Interview: Seth Patrick

ReviverSeth Patrick was born in Northern Ireland and after graduating in mathematics from Oxford, became a computer programmer for an award-winning games company. His first novel Reviver was published to critical acclaim this month, and he answered some questions about Reviver and his writing career from Paul Simpson…

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You mention in your acknowledgements that Edgar Allen Poe was an inspiration for Reviver – when did you first start reading his work?

I was around fourteen when I saw the Roger Corman movie Masque of the Red Death. A few days later I spotted a cheap Poe collection that had the original story, and bought it. I would dip in from time to time, and I still do. The two tales that inspired ReviverThe Facts in the Case of Monsieur Valdemar, and Murders on the Rue Morgue – were among the first I read.

The backstory is very detailed – did you work it all out before you started writing, or did you develop it during the initial drafting?

After writing the opening chapter, I spent a good four months working through ideas, trying to get a feel for the world, and developing a narrative that could carry a whole book. Early attempts at the narrative went in wildly different directions, and backstory evolved as the book took shape, but much of it was worked out in that initial period.

croydon10Although you have a character who spends time in Britain, the story is primarily set in America – did you ever consider setting it over here?

It was originally set in the UK, with the FRS headquarters in Croydon (right)! The idea was to make it as unglamorous as possible, to use the mundane location to ground it. Some of my early readers told me that they loved the book but found the UK settings jarring, and thought America would be a much better fit. So, the book already had an American feel to it, and I’d not made enough of the UK location to counter that. It was something that became increasingly obvious as I worked through the relocation, as it took very little work, yet the book was far stronger as a result.

The press has periodic interest in mediums, such as Doris Stokes; was that sort of communication with the dead something that you had an interest in before working on this?

It’s always fascinated me, but more from the sceptical side – the willingness to believe in something that is, at best, wishful thinking, and at worst downright fraud. One of the original ideas behind the book was to contrast revival with police usage of psychics or mediums, and the way that’s sometimes lauded in the media, even though it’s entirely inappropriate to use something that has absolutely no evidence to support it. Revival is, in a way, just a traditional story of mediums helping the police – but in a setting where the evidence is undeniable. I was suggesting that if something that astonishing was real, the evidence wouldn’t be elusive, and it would be used constantly.

Saying that, it was only after starting the book that I ever even met a medium. Up until then, I’d not credited the idea that people doing that kind of thing could be genuine, even in intent. The more money they make, the less genuine you can expect them to be, I suspect, but I shifted position away from thinking they were all shysters. Misguided and mistaken, in my opinion, but that’s a flaw we all share in one way or another.

Did you have any particular characters you empathised with more, so found easier to write? They’re all flawed in different ways.

I have to admit I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to characters. I like to be able to root for them, wish them well, hope they make the right choices. I like them to have a basic decency, I guess. All the major characters are doing what they think is the right thing. As for who I found easiest to write – well, that has to be Never. The problem is usually reining him in…

seth-patrick-1007064Did you always intend it as a trilogy? And can you drop any spoiler-free hints about what may be coming up?

For a long time I had no intention of writing a sequel, let alone a trilogy. One of the earliest decisions with the book was if it should be a crime-novel-with-a-twist, where we basically end up reset at the end, ready for the next episode. Much more suitable to a series, with different crimes investigated by the same reviver, but that kind of thing gets far too contrived. I knew I wouldn’t want that basic new-crime-per-book template, or to effectively repeat the first book, so I didn’t even consider a sequel.

Inevitably, as the novel took shape, ideas for what could come next caught my eye, but it was only during the last rewrite that it became a trilogy, because I found a way to do it that interested me.

As for hints, all I’ll say is: things change.

The first line is very powerful – and reprinted on the back of the hardback cover. Was that there from the earliest draft?

They were actually the very first words I wrote. Well, not quite – what I wrote was ‘Miller hated talking to the dead.’ The original idea was that he really hated his job, but as I grew to know the character, it turned out that wasn’t the way of it at all. He found it tough, though. So, I added ‘Sometimes’, and by then we were on first name terms. Hence: ‘Sometimes, Jonah Miller hated talking to the dead.’

You credit two doctors in the acknowledgements; how did you go about researching a book based on this sort of premise?

The doctors credited are both AI specialists, one of whom works with medical imagers, and they were invaluable for getting the scientific feel right. The first piece of research I did for the book was to read some forensic pathology texts. Gruesome, harrowing stuff, but it was interesting to see how quickly you can adjust to it, fascination overcoming the repulsion.

What’s the earliest story you can remember writing – have you always wanted to be a writer?

I think I was about six when I made a little cardboard book about a brave rabbit finding some treasure. The next year I’d moved on to a demonic water creature terrorising a group of kids. Much better.

I’ve always loved writing. At 22 I gave it up for a while, prose at least, when I decided I didn’t have the sheer literary ability and moved on to screenwriting. (No real success there, all told, but it was fun.) When I hit thirty, I landed my first games programming job, something I’d wanted to do since I was a kid – that, or being an author.

Nailing one childhood dream made me think about the other, and then I read an interview with JK Rowling, saying how she wrote for the fun of it, things she would have wanted to read. That struck a chord. Seems obvious to me now, but it was a revelation. I started again, and kicked myself for ever giving it up.

Thanks to Naomi Bacon at Macmillan for her help setting up this interview

Read our review of Reviver here

Click here to order Reviver from Amazon.co.uk

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