Paula Hawkins: An Exclusive Interview on Into the Water

Paula Hawkins: An Exclusive Interview on Into the Water

Paula Hawkins: An Exclusive Interview on Into the Water Transcript

My new novel – Into the Water – is a psychological suspense, and it’s all about what happens when you discover that the stories you’ve been telling about yourself and your family turn out not to be true.

How do you get inside your characters’ heads?

Getting inside your characters’ heads is not always a simple thing, and does require total immersion, I think. So I like to spend time with my characters, I like to live with them for a while and sort of feel like I’m walking around in their skin. And in this novel – Into the Water – I have a huge cast of characters so it was quite a complex enterprise.

Was it liberating to tell the story from multiple viewpoints?

Telling the story from so many different viewpoints was liberating. It had challenges, obviously I had to imagine all these different characters and how they would think and how they would speak. But it’s also a great way of telling a story; to be able to look at all these events from a whole range of different viewpoints. It’s a really interesting, if challenging way of telling that story.

Who was your favourite character to write and why?

I think my favourite character in Into the Water is Nicky Sage, who is an older lady, and she claims to be able to talk to the dead. And she’s quite funny, and there’s not that much – you know this is a book about murders – so there’s not that much levity in there, but Nicky’s in there and she’s quite wise and she’s quite canny. And I like her quite cynical take on things.

How was location important to the story?

I’ve chosen to locate this book in a town called Beckford, which is a fictional Beckford that exists in Northumberland but it’s my Northumberland. It’s a slightly imaginary Northumberland. But I wanted to set this book in a small community, and I wanted it to feel quite an isolated community. Northumberland is the least populous county in England. It’s very beautiful but it has quite a bleak beauty and so that fit the story really well.

How did you plan your story out? Did you know how things would end from the start?

I always have to know the ending of a novel before I start writing it. I need to know a point that I’m aiming for. What I don’t need to know is everything that happens on the way there. So I do plan, but what I sort of do is sketch out the bones of the story, and then all the flesh sort of comes in as we’re going through. But yes, I had to know who’d done it because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to construct all the twists properly.

What sort of research did you carry out ahead of writing?

I’m not a big researcher when it comes to writing novels. Most of what I write comes from imagination and observation. I sort of drew inspiration from the work of Oliver Sachs who writes about memory and memories of childhood, which is a big theme in the book. So I read some of what he’s written about it, and some other people. But generally I’m a bit lazy when it comes to research; I prefer to just make things up.

What is it about memories and our understanding of them that you find most fascinating?

Memory fascinates me. The way we, all of us, rely on our memories. Our memories go to inform the people we become. And what I’m interested in, particularly in this book, is the way that we can cling to memories from childhood which we trust completely, we trust complicitly, and yet we can discover in adulthood that those things we’re remembering didn’t actually happen the way we thought they did. So we rely on these things, and then we discover later in life that actually those sands are shifting. We are not perhaps built on as solid foundations as we believed.

What inspired you to write about water as a central theme to your story?

Water is essential to the book. I wanted to build my fictional town around a river. I think we all have a relationship to water. A lot of us will have spent childhood holidays at a lake or by the sea, so I think we all have very strong connections to bodies of water. For most of us, that’s going to be a joyful thing because we remember happy holidays. For anyone who has ever had a bad experience, water can be completely terrifying. And I think that’s what I was interested in. And I’ve written about two characters, one of whom who loves the water and one of whom is a phobic. And so the river is one of the things that divides my characters.