The wonderful Erin Kelly, author of The Poison Tree, and the upcoming The Dark Rose (Feb. 2nd), was kind enough to take the time to answer a few of my questions. Also, the wonderful folks at Penguin have provided 3 copies of The Dark Rose for giveaway, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Please welcome Erin to the blog!
You’ve written extensively for newspapers and magazines, and your first novel, The Poison Tree, garnered high praise! Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. I could read when I was three and was writing and illustrating my own stories from a year or two after that. I wrote creatively throughout my teens, but when I became a journalist in my early twenties, professional writing meant that fiction took a back seat for a while. Something about producing copy to deadline took the edge off my energy and ambition for a while, and besides, it was fun and distracting: there was always some exciting new job or assignment that stopped me writing that novel I was always talking about.
But the book had other ideas, slowly pushing its way to the front of the queue until I couldn’t ignore it any longer – and when I got pregnant, in 2008, that was the reality check I needed. For six months I wrote fiction all day, doing my freelance journalism in the evenings. At the end of that intense period, I had the novel that would eventually become The Poison Tree.
Your second novel, The Dark Rose, will be out in the US next week! Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a contemporary psychological suspense novel but has many elements of Gothic fiction – there’s a seductive, ancient building, dual narrative, doppelgangers and like my first book The Poison Tree, the novel deals with the long shadows cast by past mistakes.
Two characters dominate the novel. Troubled teenager Paul has been led into a life of crime by his best friend and protector, Daniel. One night what started as petty theft escalates fatally, and the authorities send him to ground in a remote garden restoration project until he can testify. There he meets garden designer Louisa, who reacts to him with shock: Paul resembles Adam, with whom she had an intense affair that ended in blood.
The novel alternates between Paul’s point of view and Louisa’s. It’s dominated by the setting of Kelstice Lodge, the ruined Elizabethan hall where they meet but also flashes back to his adolescence in estuary Essex and hers in Kensington. We see them enter into a relationship and confide in each other, but it soon becomes apparent that the past is catching up with one – or both – of them.
What made you decide to write thrillers, as opposed to other genres?
I wasn’t thinking in terms of genre so much as writers my friends and I liked to read, and to talk about. Most of my favourite novels are literary fiction with a thriller or mystery element, like The Secret History by Donna Tartt, or The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
My favourite contemporary novelists are William Boyd, Kate Atkinson and Tana French. I love Ruth Rendell, especially when she writes as Barbara Vine. Going further back, I love Wilkie Collins, LP Hartley, Evelyn Waugh.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
That’s such a good question. I guess it would be Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, because that was the book that changed everything for me. I was about 14 when I read it for the first time, and used to Agatha Christie, who of course delivers perfect plots, but, you know, the writing… so when I read Rebecca I was just delighted to find that suspense fiction with such a perfect plot could be so beautifully written, and so unabashedly romantic. I remember closing it and thinking, ‘I want to do that.’
Have you ever “faked” reading a book, and if so, which one?
Yes, Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne, when I was at University. I read a synopsis and a friend’s essay five minutes before going into the seminar. I think I got away with it. I still haven’t read it.
You can’t fake reading contemporary fiction because the thing with booklovers is they want to talk about the books they’ve read and loved in such minute detail that you’d be found out within seconds.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
My daughter takes up most of my time. She’s three and the funniest person I know. When I’m not with my family, I like to run, catch live music, practice yoga, cook and eat out.
If someone were to visit you in London, and it was their first time there, where would you take them first?
They’ve got good walking boots, right? I’d take them to the River Thames. We’d start at The Houses of Parliament, get a fix of art in the Tate Modern, then we’d wind our way through the back streets around Borough Market, cross Tower Bridge, find a Hogarthian little pub to start the evening in. Then we’d keep going into the East End and get some Indian food in Brick Lane before retracing our steps in a black cab.
What do you love most about living in London?
That it still holds surprises for me. I’ve lived in and around this city for 35 years and I’m still discovering streets, even entire neighborhoods, that I didn’t know existed.
If you could pack your bags and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
To a yoga retreat in Kerala, South India. Much as I love my home town, I’m writing this on a freezing, wet January day. Everything outside my window looks grey, even the trees.
Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve just finished my third novel. It’s another stand-alone psychological thriller about a family weekend that turns deadly when the youngest son brings his new girlfriend to stay. As the weekend unfolds, it soon becomes apparent that many of the family’s past problems have a single, terrifying explanation and that the threat is still real and present.
After I’ve edited my third novel I’ll begin working on my fourth. I already know what it’s about. I could tell you, Kristin… but then I’d have to kill you.
Author comments are in a darker gray color for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments