It's my pleasure to introduce debut author Graema Cameron, he's here today talking about his spine tingling new thriller, Normal. It's about a serial killer who's got a problem. Click HERE for my blogger friend Kindlemom's review of Normal. Enjoy!
Publication date: 3/31/2015
"The truth is I hurt people. It's what I do. It's all I do. It's all I've ever done."
He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.
What you don't know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he's carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he's holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.
Read an Excerpt:
I’d learned some interesting things about Sarah. She was eighteen years old and had finished school back in July with grade-A passes in biology, chemistry, physics and English. Her certificate stood in a plain silver frame on a corner table in the living room, alongside her acceptance letter from Oxford University. She was expected to attend St John’s College in the coming September to commence her degree in experimental psychology. She was currently taking a year out, doing voluntary work for the Dogs Trust.
In her spare time, Sarah enjoyed drawing celebrity caricatures, playing with the Wensum volleyball team and collecting teddy bears. She was also an avid reader of fantasy novels and was currently bookmarking chapter 2, part 8 of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. She’d been seeing a boy named Paul, though she considered him a giant wanker. He refused to separate from “almighty slut” Hannah, who was evidently endowed with a well-developed bosom and a high gag threshold. This caused Sarah considerable consternation, but she could not confide in her mother because “she wouldn’t understand” and would “just freak out again like last time.” She instead turned to her friend Erica, who was a year or two older and thus possessed of worldliness and abundant wisdom. Erica’s advice, apparently in line with her general problem-solving ethos, was to “cut off his dick and feed it to him.” Sarah didn’t talk to her mother about Erica, either.
All four walls of Sarah’s bedroom were painted a delicate shade of lilac, through which traces of old, patterned wallpaper were still visible. She had a single bed with a plain, white, buttoned cotton cover. She also had a habit of leaving clothes and wet towels on the floor. Her stuffed animals commanded every available inch of shelf and dresser space. The collection consisted of plush bears manufactured in the traditional method, and all had tags intact. It was too vast to waste time counting. But there were sixty-seven.
That morning, Sarah had spent just under half an hour in the bath and just over five minutes cleaning her teeth. She had no fillings or cavities, but the enamel on her upper front teeth was wearing thin from overbrushing. She also applied toothpaste to the index and middle finger of her left hand in a vain attempt at stain removal. There were no ashtrays in the house, and her cigarettes and lighter were hidden inside a balled-up pair of tights in the middle drawer of her dresser.
The following day was Sarah’s birthday. Many cards had already arrived and stood in a uniform row on the living room mantelpiece. Someone had tidied in there early in the morning, but there was already an empty mug and a heat magazine on the coffee table. Sarah had a habit of leaving the TV on, whether she was watching it or not.
I’d discovered, too, that she plucked her bikini line. Most of her clothes were green. She dreamed of visiting Australia. She had a license but no car. The last DVD she watched was Buffy The Vampire Slayer—the feature film, not the more popular television series—and coincidentally, or rather perhaps not, Buffy was also the name of her cat.
Oh, and I knew three more things. I knew that her last hot meal was lasagna, her cause of death was a ruptured aorta, and her tongue tasted of sugar and spice.
* * *
Fortunately, the kitchen floor was laid with terracotta tiles, and I easily located the cleaning cupboard, which held a mop and bucket, bleach, cloths, a roll of black bin liners and numerous antibacterial sprays. I hadn’t planned on doing this here, since I had a thousand and one other things to do and not enough time to do them, so my accidental severing of the artery was inconvenient, to say the least. Happily, I’d reacted quickly to deflect most of the blood and keep it off the walls.
I’d used a fourteen-inch hacksaw to remove the limbs, halving each one for portability. The arms and lower legs fitted easily inside a bin bag with the head and the hair lost in the struggle to escape. Using a separate bag for the buttocks and thighs, I’d placed these parts by the back door, away from the puddle of blood. The torso was unusually heavy despite Sarah’s small frame, and required a heavy-duty rubble sack to prevent tearing and seepage. Thoughtfully, I’d brought one with me.
The cleaning operation was relatively easy. My clothes went into a carrier bag, and I washed my face over the sink. Warm water followed by Dettol spray was adequate for removing the spatter from the cupboard doors and for disinfecting the worktops and the dining table once I’d swiped most of the blood onto the floor. Mopping the floor took three buckets of diluted bleach, which went down the drain in the backyard. The waste disposal in the sink dealt with stray slivers of flesh; the basin was stainless steel and simply needed a cursory wipe afterward.
The only concern was a couple of small nicks in the breakfast table, courtesy of my clumsiness with the carving knife. One or two spots of blood had worked their way into the wood, but these were barely visible and since the table was far from new, it was unlikely they’d be noticed by chance. Altogether, you’d never have known I was there.
