We caught up with Paula Hawkins to find out more about the debut that’s got everyone talking in 2015.
Hi Paula! So tell us, where did the inspiration for The Girl on the Train come from?
I moved to London in 1989 – before then I’d lived in Zimbabwe, where commuting by train doesn’t happen. Taking the District Line into college was a totally novel experience for me – those of you familiar with London will know that although it’s an underground line it actually travels over ground quite a bit of the way. It’s also very slow (or was then, in any case) and was constantly afflicted by signalling problems, so I got plenty of time to look into people’s houses as we went past. Perhaps it was because I was new to London, an outsider, perhaps it was because I was feeling a bit lonely having left all my friends behind in Zimbabwe, but I loved looking into those flats and houses, and imagining the lives of people who lived there – lives which I imagined to be far more interesting than my own at the time.
Why do you think people are fascinated by looking into stranger’s windows?
Glimpses into the lives of others are compelling because they are so fleeting, I think. You never really get a chance to take a good look, you just have this tantalising peek, so your imagination has to fill in the blanks. And imagination makes things richer, darker, sexier, more exciting.
How did you plot the narrative of your book?
I started out writing a linear narrative, but I found that in order to make the voices distinctive, it was actually better to write them separately. That also helped me keep all the action straight in my head, because the time line jumps about a bit.
What do we need to know about your lead character, Rachel.
I think she’s a real and recognisable character. Some people will dislike her, but I don’t: she is damaged and vulnerable, and she makes some terrible decisions, but the fight hasn’t gone out of her. Not completely. And as the book progresses we start to see some of her strength, and a glimpse of the person she once was and could be again. The problems she faces – infertility, depression, alcoholism – are common enough, they are faced by millions of people who will recognise her struggles and I hope will empathise to some degree.
What do you enjoy about travelling by train?
I love train journeys. If there’s a reasonable train alternative to plane travel, I’ll take it. I tend to get lots of work done on trains: they are a great place to write – you can observe your fellow passengers, or the scenery, or you can just disappear into your own head. And you can get up and walk to the bar car for a gin and tonic.
What was your most memorable train journey?
When I was eighteen, I took a train from Rabat to Meknes in Morocco. I was by myself, and it was very exciting and a real eye-opener: people were so friendly, they shared food around the carriage, and we chatted away in bad French. It was lovely.