The Lie: Research into cult leaders and psychopaths

The Anna Purna range, Nepal. Photo published under Flickr's Creative Commons licence.
The Anna Purna range, Nepal. Photo published under Flickr’s Creative Commons licence.

When I began plotting THE LIE my plan was to put four female friends into a setting that would cause the cracks in their relationships to deepen, and force the women to turn against each other. I considered several different options, including a cottage in rural Wales but it didn’t take long for me to realise that:

a) the setting had to be really remote – no internet, no mobile phones, no access to public transport

b) the setting alone wouldn’t be enough to make the women question their loyalty to each other, there had to be a catalyst. And that catalyst had to be a person. A man.

I came up with the idea that the women would all travel to Nepal to visit a remote retreat called Ekanta yatra, nestled in the beautiful Anna Purna mountain range. As stressed out career girls, living and working in London, the beautiful, tranquil retreat seems like the answer to their prayers but when something seems too good to be true it normally is. And that includes Isaac, the retreat’s magnetic, charismatic leader.

I’ve always been fascinated by cult leaders. How can one person wield so much power and command so much respect and blind loyalty that they can convince their followers to abandon their former lives and do things like steal, murder or commit mass suicide?

I did a lot of research into cult leaders before I started to put together the different elements of Isaac’s personality. I watched documentaries about Charlies Manson and David Karesh (who was responsible for the Waco mass-suicide), I read a fascinating book called Spying in Guru Land by William Shaw about his experience infiltrating cults in the UK and, having established that most cult leaders are psychopaths, I watched an enlightening Channel 4 documentary on the subject.

I needed Isaac, my ‘leader’, to be more than a wide-eyed maniac. He needed to have light and shade. He needed to be attractive, superficially caring, charming, manipulative, cruel and ruthless. In short, he needed to be a psychopath. If you read THE LIE see how many of the following psychopathic traits you spot (and be extra careful if you notice any of these behaviours in someone you know!):

  • On first meeting psychopaths will watch you to see if you’re nervous or uncomfortable. You may be trying to figure them out but you will never be as observant as a psychopath. They’re reading you much more quickly, and much more effectively than you’re reading them.
  • They have the capacity for charm which can be switched on and off at will.
  • Psychopaths are completely self-focused and have excessive levels of self-esteem. They see themselves as cleverer than anyone else and can be condescending and grandiose.
  • They enjoy toying with other people for their own amusement.
  • Psychopaths must be in control at all times. In a conversation they will want to take charge. If you argue with them or they feel challenged they will do whatever it takes to re-establish control.
  • They are sensation seekers and game players who enjoy the thrill of the chase, are fearless and will take risks to obtain what they want. Once a person is under their control the psychopath views them as their possession.
  • A psychopath will focus on what they can get out of a situation to the expense of everyone else, and even their own health.
  • Psychopaths may appear to be sympathetic and caring on the surface but they are playing acting to get what they want. They lack empathy and never feel guilty for things they’ve done.
  • They are phobia free. They don’t feel fear and anxiety like the rest of us.

I had a lot of fun creating the character of Isaac (in a twisted kind of way) and I’m interested to hear what you make of him. In next week’s blog I’ll be discussing the research I did into brainwashing and mind control…

THE LIE is available to pre-order on
Or you could mark it ‘to read’ on Goodreads.

p.s. A HUGE thank you everyone who bid on the Clic Sargent auction to become a character in my next book. Thanks to you £120 was raised in my auction which went towards the astounding total – £14,000 – which will go to children and young people with cancer. I very much look forward to including Edie Christian as a character in my next book…

5 thoughts on “The Lie: Research into cult leaders and psychopaths

    1. cltaylorauthor says:

      You can’t just leave it at that, Karen. I need to know MORE! Is he still part of it? Did he escape? What kind of cult was it?

  1. gigigreen222 says:

    Fascinating, Cally! Can’t wait to read it. Mind you, I disagree that psychopaths lack empathy. They are extremely empathic – that’s how they know how other people are feeling and how to play them. They just don’t care! (ie are not sympathetic).

  2. Karen says:

    It was years ago Cally, I was 19 at the time, I think he was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to ‘find himself’. He was with them for about 8 years altogether, and I didn’t see him during that time. Quite weird, looking back …

  3. bluesman132013 says:

    I was a member of a group run by a guy who called himself Rama (real name Frederick Lenz). This was in the late 70’s, early 80’s. He became very rich, but ended up committing suicide. It’s weird how these guys self destruct. If you google his, there’s a lot of information about him. I’m also a clinical social worker, am intrigued by personality disorders. Your book sounds interesting.

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