By Basil Sands
HOW TO KILL YOUR FRIENDS is the latest high energy, thought-provoking, and downright cool release by Phil Kurthausen. Phil is an award-winning thriller and crime novelist from Liverpool who now lives in Barcelona.
His novel The Silent Pool won the Crime & Thriller section in the Harper Collins People’s Novelist Competition broadcast on national TV in the UK in 2011. It was later shortlisted for the Dundee International Literary Prize. His other titles include the follow up in the Erasmus Jones series, Sudden Death, and the standalone psychological thriller Don´t Let Me In.
Kurthausen lives with his wife and a cat which, for legal reasons, bears no resemblance to the cat, ´Lil´Bitch,´ from ´Don’t Let Me In.’ He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented?
The biggest challenge was to make a sociopathic young woman a sympathetic character. I was inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, but it can be difficult to make a reader believe that it could be justified to make the cold-blooded decision to kill someone because they are in your way.
And the biggest opportunity?
The biggest opportunity was to write about the difference between the lives people portray online versus the reality of their existence. It’s in that gap that Meredith operates so successfully and it was fun to write that.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Yeah, I thought I knew a lot about Barcelona and its history of political violence, but the extent of what we now call ‘fake news’ and how it was used back in the 1930s and 1940s did surprise me and forms part of the novel’s backdrop.
Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?
I think there is a limited sub-genre of female protagonists who are the “villains” of the piece and usually we are not sympathetic to them. I wanted to make a character who did awful things, but who we could understand and sympathize with. I hope I succeeded.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
Patricia Highsmith—to write and make us cheer on the worst examples of human behavior is some skill.
Stephen King—because we should always remember the reader wants to know “what happens next” above and beyond our fancy post-modern meta narratives and tricks.
If you had nothing, and then everything, how far would you go to keep it?
I think we are constantly shown on social media a life beyond most of our means and one that is unreachable for most people. This leads to a constant craving because of non-stop “evidence” in our news feeds that our lives do not measure up to the online ideal.
I think this can and will lead to some truly abhorrent behavior.
When did you decide you wanted to write your first novel and what made you think you could do it?
I decided to write my first novel after reading The Hobbit when I was 13 years old. There was a map on the first leaf of my copy, and this map seemed to be more than just a map of Middle Earth; to me it was a map of Tolkien’s imagination. I could see him dreaming of Fangorn forest and then just putting it there, where he wanted it to be, and then adding to it and making his imaginative land real in words and on paper. Basically, I realized that by writing you could be a god and create your own worlds. This makes me sound like a megalomaniac but then maybe I am.
Can you describe your typical writing process?
This is advice to myself as I am currently deciding on which novel to write next at the moment. I have three candidates at various stages. This is how it works for me. I usually have a few ideas for stories, but I know that whichever I start writing is going to take a year of my life, so I don’t rush. I move from my laptop, jotting down a few ideas, scenes, etc, and back to my bed where I lay just thinking about things, and then back to my laptop. Once I’ve decided which idea I’m going with, I write backstories for my characters, plot and have a general idea of where it’s going to go (although this does often change as I write) and then I begin to write. Some days are good, some days I drink coffee and snarl at the cat.
And finally, the question that gets to the heart and soul, the very essence of Phil Kurthausen. A scenario.
You’re on the beach just north of Liverpool. It’s late at night, and the full moon is shining on the waves of the incoming tide as you sip your favorite whiskey. All of a sudden you hear a scuff and a bump, and a hiccup, followed by muttered surprise. You look over and see a largish coracle has washed up on the beach, and there are voices coming from it. Irish voices. Small Irish voices. As you approach you see four compact men, about waist high to you. They see you and smile in a most friendly manner then ask, “You wouldn’t happen to know the way back to Ballyhornan, would’ja?”
What do you do?
It’s a bit late for a rainbow but already I’m thinking moonbeams, pots of gold, and faerie magic. But more than that, these fellows look like they need a drink so I offer them a seat at my table and tell them that they must be lost because this is Liverpool and not Ballyhornan. And I should know as I was born in Ballyhornan.
The smallest of the group, a squat man with a long dark beard and eyes like flints of coal that peek out from under his grubby, green velvet hat starts to laugh and then the others start to join in until they all laughing, some of them snorting like pigs.
I ask them what is so funny, and the laughter stops.
The man with the velvet cap looks me directly in the eye and I feel my blood freeze as though he is talking to me in the gap between the contraction and the expansion of my heart.
“But for sure, this is Ballyhornan. Look around you.”
And knowing before I look what I will see I do and he’s right, he was always right. The beachfront suburban houses of Liverpool have gone, replaced by looming cliffs and there in the black sea from where they came are not the distant wind turbines that were there moments before but the towering rocks of Dún Briste, the broken fort.
Phil Kurthausen is a thriller and crime novelist from Liverpool who now lives in Barcelona.
His novel The Silent Pool won the Crime & Thriller section in the Harper Collins People’s Novelist Competition broadcast on national TV in the UK in November 2011. It was later shortlisted for the Dundee International Literary Prize. The successful follow-up in the Erasmus Jones series was Sudden Death with the standalone psychological thriller Don´t Let Me In published in late 2018.
His latest novel, HOW TO KILL YOUR FRIENDS, was published in October 2019.
He lives with his wife and a cat which, for legal reasons, bears no resemblance to the cat, Lil´ Bitch, from Don’t Let Me In.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.