As with pretty much all authors, my literary influences are legion. I draw inspiration from all over the place, from things that happen to me or that I see, from movies and TV shows, and of course from books. Ever writer is in one way or another the product of the books they've read, and I've always worn my inspirations proudly, happy to openly tip my hat to the authors and books that have fed into my work. Sometimes they're not easy to credit, as the inspirations come from my subconscious -- for instance, the Little People in the Cirque Du Freak were inspired by the movie Phantasm, but I'd completely forgotten about it when I was writing the book, and it was only year later when I came across it in my DVD collection that I went to myself, "Oh yeah!" But I always knew that The Evil And The Pure was in large part the product of my love for James Ellroy's novels.
Like many people, I came to Ellroy through the movie of L.A. Confidential. I was blown away when I saw it, and swiftly started working my way through his entire back catalogue. Some of his earlier books were very rough around the edges, and he took his curt writing style a bit TOO minimal for my liking in some of his later work, but those classics in the middle... damn, they were great! I loved the speed at which the stories moved, the darkness they explored, the troubled and often unlikeable yet sympathetic characters at the heart of the plots. He usually pinned a story around two or three main characters, and of course they were mostly set in Los Angeles, a city that he probed just as deeply and beautifully as he probed the psyches of his flawed creations.
I was born in London, and although I've spent most of my life in Ireland, I've always bounced back and forth between the two. In the late 90s and early noughties I started spending more time in London than ever before, because as I started to get paid for my writing, I was able to travel more freely. I felt like I wanted to write a novel that served London as a dark love song, in the same way that Ellroy's novels eulogised L.A. And although I'd written most of my books with one main character at the core, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a leaf out of Ellroy's books and cast four flawed, evil men as my narrative foils.
Actually, I guess if London could be classed as a fifth character, this was really a story of six characters -- the sixth being Evil. I've always been fascinated by evil and its workings, and have explored the nature of evil in many of my books. In this one I decided to go further than normal, to look at evil in as many of its distinct and different hues as I could. Thus, each of my four man characters represented a different type of evil -- a gangster who is a decent guy in many ways but who will commit terrible acts as part of his job; a nice, easy-going guy who will happily sell drugs that destroy lives, caring only about the money he makes; a thug who is full of rage and fear, who lashes out and kills to feed his dark urges; and a dangerously obsessed man who feeds on a lurid perversion and will sacrifice everything in pursuit of it.
Each character came together with speed and ease. I often find that the dark, troubled characters are the easiest to write about, and this was a book full of villains who would have been the key bogeyman in any other novel -- there were others in addition to the four I mostly focused on, such as the fallen priest and the mob boss who wanted to go straight.
The only real difficulty I had with the book was pulling back from the darkness over the course of the rewrites and edits. The first few drafts were even darker than the finished book. I gave my cast more leeway, wrote about their dark acts in greater detail, took the hypothetical readers closely and intimately into their warped worlds. That's something that I often have to do when writing about extreme characters -- to fully get under their skin, I have to go with their dark whims. It sometimes takes me into very uncomfortable zones, places where I know most readers won't want to follow. The task is then to whittle the story down, to draw back at times rather than always follow. It's not about watering down the darkness, but making it more palatable. I wanted these to be nightmarish creations, but not so repulsive that they drove readers away.
I based most of the book around the southeast of London, around landmarks and streets that I had explored as a child and later as an adult -- in many ways, even though the story has nothing to do with my life, this is my most personal and autobiographical work. I'd lived in an area called The Elephant And Castle, and stayed there when I was an university, so that featured heavily in the book. I had a great-aunt called Nora, who lived on Long Lane close to Tower Bridge and London Bridge, and I used to stay with her when I'd visit London in the late 90s and early noughties, so those areas fed into it too. The church where the foul Fr Sebastian lives was modeled after the English Martyrs church, which was my family's local church when they lived in the area -- my parents were married there and I was baptised there. The lab where the imprisoned Dr Phials works was based on a garage in a cul-de-sac a row or two along from Walworth Avenue, which is where my grandparents lived and where I stayed when I went to university. And so on, and so on.
A few of the characters were named after (but not based upon) real people too. The vile Kevin was named after a cousin of mine. And the taxi driver who appears late in the book, Dave English, was named after my taxi driver friend who has popped up in more than one of my novels -- if I come to a scene that requires a cabbie, I usually name him after Dave!
There's no denying that The Evil And The Pure is a dark, troubling book, but I hope I layered it with enough light and purity at the same time to render it an enjoyable read too -- ultimately it IS a story about good triumphing over evil, and shows that in even the bleakest of environments, there's always hope. I have to admit that this is a book of 99% evil and 1% pure, but that 1% is enough for light to win out over darkness in the end. I like to think it always will be.