Erin Kelly is a leading light in the new generation of psychological crime writers. Erin’s 2010 debut The Poison Tree was praised by Stephen King, who compared its powerful suspense to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and was longlisted for the 2011 CWA John Creasy Award.
The Sick Rose, The Burning Air and The Ties That Bind were all published to critical acclaim and Erin’s books have been translated into 19 languages. Erin’s latest novel He Said/She Said was released in April and is very popular among Suffolk Libraries customers.
1. Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
When I was about eight, I was reading an Enid Blyton book a night and was always drawn to the darkest stories: secret passages, stumbling about on moonlit moors, that kind of thing.
Throughout my teens I read Agatha Christie and loads of gothic fiction from Bram Stoker to Poppy Z. Brite. I picked up my first Ruth Rendell book when I was about 14, and that was that. She remains my biggest influence. But I don’t just read crime and thrillers: I read widely, in any genre.
2. In common with many writers, you have a background in journalism. Do you find this a help or a hindrance when you are inventing a story rather than working with facts?
In some ways journalism is very helpful because it stops you getting stage fright when faced with a blank page. And I was used to gathering a great deal of information and only using the most interesting and relevant details, which applies to character and backstory as well as research in fiction. After over ten years as a journalist, constantly fact-checking, it was incredibly liberating to finally write whatever I liked.
3. The Poison Tree was character-driven with lots of twists and turns. What comes first, the characters or the plot?
It’s so hard to say! Usually the characters or even setting come first, and it’s only by writing little scenes and getting to know them that the ideas for twists and turns come. All my biggest twists have come during the writing. Usually I’ll have a vague idea of where I want to end up, but the ‘aha’ moment comes when I’m a good 40,000 words into the book.
4. He Said/She Said, your latest book, is based around an eclipse. It’s not an obvious starting point. What made you choose it?
I got the idea when I was caught in a power cut, and realised how unusual it is for anyone who lives in a town or city to experience darkness. It was so scary I expected someone to scream, like in a horror film, and that was my starting point: something terrible happening when the ‘lights’ go out.
I’d read a piece about eclipse chasers years ago and it had obviously stuck in my mind because I thought it would make an unusual scenario: suddenly it goes dark in the daytime. I soon found out that eclipses don’t happen like that, it’s a much more gradual and magical rushing in of the dark, but I think that makes it all the more atmospheric.
5. When you read other writers’ books, do you enjoy them on the level of a ‘regular’ reader or are you constantly thinking ‘I can see what you did there’?
If a book in my own genre is well written and cleverly constructed enough, I’ll be along for the ride, the same as anyone else. I’m pretty good at spotting plot twists but I still get taken in. I’ve just read a very good book called Together by Julie Cohen with a twist I only called out a few pages before the reveal, and it’s always really satisfying when that happens.
These days I’m increasingly drawn to non-fiction and memoir because I can switch off and not compare my own work, or start wondering where I would have taken the plot.
6. Is there anything you can tell us about your latest project?
It’s set in Suffolk! It’s about an old mental hospital, one of the great Victorian asylums, which has now been converted into luxury flats. When a woman’s husband buys a flat in the new development, she will go to any lengths to stop him finding out about her past involvement with the place.
The hospital was actually inspired by a huge building near where I live in North London called Colney Hatch, but I needed a more rural setting, and as I spend so much time in Suffolk – my mum lives in Leiston – I thought it made sense to write about the countryside I know best.
7. Do you have a message for your many readers in Suffolk Libraries?
Keep doing what you’re doing and supporting your libraries. I’ve done several events in the county and always been so welcomed by your amazing staff. You’re lucky to have them – and they’re lucky to have you, as am I.