Between The Lines: Erin Kelly
Updated: Jul 13
The flame-haired master of the psychological thriller chats about her latest novel, We Know/You Know, along with method, madness and early nights
Erin's jumper matches her eyes - as in I mean it's the same colour as her eyes, not that her eyes are made of wool
It’s fair to say that Erin Kelly knows how to write a decent thriller. Her first novel, The Poison Tree, was a Richard & Judy bestseller translated into 11 languages and turned into an ITV drama. Not a bad start. Thereby followed The Sick Rose, The Ties That Bind and The Burning Air - all published to critical acclaim. If that wasn’t enough Erin wrote the novelisation of the BAFTA-winning Broadchurch starring Olivia Colman and that bloke from Dr Who, but not the one I fancy, the other one. Anyway, her latest novel, Stone Mothers, has just come out in paperback under the new title We Know/You Know and has been chosen by Richard and Judy for their fancy bookclub thing, which is super cool. I've read it and it's the nuts - I'll use all the clichés like 'page-turner', 'unputdownable' and 'had me on the edge of my seat' even if I was reading it in bed. The story centres around 47-year-old Marianne who was seventeen when she fled her home in a small town in Suffolk – leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, Jesse, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, forced to return to in order to help care for her sick mother, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving in the first place, is finally threatening to expose the truth. Marianne will do anything to protect the life she's built, the husband and daughter who must never know what happened all those years ago. Even if it means turning to her worst enemy for help... But Marianne may not know the whole story – and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep. Clue: mental asylum. Oof!
So, now that I know/you know (see what I did there?) this book is worth a shot, you can be in with a chance of winning a signed copy. Read this first, though, obviously.
The re-vamped cover of Stone Mothers - in bookshops now
Erin, what book do you wish you’d written?
The Gruffalo. I don’t know a kid who doesn’t own that book.
What do you do when writer’s block hits - make a massive sandwich or throw shoes at the wall?
I know a lot of authors who swear by writing every day and never missing a session but there’s nothing more dispiriting than sitting in front of a screen, willing a solution to come. (My experience of writer’s block is not a lack of ideas, but painting myself into a corner with the plot). When it’s really bad I take a couple of days off and read a book that has some kind of overlap – theme, subject, it can be fiction or non-fiction – and if I’m lucky an observation or a phrase or a fact that will unlock my own book for me.
Do you actually get time to read books? If so, do you stick to the same genre or is that too much like work?
Yes! I read a bit every day and on days I don’t read my mind gets itchy and restless and I end up refreshing the internet for hours on end. I do read psychological thrillers, partly to keep up with the market and partly because I still like them but I have to alternate them with something outside my genre or everything starts to feel the same. I read anything from rom coms to the Booker longlist. Increasingly I like non-fiction and memoir because it doesn’t feel like work.
If you were thrown in prison and could only take one book to read over and over again, which book would that be and why?
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It’s long enough to keep me busy but there’s so much going on there: every sentence is perfect, the characterisation never falters and the plot is so complex and clever that I find something new there every time.
Both of Erin's books on my desk in my office. You can win a copy of We Know/You Know if you're lucky, it's signed and everything
When do you write?
I’m writing at dawn now but that’s because we’re in lockdown and it’s the only time I get to myself before the kids get up and need to be fed, educated and entertained, although it'll start to get easier now.
Does that mean you’re in bed while everyone else is eating their tea?
I do go to bed most nights at 9.30. Not exactly the Sex Pistols, is it?
What does your ideal day go like when you’re writing?
There are no other people and a swimming pool.
Which part of the writing process do you most enjoy? And which part has you tearing your hair out?
I hate plotting. I love the polishing stage, where I’m no longer wondering if everything makes sense and free to really enjoy tinkering with the language.
We Know/You Know was originally published in hardback as Stone Mothers (see below). I loved it, man. It's a great read. Why did you change the title? Why?
Readers loved the book but we kept getting the same feedback: the title didn’t sound enough like a thriller. So we changed it to We Know/You Know – it matched my last book, He Said/She Said, and sounded a lot more commercial and exciting.
Don't be confused: this is the hardback, the red one is the paperback
Where did you get the idea for We Know/You Know?
A friend was dating an urban explorer who took her to a disused mental hospital. While he was taking photographs she found a cabinet of top-secret medical files. I remember thinking in the wrong hands that would be dangerous… and the story was born.
How has lockdown affected your writing process?
It’s made me realise how many things that aren’t writing are central to the process: letting off steam in the pub, to get me out of my imaginary world: thinking things over on the walk home from school.
What fuels you while writing? If it’s drugs, don’t tell me
Tea by the litre and when I’m on deadline I live off Alpen, which can get pretty dark
Erin's kitchen worktop by week three of deadline (maybe)
Are you a good cook?
I’m amazing and I love it. Most of my dinners are a great big pile of vegetables: salads, casseroles, curries. Are you a collector of anything?
Is there anything you do differently when you’re on deadline? Apart from shout ‘I’m on DEADLINE, get lost!’ when anyone tries to speak to you
I shut off social media and I don’t drink.
Outside of writing and reading, what do you enjoy doing? Apart from drinking, I mean
I haven’t got time for hobbies but I do love half-arsed exercise. Running, swimming, yoga, cycling – I do all these things badly but regularly.
If you wrote a memoir, who would you choose to play you? I’d choose Danny DeVito or Arnold Schwarzenegger to play me
Olivia Colman of course.
What was your first job?
Saturday girl at Superdrug in Upminster.
If you won £1million, what’s the first thing you’d do?
I can’t answer this honestly because they would expose me as the shallow, craven being I really am.
Describe your office as much as you want to
It’s a box-room you can’t lie down in with loads of plants, books and a standing desk from Ikea that has probably saved me from major spinal surgery.
The paperback edition of We Know/You Know hit the shelves this weekend. For your chance to win a signed copy (signed!) all you need to do is subscribe to BooksBakingBeauty on the home page then comment below and tell me in less than 20 words where and why you would choose to read your copy if you could read it anywhere in the whole wide world. And don’t say ‘in the bath at home’ because that is a properly boring answer.
A winner will be picked on 1 August and I shall risk my life going to the post office to send it to them (no joke, I'm shielding, but that's how nice I am)
If you don’t win, please do pop out to your local bookshop and support them by buying a copy. You can also buy it here if you don't have a bookshop nearby: https://www.waterstones.com/book/we-know-you-know/erin-kelly/9781444797305
Read Richard and Judy’s introduction to the book here: https://blog.whsmith.co.uk/rjju20-richard-and-judy-introduce-we-know-you-know-by-erin-kelly/
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