GIRL, IN­TER­RUPTED

Gil­lian Flynn, 44, au­thor of the best­selling Gone Girl, talks about find­ing in­spi­ra­tion for her books and be­ing fright­ened by fame

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Gil­lian Flynn’s Clare Con­way.

Be­fore I had kids, I would write late into the night and stay in bed in the morn­ing, pulling the cov­ers over my head as my hus­band, Brett, left for work. Now, be­tween 6am and 7am, our daugh­ter, Veron­ica, who’s one, hollers from her room, and Flynn, our five-year-old son, runs in and jumps up and down on our bed.

Our house is an old artist’s stu­dio in Chicago, with Frank Lloyd Wright-style ar­chi­tec­ture. We moved here last year and it was the big, arched win­dows that sold me. When you’re home all day writ­ing, you can eas­ily turn into a char­ac­ter from The Shin­ing, so light is good.

My day starts with a gi­ant pot of cof­fee, which I’m try­ing to cut down on. I put Veron­ica in her high chair and make us all mid­west­ern scram­bled eggs with cot­tage cheese. Brett, who’s a lawyer, will then take Flynn to school on his way to work, while our babysit­ter will ar­rive to look af­ter Veron­ica. I then go to my study in the base­ment, have an­other cof­fee and, be­fore I start, put on 20 min­utes of a box set such as The West Wing.

I treat writ­ing as a nine-to-five job. My of­fice looks out on our yard. There’s not much to see, just a touch of green and blue sky, which is good as I’m eas­ily dis­tracted. I use a lap­top and I’m also try­ing out a tread­mill desk, af­ter hear­ing that sit­ting down is nearly as bad as smok­ing. It means I stand or walk slowly on it while I’m read­ing and writ­ing.

On the walls are sticky notes with my de­tails for a story, from a sin­gle word like “chicken” to an un­nerv­ing “Is Mom dead yet?” Right now, I’m do­ing a screen­play with [the Bri­tish Os­car­win­ning di­rec­tor] Steve McQueen, based on a 1980s BBC se­ries called Wid­ows. It’s about badass women who get to­gether for a raid.

I’ll work for 90 min­utes or so, then have lunch be­tween 11 and 12, which is usu­ally toasted bread, a chunk of cheese, a slice of tomato, may­on­naise and spicy mus­tard. Then I walk for an hour in the di­rec­tion of Lake Michi­gan, which is three blocks away. The area is full of yup­pies with their kids and tree-lined cafes.

I of­ten get lit­tle pieces of in­spi­ra­tion when I’m out. With Gone Girl, I was re­turn­ing home af­ter a walk when the thought struck me: “What would I do if I came home and my front door was wide open?” I had a glimpse of a man who comes home from work and finds just that ... I knew how my book would be­gin.

It turned into my third novel and was about a woman called Amy Dunne, who is in a dif­fi­cult mar­riage and dis­ap­pears. It sold 15 mil­lion copies and was turned into a Hol­ly­wood film for which I wrote the screen­play. The fame freaked me out, then I re­alised I owed it to ev­ery­one to just enjoy it. Writ­ers bet­ter than me of­ten don’t get that mo­ment.

If I get writer’s block, I’ll try do­ing a scene from an­other char­ac­ter’s point of view. I’m also dis­ci­plined about dead­lines.

I wrote my first two books, Sharp Ob­jects and Dark Places, while I was still a TV and film critic, but I lost my job at the end of 2008. It was grim, but that’s when I also had my son and wrote Gone Girl.

Books have al­ways been a big in­flu­ence on me. As a child, my favourites were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Won­der­land. I grew up in Kansas City, a painfully shy child of pro­fes­sors, but I al­ways wanted to write. In my ju­nior-school year­book I grandly wrote: “I want to be an au­thor.”

At the mo­ment I have a con­tract for two adult books, a YA [young adult] novel and a Hog­a­rth se­ries, where dif­fer­ent writ­ers take on Shake­speare plays. I al­ways take 15 min­utes at the end of writ­ing to de­com­press, so I’ll play a video game such as Pac-Man.

Most days I pick up my son from kinder­garten, but if I’m hav­ing a good writ­ing day, I’ll text my babysit­ter up­stairs and ask her to do the pick-up, then write for an­other 90 min­utes.

At 5pm I’ll stop, grab the kid­dos, put on mu­sic and we’ll have a dance party in the liv­ing room. When Brett gets home, the kids will have din­ner, and once we’ve put them to bed, we’ll eat. Brett has a couple of go-to pasta dishes and finds cook­ing re­lax­ing. I don’t. I’m baf­fled by our spice drawer — thyme, basil, gar­lic. I’m the woman of the sim­ple cheese sand­wich.

Ev­ery evening I get in the bath­tub, read, then go to bed around 11pm. My big­gest job is not to top Gone Girl. I know you only get one book like that in your life. If I chased that level of suc­cess again, I’d prob­a­bly write a bad book, and I don’t want to be known as the au­thor who wrote the really bad twist.

lat­est book, The Grownup (Ran­dom House, $9.99, hard­back), is out now.

As told to

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