Interview with Craig Russell – Author of The Devil Aspect
Peter: Craig, it was a pleasure to get the opportunity of reading your book, The Devil Aspect, I love thrillers with that supernatural and demonic threat. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview. Many thanks for making the time available.
Craig: My pleasure! I’m more than happy to take part and thanks for asking me.
Peter: What inspired you to write this book, The Devil Aspect?
Craig: There were a number of inspirations. The main thing, I think, is that I wanted to write something about the human unconscious, and the implications of there being such a thing as the collective unconscious. I have a long-standing interest in mythology and folklore, not just the myths themselves, but their function within human social psychology. And that, of course, brought me to Carl Jung and his theories of aspects and archetypes dwelling in the collective unconscious. But if I were to pin the ‘aha!’ moment down, I would say it was when I was visiting the castle of Hrad Karlstejn in Bohemia and I suddenly imagined is as an asylum. That’s when my invented castle of Hrad Orlů started to take form. And once it did and I opened its doors, I found The Devil’s Six waiting, as it were. Which, if you think about it, says some scary things about my personal unconscious!
Peter: What was your consideration, basing the story in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s? Did this relate to the evil that was materialising in Nazi Germany and had you any thoughts on how this could be so systemic?
Craig: To be honest, it started off with me wanting to set it in the Czech lands. I wanted to write a classically gothic novel and, of course, central and eastern Europe is the established setting for such fiction. But the simple fact is that I love Prague and the Bohemian lands—the architecture, the culture, the history and the people. The Czechs are an incredibly sophisticated people with a dark and ironic sense of humour. It’s no coincidence Franz Kafka was a Czech.
The main themes of The Devil Aspect are madness and the nature of
evil. It just struck me that, while
discussing various forms of evil and madness within the castle’s walls, it
would be interesting to counterbalance that with the even greater evil and
madness that was taking shape ‘through the forest’ in neighbouring Germany—and
to draw comparisons between the two.
Peter: There is a considerable amount of psychiatric background, methods and drugs researched for this book. How extensive was this and what was the most interesting aspect of your research?
Craig: I have been interested in neuro-psychiatry for years. Before the war—and for a good while after it—there were a lot of practices and treatments that we baulk at today. One of those really was narco-synthesis: hypnosis aided by dangerous doses of narcotics. All of this was stuff I already knew about but, obviously, there was a great deal of research involved in the novel—not just relating to the medical practice of the time, but to Slavic mythology, central European history, the pre-war political situation … The research was continuous throughout the writing of the book. I don’t have a ‘research stage’ then a ‘writing stage’—the two work together seamlessly and inform each other’s direction.
Peter: Which of the Devil’s Six characters was the most difficult to develop and contain? Did they frighten you in what they were capable of?
Craig: The Demon, obviously, is considered the worst of the Six, who are in turn the worst of the worst. In writing the Demon, some of his excesses went too far and I had to edit them out. However, I would say, for me, the Sciomancer was the most difficult for me to contain. I found his story the most fascinating and could almost have written an entire book just about him!
I have to say that I experienced no difficulties in developing any of the Devil’s Six. And the only thing that frightened me is that I experienced no difficulties in developing any of the Devil’s Six! They were all there, almost fully formed, in my head as I wrote.
Peter: Viktor Kosárek is a wonderfully drawn character that is full or enthusiasm and expectation as he takes the new role at Hrad Orlů Asylum. What was the most challenging aspect in developing his character and his work at the Castle?
Craig: Again there was a lot of research involved in understanding the world—specifically the professional world—Viktor inhabits. The most challenging element of that research was looking into the reality of mental health care in Czechoslovakia in that period—it was not good. And when you start reading real-life case histories and the conditions some patients had to endure, then it becomes a sad task. But it was exactly the state of mental health care back there and then that forms Viktor as a character. He is a revolutionary—a zealot for change—exactly because of the prevailing attitudes, practices and conditions.
Peter: How much research did you go into the location of Hrad Orlů and its surrounding area? What was the most interesting piece you discovered?
Craig: Oh lots and lots! And that was the most fun in the whole thing. I have some kind of personality defect where I like to become someone else and experience the world from a different perspective. I like to immerse in the world I’m writing about.
