Against the media sensationalism splashing the monster all over the front page for the newsboy‘s convenience, writer Catherine Nuza wants to tell the story of a serial killer from a human point of view, to explore the triggers of psychopathy.
“I am not justifying his behaviour or cajoling the reader into sympathising with him, but I am trying to present a realistic character with a complex back-story that he is piecing up in order to understand what is real and what isn’t in his dazed recollection of a heinous crime,” the author says about her newly published novel ‘Psycho-Analysis – Khedlar’s Story’, the first instalment of a trilogy that unearths, sometimes literally, an alleged serial killer’s skeletons in the closet. “Everyone has cracks, and when those cracks keep being bashed and bashed, sooner or later, it is inevitable for them to give way and result in a fragmented psyche: I am exploring how far someone can be pushed before he or she snaps, falls apart and becomes either violent and murderous, or withdrawn and reclusive, and why,’ the assistant nurse turned novelist explains. “I am not excusing the protagonist’s actions, but merely reconstructing the chain of events which led Khedlar to the mental asylum.”
Despite disclaiming any psychology training and stating how the creation of this completely fictional character is based solely on her personal and sometimes professional experiences and her intense research in the topic, Catherine’s wife Angelique, who used to work in forensics and now takes care of the book’s marketing, assures us that ‘the psychopathy is accurate, free of blockbuster commercialisation’, and the readers will confront an all-rounded personality with several facets to his temperament, including a twisted but original sense of humour, a lucid mind in its own right when driven to scout the truth.
Reminiscent of the fortunate TV series ‘The Mentalist’ starring Simon Baker, in which the protagonist finds his wife and daughter brutally murdered by a serial killer dubbed Red John who signs the crime scene with a bloody smiley face, yet the viewer cannot help but deep down suspect him throughout the seasons as he keenly volunteers to assist the investigations with his ‘psychic’ powers, in Catherine’s book, the protagonist only recalls having found his family butchered and seen the murderer’s face, a man who looked like his image in the mirror. He cannot tell apart reality from hallucinations due to his being pushed to the limit as well as being under psychotropic medication, and he has no friends and nobody to trust in his quest for the truth. Not the empathetic male nurse he initially seems to warm up to, not even his mother and aunt, whose back-story will be the subject of the third book of this disturbing trilogy. A bookworm loner in his teenage years when he was fascinated by his aunt’s job at the morgue and himself dreamt to become a surgeon, and hold someone’s life and death in his hands, Khedlar does have a conscience – and nightmares. And, being unable to piece together the correct sequence of events, he remains marred by what he might be capable of doing.
“Humanity is riddled with imperfection and I want to dissect the remote folds of the human psyche to analyse facts without sugar-coating them, to stir your genuine reaction,” Catherine says. “We are animals after all: just imagine if society’s laws crumbled apart and we regressed to our feral state, what would happen then if all boundaries but the law of the jungle didn’t exist? Would we still have a conscience? Why and when would killing someone be justifiable? The story is about the mask we all wear in order to screen our emotions when inappropriate to function in society, and the coping mechanisms we put in place to survive, and the consequences of their malfunctioning.” However, she reminds her readers that this is purely fiction and she’s not accounting any clinical cases, or part of, she may have encountered during her experience with adult and child mental health patients: “One can only express and give what one learns in one’s reality, hence Khedlar is my own character who lives only on my own pages, but I want him to come across as real as possible and I hold my judgement and bias about him and his actions either way. I’ve always been different, with a different outlook on life and proud of it, that’s why I believe this book is unique.”
“The ending is a chilling and thrilling rollercoaster of emotions,” Angelique adds. “It raises goose-bumps and indeed creates a cliff-hanger to entice readers to the forthcoming second book.”
Catherine started writing ‘Khedlar’s Story’ immediately after the publication of her poetry collection ‘Raw’ 15 years ago, but never ‘fleshed it out’ until recently, treasuring her acquired knowledge on the matters of the grey matter. “My poetry is the unfiltered expression of my emotions, mostly dark, but also funny and loving, because I was in a dark place when I wrote it at the age of 17. As long as I had pen and paper where to record my feelings, I was healing. Poetry was my release and my soul medicine,” she explains. “I started writing random poems which only later I organised in a book, and designed the front cover, featuring a picture I took of my cousin modelling for me. ‘Raw’ is like a time capsule for me and when I re-read it, it feels like an abstract diary with keywords triggering memories I can nowadays distance myself from, to acknowledge I am a different, stronger person now. The past was raw and hurtful but it is firmly in the past and reliving it has helped the healing process. My readers tell me my poems are intense but mostly relatable.”
Catherine portrays herself as an all-round artist who moves confidently both in her visual and literary talents, claiming that ‘the creative process must not be a burden, but open and free-flowing’. In fact, she is an accomplished abstract painter, a style that allows her to express her raw emotions in an unfiltered fashion, and also empowers the onlookers in their turn to interpret and relate them to their own. When make-believe is no longer enough, reality kicks in for Catherine to work her magic on artistic photography, perceived as a platform to explore contrast in light and shadows, textures, dilapidated backgrounds and dolled-up models. She actually styles her models, usually friends or relatives, selects her outfits, designs their make-up and suggests the poses they’d strike, although the model’s input in the shot’s composition is always appreciated, and makes them stand out dramatically in a minimalistic urban stage of decay and desperation, to maximise the visual impact of the decadence of this contemporary society and the loneliness experienced by its most sensitive individuals.