Interview with A.J. Waines

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What everyday situation drives you mad?
People mistreating animals – to me, it’s the worst thing ever and breaks my heart.

Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
I went to an amazing Genesis concert in Birmingham, years ago – but I love a broad range of music, from Pet Shop Boys to Chopin to Shostakovich. My current favourite is: The Opening by Ane Brun (the closing music to the 2nd Swedish series of Wallander).

Colours you’d never wear?
Canary yellow – makes my skin look like mouldy pancake.

Name three contents currently in your fridge!
(No mouldy pancake) Double-Gloucester Cheese, fresh cherries and soya milk (I’m veggie)

Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
Let the Right One In (a sad and chilling Swedish film) and Tell No One (from the book by Harlan Coben)

Your idea of a perfect holiday?
A few nights at a Luxury Spa with back massages, reflexology and plenty of books to read by the pool.

Favourite literary or movie villain?
I can’t think of anyone more terrifying than Hannibal Lecter, can you..?

Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
The Birds

You have a very keen eye for the drama and the evil that is lurking underneath the surface of everyday life. Would you say that evil is often closer than one would think?
Firstly, I appreciate your kind words. Yes – I think often the scariest situations are the ones that are meant to be the safest… there’s so much at stake in ‘domestic noir’ scenarios and often a conflict of interest. People have no idea what is going on behind that front door…

Dark Place to Hide starts with an ultimate betrayal and yet I liked the fact that Harper keeps hoping for the best because he loves Dee very much. Do you think in modern times lots of couples throw in the towel at the first sight of trouble?
In my experience as a therapist, I’d say people often react very badly when something terrible happens in a relationship – they storm off, make ultimatums or do something they regret – but once the dust settles, if there is genuine love as the bedrock, couples will try to work it out.

You are telling Dark Place to Hide from Harper’s perspective in first person. Has your professional experience helped that you express the thoughts of a man so very well?
I think listening to both genders being vulnerable and speaking from the heart in therapy does allow me to reach a ‘voice’ that I hope, feels genuine. I also think that personally, I have quite a ‘masculine’ personality type – I’m naturally less emotional and more of a thinking/action type!

At one point in the book Tara asks Diane ‘Don’t you think there are people who are pure evil and hurt because they can, without any real motive?’ Have you actually met people who are like that?
I think on the surface it may appear like that – people harming others just because they can –  but hidden beneath the layers there’s often a history of maltreatment or neglect, or mental health issues or physiological injury. My forthcoming novel No Longer Safe, (which comes out next year), deals with some of these issues, but I can’t give too much away!

Harper is suffering from severe anger issues. Can they really be resolved as easily as in Dark Place To Hide in some cases?
I don’t expand on this in the story, but in Dark Place to Hide, I envisage Harper using his own insights as a starting point and having his own therapy for a while to deal with the issue fully. Sometimes people can have an ‘Ah-ha’ moment and they really do turn a corner – but for something as deep-rooted as Harper’s anger, I think he’s hopeful and he’s made a considerable breakthrough by the end of the novel, but he can’t yet say ‘never’, for certain.

You’ve been working as a psychotherapist for a long time and you worked with offenders in high security prisons. Did you always know you wanted to write? Would you say that writing has also become a form of therapy for you? (If you don’t mind me asking that last question)
Writing is definitely a form of therapy for me – in fact, I’ve written a self-help book about personal expression, called The Self-Esteem Journal (under Alison Waines) which is all about using a personal journal to explore identity and build self-esteem. This was a long time before I wrote my first novel – I always loved the idea of writing fiction, but thought a whole novel was beyond me. Growing up, I also failed my English literature high-school exam, so that didn’t bode well! Since adulthood, I’ve written every single day – whether it’s in the form of personal ‘notes to self’,  a writing-journal, essays or the book I’m working on.

Did you ever base a story on cases you have come across in your job as a psychotherapist or would you consider it for the future? Thinking of the story of Victor it could actually be true…
My experiences with clients filter into my stories quite a bit, but I have to be very careful to avoid breaching confidentiality. It’s not just about changing gender to disguise a person’s identity; some cases are so unusual and specific, I cannot afford to make the details known in a book!

Do you think that anyone is capable of murder, given the right circumstances? Also, would you say that people have gotten more aggressive in recent years and that the boundaries of committing serious crimes have considerably dropped?
That’s a really interesting question. I think that most people are capable of ‘killing’ another person – but in many cases I think it’s likely to be similar to Victor – a spur of the moment reaction that gets out of hand – that they immediately regret. Murder implies advance planning – and I’m not sure everyone has this in them. Thankfully, most anger, jealousy and hate doesn’t lead to actively plotting to end another person’s life. But, like suicide – I believe a lot of people ‘think about’ it at some point in their lives.
As to your second question, it certainly seems that people express aggression, especially in public, more readily than they used to. Violence associated with radicalisation and extremism seems to be playing a big part in everyone’s consciousness at the moment – I don’t remember ever hearing those terms twenty years ago.

Do you feel that in these days of publishing overload it becomes harder to reach the readers, as they can choose from an inexhaustible variety of books?
This is an ongoing challenge for any writer now. Visibility is the key here, if books aren’t easily discoverable no one is going to come across them. It’s not just about high street bookshops anymore, and most authors, traditionally published or not, have to spend time building an online platform with plenty of marketing and publicity.

What is your preferred read for recreation? Thrillers or rather something more light-hearted?
I love psychological thrillers and mysteries – I try to read wider, but always get drawn back to them , like a magnet!

Thanks so much for the interview! And the blog tour of A.J. Waines continues as follows: