people in the world.

The loner who preys on society is dangerous but unsurprising. If you don’t hitchhike or jog in dark places they can be avoided. But we are all prey to the Michel Christians of this world.

WHAT A VILLAIN DOES NOT LOOK LIKE! caricature by JJ: file by gustaveb

One of the most laughable things you hear after a serial killer has been caught are his neighbours telling journalists that he/she seemed so nice. So normal. BUT OF COURSE THEY DID!!! Most of us cannot imagine outwardly warm and charming people committing crimes; this is why they get away with committing them. It is the first chapter in the defence lawyer’s manual.

Charm can be entirely manufactured, in the way that conscience and integrity cannot. As any introvert will tell you - and I grew up shy so I will attest to this - becoming socially adept, even an accomplished public speaker, is something you can learn

Predators of every kind - including wife-beaters and paedophiles - rely on the fact that people will initially take them at face value. But face value is just that; something people do with their face.

In Groningen, in Holland, some ground-breaking work is under way at the moment to explore this phenomenon. Scientists are learning to measure individual levels of empathy in the human brain; because it's the ability to empathize, not the ability to charm, that makes us human.

Show someone a picture of a crying or injured child and most often certain circuits in the brain will light up; it is the empathic response. Most people want to help or to comfort.

Yet in certain individuals that response is completely absent.
Show them someone in pain or distress and they feel nothing at all. Such people become aware of their difference to others at an early age and learn to mask it. And it is in the most successful disguise - that of the joker - that you have the making of the true monster. You have Michel Christian.

dc_comics. Author: godai
(You can read more on the Groningen experiments here.) 

As well as being sexy and attractive, Michel is courageous, resourceful, determined, a born leader - there is so much to admire and be seduced by. Yet he feels nothing but his own pain.

The real danger in such people is that they are irresistibly drawn to those who have the most empathy, because they cannot comprehend its absence in someone else. The victim completely misreads the sociopath. They ignore the things that don’t quite fit, the things they do that should serve as warning. It happens every day, from email scams where people lose their money to romances gone bad where people suffer violence or worse.  

How many of us reading this have been duped by the man or woman who smiles and smiles and yet remains a villain; and further, have then discovered how pointless it is to warn others, for they only see the smile and yearn for its warmth to shine on them?

And so I wrote VENOM; and wove the character of Michel Christian, the beautiful dark angel as hypnotic when he perform his dance as the serpent that writhes its way through the book’s pages to its inexorable conclusion ...

Today is VENOM’s first ever release in the US and is exclusive to Nook through Who Dares Wins Publishing. Find it here at Nook.
And this week VENOM has been chosen for the Nook First program! NOOK FIRST