MysteryPeople Q&A with Michael Robotham

Say You’re Sorry is the latest book from Michael Robatham featuring Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychiatrist suffering from Parkinson’s who assists the British police. O’Loughlin is summoned to a small town to look into the three year old disappearance of two girls when a new suspect is found. Robotham has a great ability to take us through some of the darkest parts of the psyche, yet still keep a tone of humanity. Joe will be joining us on Monday, October 8th with author Helen Knode for a signing and discussion. In the mean time, Mr. Robotham was kind enough to answer a few questions from us.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: In Say You’re Sorry, the town of Bingham is practically a character in the book and not particularly a nice one. How did you approach writing about it?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: I decided to set Say You’re Sorry in a small town to show the impact that a terrible crime can have on a close-knit community where everybody knows each other. A place normally regarded as being peaceful and idyllic takes on a completely different atmosphere when children go missing. People question friendships and look askance at neighbors. Doors are locked. Children aren’t allowed out to play.

I grew up in small country towns and I know what dark secrets can lie behind the net curtains and pretty facades.

MP: Piper narrates part of the story in a very odd voice that doesn’t seem to portray any sense of danger. How did this concept come about?

MR: Sometimes we get Piper’s thoughts and other times read her diaries, as she explains the ordeal that she’s endured. She and her best friend Tash were kidnapped and imprisoned three years earlier, but now Tash has managed to escape their ‘dungeon’ and go for help, leaving Piper behind. Slowly Piper begins to suspect that Tash isn’t coming back. And if there’s one thing worse than being imprisoned, it’s being alone.

MP: What makes O’Loughlin a character worth writing about for you?

MR: Joe O’Loughlin is like an old friend, who has featured in some of my previous novels. He’s a clinical psychologist, with a brilliant understanding of human nature, but a crumbling body. He’s the perfect narrator for a story like  Say You’re Sorry, which is psychologically very dark and confronting. Joe has such a wonderful sense of humor and humanity that he lightens up the darkest moments. Readers feel safe in his hands. He’ll take them to some very dark places, but bring them out again unscathed

MP: How do you go about researching O’Loughlins job as a psychologist since he applies that skill to working a case?

MR: Many years ago I was fortunate enough to work with a brilliant psychologist called Paul Britton, who pioneered offender profiling in the UK. Paul worked on some of the most celebrated crimes in Great Britain, helping the police catch dozens of killers. His knowledge of criminal behavior and motivations was drawn from a long career working in secure mental units and prison hospitals with the criminally insane, making decisions about whether they could ever be released into the community.

Most of my knowledge comes from Paul Britton, who has a phenomenal ability to ‘read’ people – the way they walk, talk, dress, react. He has an amazing mind that never stops processing the world around him.

MP: You’re vice as a writer seems so immersed in the character you’re following that it’s difficult to trace an influence. Do you have any?

MR: I write in the first person, inhabiting the skin of my characters, looking at the world through their eyes.

Years ago, when my first novel Suspectwas sold around the world on a partial manuscript, I got near the end and Joe O’Loughin was in so much trouble – about to lose his wife, family, his career and perhaps his liberty. I suddenly realized how I was going to save him, but in the same breath thought to myself, ‘If I get run over by a bus tomorrow, Joe will go to prison for the rest of his life for a murder he didn’t commit.’

I wrote manically for 48 hours to get the story down, so that if something happened to me, Joe would be safe. That’s how real my characters are to me. That’s my vice.

MP: One of my favorite lines in the book is “I don’t mind the snow. It hides so many sins.” What does it hide for Joe?

MR: A city covered in snow is given a chance to start again. Everything looks clean and fresh for just a few hours.

I’m always reminded of something my daughter said to me when she was four-years-old and I was pushing her on a swing. ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘if you close your eyes and squeeze them tightly shut, when you open the again – it can be a brand new world.’ From the mouth of a child…amazing!

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