First off, how are you and how is your 2021 going?
I’m fine, thank you! My 2021 has been good so far. I wrote a novella, called Blind Spot, which will be published as part of The Reading Agency’s Quick Reads programme next year, and I had final copy edits to do on A Slow Fire Burning, which was published in August. Since the summer I’ve been doing publicity for the book – mostly online, but I’ve also been to a few festivals, so things are starting to feel a little more normal.
Can you tell us about your new book A Slow Fire Burning?
The book asks the question, if you were offered the chance to right some terrible wrong that had been done to you, how far would you go? What would you be prepared to sacrifice?Paula Hawkins
This is a book about love and loss, but mostly it’s about revenge. At its heart are three very different, rather intriguing women who have all suffered in their lives, and who have arrived at a crisis point. The book asks the question, if you were offered the chance to right some terrible wrong that had been done to you, how far would you go? What would you be prepared to sacrifice?
What was the process like for writing it after your initial idea?
The book started with me thinking about a particular character – a young woman called Laura, who suffers from a condition called disinhibition – but Laura was a character without a story. The challenge for me was finding the right story to tell. Once I had that, the writing process itself was very enjoyable (mostly).
It must have been incredible to see The Girl On The Train reach such incredible success so quickly, how did you adapt to the popularity of the novel?
It was exciting and quite bewildering; more a series of small moments than one grand realisation, so I think I adapted slowly, step by step. It took a while for me to realise quite how big the novel had become, and to appreciate what that would mean for me.
Did you find yourself ever suffering with imposter syndrome when writing after that success?
Yes. If you have a success on that kind of scale, I think it is natural to feel that it is in some sense undeserved, or that one has been disproportionately rewarded for one’s efforts! But that is the nature of this sort of work, criticism and praise are subjective, earnings are not neatly related to hours worked – I had plenty of experience of being completely ignored before I found success.
How do you think growing up in Zimbabwe has affected your writing style or perspective?
Being uprooted and having to make a new home somewhere else had a significant impact on me; I felt an outsider for many years, in a lot of ways I think I still do.Paula Hawkins
Growing up where I did was a big part of why I wanted to become a journalist, so in a roundabout sort of way it probably did affect my writing style. It certainly affected my perspective, in all sorts of ways, but I suppose the thing I’m most conscious of is not so much where I grew up, but the feeling of relocating from one place to another at a formative time. Being uprooted and having to make a new home somewhere else had a significant impact on me; I felt an outsider for many years, in a lot of ways I think I still do.
What have some of your favourite reads been this year?
Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden, Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor, No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, The Turnout by Megan Abbott, Dream Girl by Laura Lippmann, Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen. In terms of non-fiction, I loved Real Estate by Deborah Levy and The Devil You Know by Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne.
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
Work will save you!
What are you currently working on?
I haven’t started a new book yet, I’m in that in between phase, where I walk around a lot, thinking about the characters I want to write next, trying to figure out the story they belong in.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
That varies, but at the moment I’d probably say, dinner with friends Friday night, trip to the beach on Saturday, long walk and late pub lunch (possibly sliding slowly into dinner) on Sunday. In short, lots of food and fresh air and good company.
What do you always carry with you?
Phone, keys, sunglasses, lip balm and a book.
What would your last ever meal be?
Tricky. Maybe a ribeye with chips, maybe the perfect Cacio e Pepe? Quite possibly a really good spicy lamb chop.
What is one positive piece of advice you could give to our audience?
Make your own money, try to save a little, keep your finances firmly under your own control. You never know when you might want to pack a bag and leave.