In fact, the only thing out of place, once I’d moved the bin bags to the yard and returned each of Mum’s implements to its rightful home, was me. Fortunately, Sarah’s father was about my size, and I’d already dug out a pair of fawn slacks and an old olive fleece from the back of his wardrobe. The fleece was frayed at the elbows and smelled a little musty, but more importantly it was dry and unstained.
Satisfied, I slipped into my jacket and shoes, stepped outside and closed the door gently behind me.
In keeping with modern town-planning philosophy, the Abbotts’ house was separated from those to either side by the width of the garden path. In a token effort at providing some privacy from the neighbors, each garden had been bordered on both sides with high, oppressive panel fencing, secured at the bottom of the plot to a common brick wall. This wall was a good six inches taller than I was and, mindful of the difficulty in bundling Sarah over unseen, I elected to fetch the van and come back for her.
I took a lengthy run-up and hauled myself over, dropping down onto a carpet of twigs and soft brown leaves. The treeline was a matter of feet from the edge of the plot, at the foot of a steep incline. It was from here that I’d seen the upstairs window mist over and heard the bath running, watched Sarah in silhouette pulling off her clothes, waited until she closed the door and her ears were full of the roar of running water before I let myself in.
It was an altogether different scene now, as I picked my way back between the rows of pines toward the road. All that had made the dawn so perfect was gone—the dusting of snow on the rooftops, the faint crackling of twigs under muntjac hooves, the rustling of leaves disturbed by inquisitive foxes. In their place, the clatter of diesel engines and the grating thrum of cement mixers, the white noise of breakfast radio and the tap-tap-tap of trowel on brick. It had started soon after my arrival and, whilst the development would be blissfully quiet and neighborly once complete, for now the inescapable din of suburban sprawl rendered it a living hell. Although, on the other hand, it had at least allowed me the luxury of not having to tiptoe.
Thinking about it, there was something else missing, too—something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Some weighty comfort I was accustomed to feeling against my leg as I walked, and which just wasn’t there anymore.
It wasn’t until I reached the van that I realized I’d locked the bastard keys in it.
* * *
I was loath to break a window, but the Transit was fitted with reinforced double deadlocks, and I specified the optional full-perimeter alarm system when ordering. Consequently, just as anyone else would have trouble breaking in, so did I. Having weighed up this option, considering my various time constraints against that of taking a cab home for the spare key, it didn’t take me long to find a brick. I was back in business, albeit at the mercy of the heater.
I’d left Sarah just behind the side gate, and I backed right up onto the two-car driveway to minimize my exposure. I took a moment to double-check the small toilet window at the back of the house; I’d chipped some of the paint away, and there were obvious indentations in the wood, but it was shut, and the glass was intact. Judging by the number of boxes and blankets piled up inside, and the concentration of long-abandoned cobwebs, the damage wouldn’t be discovered this side of summer. Good.
I was happy to find that Sarah hadn’t leaked out of any of the bags, and it took seconds to load the lighter ones into the van. But as I turned to collect the rubble sack, I happened to glance toward the doorstep, and my heart dropped. The face staring inquisitively back at me was a familiar one; I’d studied it briefly, in a tiny photograph from one of those instant booths you find in malls, fallen from Sarah’s diary as I lay on her bed. But it was unmistakable.
Erica’s hesitation was such that I could almost hear the whirring of her brain as she stood there, finger poised over the doorbell, eyebrows cocked, mouth agape. I knew all too well where her train of thought was carrying her, and so diverted it with a smile and a friendly wave.
“Hello, there,” I called. “Don’t panic, I’m not a burglar.”
Her expression turned instantly to one of apology. “Oh, no, no, I wasn’t thinking that,” she laughed, letting a few ringlets fall down to hide her eyes.
“Age Concern,” I explained. “Just collecting some old bags.” Ha ha. “I mean bags of old clothes. Are you looking for the young lady?”
She was walking toward me now. Dark curls bouncing, woollen scarf swaying to the rhythm of her hips. Breasts struggling to work the top button of her jacket loose with each confident stride. The blood began to race through my veins, the noise of the mechanical diggers and pneumatic drills fading to a low hum. “Yeah, do you know where she is? She’s not answering the door.” Close enough now that I could hear the rub of the denim between her thighs. I could take this one of two ways, probably avoid a scene by way of swift, decisive action, but as so often happens in the face of outstanding natural beauty, my honesty beat me to the punch.
“Yes,” I said. “She’s in the garden.”
Graeme welcome to The Reading Frenzy. I haven't seen
this much excitement about a debut for a long time. Congratulations!
