Paula Hawkins, author of the bestselling The Girl on the Train, talks inspiration, commutes and gin.
Afinancial journalist who gets into financial difficulty – ironic, right? But that was the reality for Zimbabweanborn Londoner Paula Hawkins. Paula had worked at The Times newspaper in London and written books under the pseudonym Amy Silver, but her fourth novel, The Reunion (Cornerstone; R223), had run out of steam and she was in a pickle while trying to complete her next; so much so that she had to borrow money from her dad.
In sheer desperation, she sent off a half-written manuscript of The Girl on the Train (Transworld Publishers; R185). Not only did her publishers pick it up, but she landed a six-figure deal and a movie version of the book starring Emily Blunt (out this month). GLAMOUR How did you get into writing? PAULA HAWKINS I studied philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford as I wanted to be a journalist, which I was, for 15 years.
I’d always written fiction on the side, but I didn’t have much confidence as a fiction writer. It was only when I was commissioned to write a romantic comedy that I began flexing my fiction muscles. What do you love about writing fiction? Writing fiction is escapist, therapeutic and intellectually demanding. What inspired The Girl on the Train? The idea of witnessing something from a train was inspired by my commutes around London. I spent many hours staring into people’s windows, hoping something interesting might happen (it never did).
The idea for the main character came separately, but once I put the elements together, the potential for the story opened up. What’s the novel about? The Girl on the Train is the story of Rachel, a lonely, rather depressed commuter who travels into London every day. She becomes fixated on a couple whose home she sees from the train, and when the woman goes missing, Rachel believes she may hold the key to the mystery. How does it compare to your previous romantic comedies? It’s quite a bit darker! Will you explore any other genres? For the moment, I’m comfortable writing psychological thrillers, and I don’t look much farther forward than the book I’m writing at the moment. But I don’t rule anything out. What do you do when you get writer’s block? and I don’t fear the blank page. But I do sometimes write myself into corners and when that happens, I read – often old favourites, which I know will inspire me. I also go for long walks. Or I lie in the bath – for some reason, this is where I often have my best ideas. And occasionally, I resort to gin! Which book is your personal favourite? My favourite movies, music and books change over time, but at the moment my favourite book is A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Transworld Publishers; R185). It’s visceral, finely constructed and emotionally devastating. Then again, I adore all of Kate Atkinson’s books – I think her Jackson Brodie literary crime novels are very close to perfection. What do you do when you’re not writing? Read, hang out with friends, obsess about the political mess the UK is in and watch soccer. I’m quite dull, really.
by Jojo Moyes (Penguin; R185)
The sequel to Jojo Moyes’ heartbreaking Me Before You (Penguin; R185), After You is set 18 months later and continues the story of Louisa Clark as she struggles to carry on after the love of her life, the paraplegic Will Traynor, has chosen to die by assisted suicide at a Swiss clinic. It’s an enjoyable read, but it does feel a bit forced and fans of the first book may wish that Jojo had ended the story there.