And there was something hugely disturbing came to light as I researched. I had freely invented Hrad Orlů and made up the legends that surround it: that it had been built not as a fortress to keep something out, but to keep something in—that it had been built on top of a network of caves that were believed to be the Mouth of Hell. Then, as I wrote and researched, I discovered the real-life castle of Hrad Houska. And, you guessed it, Hrad Houska really had been built on top of a network of caves that were believed to be the Mouth of Hell. The parallels and coincidences were amazing. Synchronicity, as Carl Jung would have called it.
Peter: Do you use story boarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling? Would you therefore describe yourself as a plotter, pantser or plantser? – New terms for me 🙂
Craig: As they are to me! I certainly do not believe in rigid plotting. When I start a book, I always have the ‘feel’ of the book in my head: the central ideas and themes that will drive the narrative. I also know where I want the book to go, its destination. I usually have a clear idea of how the book will end and I very roughly set out the places I want to visit along the way. But, as with the research, the detailed planning of the novel is woven into the writing of it. It means I have the scope and freedom to be creative with my handling of the story.
Peter: Do you use particular software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Craig: God no. Writing is a creative, free-form activity. The most successful software—the only effective software—for creating original fiction is the human consciousness; it comes in an infinite variety of versions and automatically updates itself constantly!
Peter: What are the greatest benefits and restrictions to being a published Author? Do you get involved in finalising other aspects of the book, for example the cover design, narration and the promotion of the book?
Craig: The greatest benefit for me is that I have worked full-time for myself for over two decades. It has given me the freedom to be an always-there father to my kids, and to blur the life-work balance to the point that there really is no distinction. There’s nothing about my day-to-day working life I would ever want to change.
My publishers always give
me approval—and input—into the cover designs, as well
as the choice of narrator for the audiobooks.
I have to say that I’m delighted with both the US and UK covers, as well
as the fantastic narration of the audiobook by Julian Rhind-Tutt.
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Craig: I have an old-fashioned attitude that it’s my job to write the novels and publishers’ jobs to sell them. I enjoy doing interviews like this one and getting out to meet readers and fellow authors—although I don’t consider that so much promotion as, well, fun! The rest I leave to my publishers—I have a lot of ideas I want to get down onto paper and I consider that to be the best use of my time.
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Craig: Heinrich Böll, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Günter Grass, Anton Chekhov, Ira Levin, Robert Bloch, Guy de Maupassant, Daphne Du Maurier, Albert Camus, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, RL Stevenson, Raymond Chandler … the list goes on and on!
Peter: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Craig: I did two re-reads of perennial favourites this year: the Daphne Du Maurier short story collection Don’t Look Now, and Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying. But don’t ask me to choose between them!
Peter: What advice would you give to aspiring or debut authors?
Craig: Write, write, write! Then read, read, read! Then write, write, write some more! I cannot stress enough that just practising your craft every day—even if you end up throwing out what you’ve written—is absolutely key. And reading, too. You should read outside your comfort zone and definitely outside whatever genre you consider your own. These are the exercises that build writing muscle.
Peter: If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 personalities from any period in history who would they be and why?
Craig: Carl Gustav Jung—simply because he was such a uniquely interesting and complex intellect; Franz Kafka—to talk writing and books; Richard Feynman—the fact that he was a Nobel-winning theoretical physicist and strip-club bongo player says it all, I think.
Peter: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Craig: I have another historical gothic thriller in the pipeline—a different setting and a different period from The Devil Aspect, but again one that has a strong psychological element to it. More than that, I’m not saying at the moment!
Peter: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Craig: Inevitably, I’m out there on social media. Visit my website www.craigrussell.com, my Twitter https://twitter.com/TheCraigRussell , Facebook https://www.facebook.com/craigrussellbooks/, or my Instagram (which I still haven’t worked out how to use properly!): https://www.instagram.com/craigrussellauthor/
Peter: Craig, I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. If there are other snippets of information you wish to provide, please feel free. I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful books and I wish you massive success for the future.
Craig: The pleasure was mine: I really enjoyed answering your questions. Thank you so much for your interest in The Devil Aspect.