Tell my readers a little about Normal.
you very much! Well, Normal is about a serial killer who's been plying his
trade for many years without a hitch when one day he's knocked off his stride
by an encounter with Rachel, a woman he inexplicably but emphatically doesn't
want to kill. He's not sure why, but the more he sees and talks to her, the
more he starts to feel things that he's never felt before. He suddenly
befriends people instead of murdering them, and cooks meals he hasn't first
hunted in the woods with a bow and arrow, and generally gives the outward
appearance of someone almost 'normal.' But unfortunately, he's also got a girl
named Erica locked in a cage in his basement, and he has no idea what to do
with her and she knows it, and thanks to a clumsy error the police are sniffing
around too, trying to figure out what he's up to. So it's the story of him
trying to negotiate these strange new relationships with the women in his life,
and trying not to get caught, and generally trying to regain control of his
life just as he finds himself fatally lacking the tools he'd normally use to do
so. And needless to say, it doesn't end
well for everyone.
Oh Wow what a premise. This debut has been penned
Dexter but not, a sympathetic murderer, compelling, gripping, unexpected.
That's quite an interesting bit of compliments and it's really gotten my
attention. I can't wait to dig into my own copy.
Was there a certain catalyst that precipitated your writing this novel, or did
it just pop into your head?
wanted to write a book about a serial killer for years, but it's very hard to
find anything to say about them that hasn't already been said. At the time, the
common workaround seemed to be to make the crimes ever more gruesome and the
killer more ludicrously over-the-top evil, and I really didn't want to do that,
so as an exercise in getting it out of my system I decided to sit and write the
most despicable thing I could think of, which was a gleeful first-hand account
of a grisly murder. What I quickly discovered was that my writing style didn't
really lend itself to that kind of thing, and I couldn’t much stomach it
anyway, and within a few pages it had started to evolve into something readable
and intriguing. And Normal grew from there, one sentence at a time, with no
idea of where it was going until it got there.
Kirkus calls it "A Dark Comedy" and your 4.5 stars
Top Pick Gold (Wow) rating from RT Magazine says “Cameron's
killer has a wry tone, just the right amount of underlying humor…”.
Was the comedic part necessary to keep it from being too dark, or do you think
humor is an integral part of any novel?
you have a sense of humour, and you write uncynically, then you're naturally
going to inject your own personality into your work. And certainly, if I'd kept
a straight face throughout, as I did in the opening paragraphs of that initial
exercise, it would have been a very different book.
I can't imagine getting inside the psyche of a serial
killer, sympathetic, comedic or just plain old diabolical.
Did you need to get into a certain frame of mind when you did just that?
and no. I think most writers, if they were brutally honest, would admit that
writing very dark material is more often a case of blocking their moral
inhibitions than of forcing themselves into a different mindset. We can, after
all, only write what we're capable of thinking. Which is not to say we're all
sociopaths – we just have a peculiar way of looking at things sometimes!
Above I mentioned one early reader/reviewer mentioned
that it isn't Dexter but a creation all your own. But even the non-comparison
has me wondering why they mentioned it.
Does the non-comparison bother you?
did when I first heard about Dexter, because, contrary to popular assumption, I'd
already written the first draft of Normal by then. I think it's easy to see why
people might assume there's a similarity, and I'm quite glad people do take the
time to mention that the characters and themes are entirely different. Having
said that, I do think that fans of Dexter can also easily find something to
enjoy in Normal, because if you love a serial killer, you love a serial killer.
Your bio states you wrote three short stories before
So you don't have any dusty manuscripts in a cage in your basement and Normal
was your very first attempt as a novelist?
three short stories. The 'almost' is key!
I was eighteen, I wrote the most utterly dire, hackneyed detective novel(la)
you can imagine, but I'm happy to say all evidence was destroyed many years ago
and actually I could've just not mentioned it at all, couldn't I.
Every author's dream must be to have a hit with their
But do you think this puts unnecessary pressure on an author's next novel?
can. When you write your first novel, you take as long as you want to say
whatever you want and then you hope someone likes it. If they do, then when it
comes to your second you've got not only a deadline but also the weight of
expectation on you, so it can feel quite daunting. But, I'm very excited about
my second novel, and I'm certain that everyone who loved Normal will be plenty
entertained by it.
Can you tell us what you're working on now?
a thriller about a small New England island resort terrorized by a giant man-eating
was a lie. Just think Normal, without a serial killer, and also completely
different. Don't worry, you'll like it, I promise.
Graeme, thanks for taking the time to answer my
Graeme Cameron is the author of almost three short stories, two country songs and literally dozens of angry emails, including such classics as This Doesn't Taste Like Chicken, The Car You Sold Me Is On Fire, and the hilarious and moving Re: Restraining Order (I'm in your house LOL).
Graeme lives in Norfolk and has never worked as a police detective, ER doctor, crime reporter or forensic anthropologist.
Today's Gonereading item is:
Alice in Wonderland Sticky Notes