The bestselling author on thrilling reads and the things that scare her.
Do your reading habits change when you're writing a book, and if so, how?
No, my reading habits are never affected by my writing. I read whatever I feel like reading whenever I want to read it. My writing is totally compartmentalised from the rest of my life. I can write happy scenes when I'm sad, angry scenes when I'm mellow, quiet scenes when I'm lively, violent scenes whilst surrounded by other people’s adorable children in coffee shops. The only part of writing I take around with me is my plotting as I don't plan my books in advance and have to plan them in my head as I go.
How many unpublished/half-written books do you have on the go?
None! I’m a sticker! Once I’m in, I’m in. I just make the thing work by any means necessary.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done to research a book?
I’m not much of a researcher. I feel like I'm wasting writing time if I spend too long preparing to write, I just like to throw my shoes off and jump straight in and worry about research after I’ve started, which means I tend to do it all online.
Do you have any unusual habits/rituals while you’re writing?
No, again, I’m pretty businesslike. I need to be nowhere near my children, as they take up way too much headspace, even when they’re not in the same room as me. So I write when my children are at school, either at my kitchen table or in a coffee shop over the road.
Why write thrillers?
I write thrillers because I love thrillers. I love the fact that everything means something in a thriller, everything’s there for a reason, so it’s the opposite to real life where things are open-ended, there’s not always an answer to every question or a solution to every mystery. Thrillers are tight and ordered and as both a reader and as a writer it’s all about peeling back the layers until the truth is finally revealed. This is why endings are everything in the genre, because that’s what real life lacks.
What scares you?
There are concepts that scare me, like bad things happening to my children, like dying and leaving my children behind, like illness and accidents and sex attacks and burglaries and premature death. The same things that scare everyone, I guess. But I also have a fear of walking down steps, usually hard external stairs, I grasp onto handrails for dear life. I also fear skis, rollerblades, ice skates, slippery surfaces, rope ladders, rope bridges, sheer drops, narrow windy roads and anything really that involves some kind of fall risk.
Greatest thriller writer of all time?
Well, not a thriller writer as such, although her books were all thrilling enough to keep me awake into the early hours every single night as a twelve-year-old girl, and that’s Agatha Christie. Of course.
A crime or thriller title you recommend to friends (and why)?
I stole this recommendation from a friend, it’s her favourite book and she shared it with me for a book club we were part of while doing a promotion together. It’s called The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson. It’s part thriller, part domestic noir, part ghost story, part historical fiction. A couple grieving the loss of their children seek solace in a move to the countryside. The cottage they find themselves in was, one hundred years earlier, home to an impoverished, sprawling family of eight children whose lives were decimated by the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night. The ghost story is a very light touch, barely noticeable, as the spirits of the two tormented families, separated by 100 years, collide.
A favourite thriller classic (and why)?
A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine, a dual time-frame thriller about a group of friends taking over a wrecked mansion in the countryside one summer, and the aftermath many years later of the shocking events that unfolded there. It’s everything a thriller should be and has lost none of its piquancy over the years.
Most thrilling thing you do outside of writing?
I think it’s probably clear from the list of things above of which I'm scared that I'm not really the type to seek thrills. I walk the dog, I watch TV, I socialise, I sleep, I read, I eat out, I go on holidays where I sleep and read and eat out. I’m very, very boring.