Don’t forget his name...


Don’t forget his name...

J.S. Monroe’s debut thriller, Find Me, was a critically acclaimed bestseller in the UK and Ireland in 2018. This autumn, he will be back on the bookshelves, with a dazzling new psychological thriller, Forget My Name

Where did you get your inspiration for this book?

I live in a village in Wiltshire and have always wondered what would happen if a stranger arrived off the train from London, walked up to our front door and said she lived in our house. She appears to be in a fugue state, suffering from amnesia – something that I think we all live in fear of. Throw in the number of psychiatric patients each year who, tragically, go on to kill after being released into the community; a widespread suspicion of Russia’s continued covert activities in Wiltshire; and a local journalist haunted by a girlfriend from his distant past and you have the inspiration for a thriller that explores multiple and frightening explanations for the woman’s mysterious arrival.

How do you come up with names for your characters?

A good question – after submitting the first draft for Forget my Name, it was politely pointed out to me that two of the key protagonists – Maddie and Laura – are the names of my editors at Head of Zeus! Pure coincidence, of course. Surnames need as much attention as first names. My police detective is called Hart and another local character is called Huish – both are common Wiltshire names.

What are your favourite/least favourite parts/scenes to write?

For the first time, I’ve included an element of police procedure in this book. I thought I would find this challenging but it’s proved great fun. I took an old school friend, who is with Thames Valley Police, out for dinner and picked his brains. Wiltshire police have also been very helpful. When I wrote spy thrillers, I could make a lot of it up – no one really knows their modus operandi and those that do can’t tell you. It’s different with police procedurals. You have to get it right. Is it important to have a likeable/relatable protagonist? There is a danger with likeable characters that they can appear a bit boring and bland. Conversely, you can put readers off if your villains are too objectionable. The secret is to make characters compelling – the reader either looks on with interested sympathy or appalled fascination.

Who is your favourite character in the book and why?

DCI Silas Hart. He’s my first proper police character and I’ve really come to like him. Ex Met, he’s a bit unreconstructed but tries hard to do the right thing, whether it’s embracing technology or being fair to female colleagues. He’s also coming to terms with the fact that he’s back working in the town where he grew up, Swindon, a place most famous for a roundabout…

What came first? A character, the plot, setting?

I always try to begin with an arresting situation, in this case an amnesiac turning up in a rural community. I like to dig myself a hole at the beginning of a novel and then figure out how the hell I’m going to get out of it. Having sorted the opening, I started to think more about the amnesiac’s past – and how I was going to write about it, given she can’t reveal it herself. Challenging but worth it.

Do you give yourself nightmares/scare yourself?

For a long while I have been haunted by the image of coming home off the evening commuter train and seeing another family through the window – in my house. Perhaps it’s why I’ve chucked in commuting to write full-time at home! I’ve also spent quite a bit of time researching the brain and how memory works – and fails. It’s been frightening to see how a disease such as Alzheimer’s can start to hinder cognitive functioning as early as your late thirties.

Why crime?

Crime allows a writer to explore the worst in human nature – and the best. It’s given me an opportunity to examine extremes. I’m also intrigued by how people project their own theories onto a situation, which opens up lots of narrative possibilities, some more reliable than others. Of course, the real reason could be something completely different altogether…

Does your book draw on your personal experiences?

I think any writer who says otherwise is being disingenuous. In Forget My Name, I’ve brought the setting very close to home – a village not dissimilar to my own – although there are significant differences. (We don’t yet have a vegan café run by a New Yorker, for example.) The Berlin finale, including the club scenes, are a result of my eldest son living and working there in his year off. I also like to write about subjects that I’m less familiar with, as I enjoy the research. In this case, fugue states, the workings of the human memory, police procedure. As for the dark stuff, as I always tell my wife, I am drawing on my imagination, not my memory!

How do you research your books?

The internet has opened up so many possibilities for the thriller writer, although I like to visit places too. For Find Me, and for Forget My Name, I turned to various academic websites for the latest research on Big Pharma and neuroscience. I quizzed my son about the goings on at Berghain, one of Berlin’s most famous clubs. He wouldn’t let me come with him!

What's next?

I’d like to write again about DCI Silas Hart, but continuing in a hybrid way, combining the psychological thriller with elements of a police procedural. It’s a heady mix that cherry-picks the best of both genres.

Forget My Name is out now in hardback and ebook.