Follow your heart, not the herd – Erin Kelly

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By Erin Kelly

I teach novel-writing at a leading London writing school, and one of the most frequently asked questions is: what kind of book should I write? What’s selling at the moment? My answer is always the same. You should write the book that’s inside you, trying to fight its way out.

It’s a decade since I wrote the first words of my debut novel, The Poison Tree. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about the publishing market. If I had been chasing a trend I’d have written a vampire love story, or a YA dystopia. I simply wrote the book that was in my heart: the story that was the result of a lifetime’s reading. I wanted to emulate my favourite novelists: Barbara Vine, Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith – but find a style that was all my own. I didn’t know it but the blend of suspense and dark romance I was chasing meant I was writing a psychological thriller.

It was a risk that took a long time to pay off. Back then the genre was so unfashionable that publishers told my agent they didn’t know if it was women’s fiction (it was about a young woman who fell in love with her best friend’s brother), literary fiction (they liked the way I wrote) or crime (two people met a grisly end in a Highgate hallway).

Then came the triple-whammy of Gone Girl, Before I Go To Sleep and The Girl on the Train. Now, you can’t move in Waterstones for what Marian Keyes calls ‘grip lit’. Everyone I know is writing a psychological thriller. So much so that I keep hearing the genre is dead. That readers have had enough of women-in-peril stories. That they’re all the same anyway, and the twist is always that the husband did it. That I should try my hand at something else, like historical crime or a locked-room mystery.

Does that mean I’m going to stop writing the books I love? No way. I have three or four books queueing up to be written and they’re all big, atmospheric page turners with relationships at their heart. Anything else would feel forced and I know that lack of love would leak onto the page. I can always tell when a book is written to chase a perceived market: there’s something brittle about it.

I’m writing my seventh book now and it firmly fits the psychological thriller mould. Fashion is a fickle thing: high-concept suspense may have a quiet few years, but well-written mysteries have never truly gone away. The wheel will revolve again, and when it does, I’ll still be here, thinking of new ways to keep you up all night.

Erin Kelly is the author of The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose, The Burning Air, The Ties That Bind and Broadchurch: The Novel, inspired by the mega-hit TV series. In 2013, The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and was a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011. Born in London in 1976, she lives in north London with her husband and daughters. He Said/She Said is out now.

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