Psychics next target for author Neil Forsyth

By Staff reporter, 7 June 2010 7.37pm. Updated: 26 November 2012 11:52am.

Broughty Ferry-born writer Neil Forsyth shot to fame with Other People's Money — the extraordinary true tale of teenage fraudster Elliot Castro. Since then he's taken on internet scammers and penned a work of fiction exposing the tricks used by psychics. Ahead of his appearance at Dundee Literary Festival, Neil told Jack McKeown about fake psychics, jewel theft and Asia's worst prison.

Edinburgh publisher Berlinn have signed Neil up for a two-book deal — an expanded version of Bob Servant, along with the eccentric Broughty Ferry man's memoirs.

"I'm working with the BBC to come up with the best way of adapting Bob Servant. At the moment we're adapting his email exchanges with the Nigerian scammers for the radio, but for me television is the holy grail for this project. I'd love to see Bob Servant played by Brian Cox.

"At the moment I'm trying to flesh out the character in his memoirs. It took me a while to find his voice again."

Later this month Neil will be appearing at the Dundee Literary Festival to promote Let Them Come Through. Researching the novel saw Neil attend psychic shows and private readings, as well as talking to James Randi, the retired American magician who offers $1million to anyone who can prove their psychic abilities under laboratory conditions. Hundreds have tried but no one has even passed the preliminary round of testing.

"I'll be reading from the novel and talking about the process behind it," Neil continues. "To my surprise, it's been received as a literary novel, but really it's an expose of how psychics operate. I chatted to the investigative reporter Donal MacIntyre about it, with a view to getting something on television, but I think Derren Brown's recent series exposing psychics has put paid to that idea."

The connections established through his writing — particularly Other People's Money — have led Neil into some strange situations.

"One of the oddest was when I got an email from a guy who said he'd been a counterfeit money and marijuana smuggler in the Middle East and had just been let out of prison in Japan. He'd read Other People's Money in prison and invited me to meet him in London.

"So I went down and met him. He was very well to do, dressed in a linen suit. He looked a bit like the Man from Del Monte. He said I should go to Bangkok with him and he would take me to Bang Kwang Prison. It's Bangkok's maximum-security prison and is a devil's gallery of Asian-based crime bosses.

"He was kind of a gentleman thief and quite an interesting guy, so I thought why not?"

A national newspaper agreed to finance Neil to write the story.

"I took an Italian photographer who had just finished a shoot in Japan. We got to Bangkok and got a call from the guy, who told us he was calling from a jungle in Venezuela. He said not to worry, he was sending someone to meet us and take us to the prison. He told us the man would be at our hotel in half an hour with fake passports for us to get into the prison.

"I hung up and the photographer and I looked at each other. Then we packed up all our stuff in five minutes flat and checked out of the hotel. We didn't get the story, and the newspaper spent its money for nothing, but at least I wasn't writing the story from an extended stay in Bang Kwang jail..."

–º Neil Forsyth will be at Dundee Literary Festival on Saturday, June 26, at 11am. For more details visit www.literarydundee.co.uk or call 01382 384413.

Neil Forsyth is content. It's mid-May and he's flown from his current home in New York back to Scotland to see his beloved Dundee United lift the Scottish Cup, before blagging his way into the dressing room to take pictures of the jubilant team.

Since then, he's returned to the States to continue work on his next book, flown to Canada to interview a notorious jewel thief, and will shortly be returning to his home town to take part in Dundee Literary Festival.

The 32-year-old found success with his first book, Other People's Money — a true-life account of credit card fraudster Elliot Castro. Starting when he was 16, Castro led police, the banks, and foreign law enforcement agencies on a five-year chase round the world, during which he stole millions of pounds from the banks.

Since then, he's taken on Nigerian internet scammers at their own game and written his first novel, a dark comedy that exposes the tricks psychics use to deceive people.

Delete This At Your Peril follows fictional Broughty Ferry man Bob Servant as he engages in a game of comedy cat and mouse with all-too-real internet fraudsters, while Let Them Come Through tells of the rise and fall of a fake medium.

Recently, Neil completed a 10-week full-time professional screenwriting course at the New York Film Academy. He wanted to sharpen his skills to write a screenplay of Other People's Money after a studio optioned the rights to the book but let them lapse.

