In February Thrillers and More has put the spotlight on Alex Michaelides and his debut, The Silent Patient. A lot of questions came up while we read his book and he was kind enough to answer them, how cool is that?!
Who is Alex Michaelides? How would your best friend describe you?
That’s a tricky question. I’m not sure how my friends would describe me – I’m not sure they would be honest! I think I’m quite a sensitive person, too sensitive sometimes, a little shy and probably a little neurotic, like most writers. The Dalai Lama said the most important word is ‘kindness’ and that’s something I think about a lot. I try to live up to that, whenever possible – of course, it isn’t always!
Is it a big step from writing for film to writing a full-length novel? What made you take that step?
To be honest, it was a last resort. I was getting close to giving up writing. I had been struggling as a screenwriter for many years, never quite succeeding. I suspect now that I was perhaps a novelist, not a screenwriter. Anyway, about four years ago I was in a very low place. I felt like a creative failure – I didn’t even have an agent at that point. So, I thought it would be a good time to sit down and write that novel that I had always wanted to write, but somehow never found time for. I struggled with confidence issues, and still do – I came close to giving up writing the book every day, and now I’m so glad I didn’t!
Is writing something you have always wanted to do? Was it strange for you in some way to switch from a filmscript to a book?
A friend of mine who is a critic said that novels are about expansion and films are about contraction. Meaning in a movie, you keep things moving fast, but in a book, you can slow down and explore the details of someone’s life – and that was very liberating for me as a writer. And I finally found my voice – ironic, considering I was writing about a woman who doesn’t speak.
You have studied psychotherapy and worked with young adults. How difficult was that? Is this where the idea for The Silent Patient came from?
I studied psychotherapy at a couple of different places – I never completed my studies as I decided I was a writer, not a therapist. But I learned a lot, particularly working with troubled young people at a secure unit. I learned a lot and it made me grow up. The idea for the book had been brewing for many years before that – but when I decided to write an Agatha Christie style novel, I knew I needed an iconic, enclosed location – and the secure psychiatric unit came to mind.
How long did it take for you to write The Silent Patient?
Probably about three years, but I was working on other things as well, so it’s hard to be sure.
Do you have certain habits when you write? Loud music, absolute silence, loads of coffee or tea, snacks?
I drink too much coffee! I also meditate a lot, usually three times a day when I’m writing. It helps to clear my mind. I write listening to classical music generally.
When you finished writing The Silent Patient, how hard was it to say goodbye to Alicia and Theo?
I still think about them, and I do wonder what happened next for Theo. Maybe one day I will revisit them!
How much of yourself is in Theo?
A lot of me went into Theo, but an equal amount went into Alicia. They are both me, really.
When writing, did you have everything plotted and outlined from the beginning till the end or did you let your characters/story lead the way?
I trained as a screenwriter at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and I was taught always to outline, as ultimately it saves time while writing. So, I tend to outline a lot. Where I allow myself more freedom is dialogue. I don’t think about that until I actually write it.
Will The Silent Patient ever be a film and if so, how involved would you like to be?
Yes, hopefully it will be a movie. Brad Pitt’s company, Plan B, has optioned the rights and hired me to write the script. So it will be an interesting experience, taking it apart and putting it together for a different medium.
Are you already thinking about your next book or have you already started your next one?
I am about halfway through writing it. It’s about a series of murders at a Cambridge college.
Do you like to read yourself? Who is your favourite author and what is the best book you have ever read?
I read a lot, and I don’t really read many thrillers. I love Agatha Christie, but my favourite writer is probably Evelyn Waugh, and my favourite book is Brideshead Revisited.
Why should we all read The Silent Patient?
Perhaps I can leave you with one of my favourite quotes that one of my publishers gave me. They said The Silent Patient is not just a book for people who like thrillers, but for anyone who has ever been in therapy, or ever been in love. Which is hopefully a lot of people!