Ahead of the paperback publication of The Silent Patient, its author Alex Michaelides talks to us about the inspirations behind his bestselling debut novel.
What inspired The Silent Patient and what were your main literary influences?
The Silent Patient had two major inspirations—the collision in my mind between Agatha Christie and Euripides. I grew up in Cyprus and I discovered Agatha Christie when I was about thirteen and devoured her books one summer on the beach. It was an experience that made me into a reader—and a writer. I always knew I wanted to write a book one day, and, when I did, it would be that kind of book—a detective story, for me to read on the beach. At about the same age, I was taught Euripides in school, and came across the tragedy of Alcestis. Alcestis dies to save her husband and then is brought back to life at the end of the play—but when reunited with her husband, she refuses to speak. No one knows what to make of this refusal, and it’s a problematic play, for this reason, and rarely performed. And something about this silence haunted me for years—and when I had the idea of retelling it as a psychological detective story, The Silent Patient was born.
You've studied psychotherapy and have a background in screenwriting—did this experience impact on your writing process at all?
Absolutely. I studied psychotherapy at a post-graduate level but didn’t finish the degree as I decided I was a writer, not a therapist. But I have a deep interest in human psychology that informs my writing—and when I decided to try and write an Agatha-Christie-inspired novel, I knew I needed an enclosed location—and I thought of the secure psychiatric unit I worked at. I knew I would be able to bring that to life convincingly; and although I didn’t know anything about detectives, I knew a lot about psychotherapists, so I decided to make my hero into a therapist. It went from there, really.
The Silent Patient was your debut and has been amazing successful. Were you expecting the response it has had?
Not at all. I had written it as an act of desperation after an unsuccessful and soul-destroying career as a screenwriter – as an attempt to write a project that I would be in control of from start to finish. As a result, I wrote it entirely for myself and never imagined anyone would ever read it. I didn’t even have an agent. When I sent it to Sam Copeland and he took me on, he had a hunch it would be successful. When my editor called me to tell me that it had gone into the NYT Times bestseller list at number one, I thought he was joking. It was probably the best experience of my life, certainly the most thrilling.
Film rights for the book have been acquired—can you tell us what's happening with that?
Yes, Brad Pitt’s Production Company, Plan B, is developing it as a movie. I’m very excited to see how it turns out.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing my second novel—again a psychological detective story—it’s about a series of murders at a Cambridge college, and is called The Maidens.
Orion will publish the paperback edition of The Silent Patient on 12th December.