Poolside meeting

"I decided to write the screenplay myself to see if I could resurrect a film deal. After the course I had a meeting with producers in LA. It was a very clichéd Los Angeles poolside meeting. What surprised me is that the Elliot Castro story is quite well known in Hollywood circles.

"They've given me a window to try and write a script, then we'll see how things go from there. I've got nine or 10 producers interested, here and over in the States. Although it was published a couple of years ago now, I think the story is still very relevant. It tells the tale of the banks' irresponsibility from a different angle."

Other People's Money was one of 2007's best selling works of non-fiction crime writing, and Neil still gets regular letters and emails from fans of the book.

"The ones from crooks are the best," he smiles. "I get about one a month from an old villain."

One of these missives came from Canadian Gerald Blanchard who, when he was jailed in 2007, was described by detectives as one of the most sophisticated criminals his country has ever produced. In 1998, he stole the Star of Empress Sisi, a 10-pointed star made of diamonds surrounding a gigantic pearl, from the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, by parachuting on to the building's roof and disabling the alarm before replacing the priceless jewellery with a fake bought at the museum's own gift shop.

Authorities took nearly a decade to catch him, and Blanchard spent just over two years in prison, being released in January. The pearl diamond star was finally returned to Austria last year.

This month Neil is flying to Vancouver to meet Blanchard.

"He wrote to me when he got out of prison and told me Other People's Money was the most popular book in the jail he was in. He's sold the rights to his life to George Clooney's production company. I'm going to do an article on him, but probably not a book — I don't want to get pigeonholed as a crime writer."

Neil Forsyth is content. It's mid-May and he's flown from his current home in New York back to Scotland to see his beloved Dundee United lift the Scottish Cup, before blagging his way into the dressing room to take pictures of the jubilant team.

Since then, he's returned to the States to continue work on his next book, flown to Canada to interview a notorious jewel thief, and will shortly be returning to his home town to take part in Dundee Literary Festival.

The 32-year-old found success with his first book, Other People's Money — a true-life account of credit card fraudster Elliot Castro. Starting when he was 16, Castro led police, the banks, and foreign law enforcement agencies on a five-year chase round the world, during which he stole millions of pounds from the banks.

Since then, he's taken on Nigerian internet scammers at their own game and written his first novel, a dark comedy that exposes the tricks psychics use to deceive people.

Delete This At Your Peril follows fictional Broughty Ferry man Bob Servant as he engages in a game of comedy cat and mouse with all-too-real internet fraudsters, while Let Them Come Through tells of the rise and fall of a fake medium.

Recently, Neil completed a 10-week full-time professional screenwriting course at the New York Film Academy. He wanted to sharpen his skills to write a screenplay of Other People's Money after a studio optioned the rights to the book but let them lapse.

Poolside meeting

"I decided to write the screenplay myself to see if I could resurrect a film deal. After the course I had a meeting with producers in LA. It was a very clichéd Los Angeles poolside meeting. What surprised me is that the Elliot Castro story is quite well known in Hollywood circles.

"They've given me a window to try and write a script, then we'll see how things go from there. I've got nine or 10 producers interested, here and over in the States. Although it was published a couple of years ago now, I think the story is still very relevant. It tells the tale of the banks' irresponsibility from a different angle."

Other People's Money was one of 2007's best selling works of non-fiction crime writing, and Neil still gets regular letters and emails from fans of the book.

"The ones from crooks are the best," he smiles. "I get about one a month from an old villain."

One of these missives came from Canadian Gerald Blanchard who, when he was jailed in 2007, was described by detectives as one of the most sophisticated criminals his country has ever produced. In 1998, he stole the Star of Empress Sisi, a 10-pointed star made of diamonds surrounding a gigantic pearl, from the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, by parachuting on to the building's roof and disabling the alarm before replacing the priceless jewellery with a fake bought at the museum's own gift shop.

Authorities took nearly a decade to catch him, and Blanchard spent just over two years in prison, being released in January. The pearl diamond star was finally returned to Austria last year.

This month Neil is flying to Vancouver to meet Blanchard.

"He wrote to me when he got out of prison and told me Other People's Money was the most popular book in the jail he was in. He's sold the rights to his life to George Clooney's production company. I'm going to do an article on him, but probably not a book — I don't want to get pigeonholed as a crime writer."