Richard and Judy ask M. J. Arlidge

Richard and Judy ask M. J. Arlidge

This is your first novel and it’s deeply creepy as well as brilliant. Where on earth did you get your inspiration?

We live in a competition culture. Shows like X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity and Big Brother have helped to create a world in which we are constantly judging other people. Who’s hotter? Who’s more talented? Who do we like more? Who’s good, better, best? I thought it would be interesting for a serial killer to pose this question, raising the stakes so it becomes a matter of life and death. From this original notion, Eeny Meeny grew. It’s set not in the world of celebrity but in the world of ordinary people and as such the question posed is a universal one – faced with the ultimate dilemma, could you kill another to save yourself? Most of us would like to say “no”, or at the very least say we might do it because we have a wife and children who needs us etc. But is that true? Or is there just a basic instinct in all of us to survive, to live?

Obviously we don’t know if M J Aldridge is a man or a woman. Is this deliberate, and is it an advantage for a writer to disguise his or her gender?

Yes, this was a deliberate decision – I wanted to be gender neutral! For me the writer should be as anonymous as possible, so people come to the novel without any preconceptions. Sometimes people baulk at the prospect of a man writing a novel with a female protagonist or vice versa and I wanted to avoid that. But it’s not just about gender. The more elusive or enigmatic the writer is the better, as far as I’m concerned, so you can just lose yourself in their work. To be honest I’m never that interested in whether authors are married, have kids, like dogs – too much information destroys the mystery for me. Less is more!

Eeny Meeny has a lot of very dark sexual passages. Many writers find it difficult to go down that route. Did you have to reach quite deep to write them?

When I began fleshing out my heroine, Helen Grace, I knew I wanted her to be different. I wanted her personal issues to feel modern and surprising – not like anything we’d seen before in a police procedural. So I created a tough, tragic backstory for her that drives everything she does. Her problems are primarily emotional and as it is guilt and shame that she’s seeking to expunge, it is pain, rather than sex, that interests her. But even here, there is room for warmth, for solidarity, for friendship. She finds these things in odd places, but find them she does. Despite her tough exterior, Helen is no different to you or me in her need for a shoulder to cry on.

D.I. Helen Grace is an unusual heroine – basically kind, but deeply flawed, especially in her sexual preferences which are of course rooted in her dreadful past. Is Helen going to be the star of your second book – are you writing a series about her?

Yes, Helen is very much the star of book two! And more besides – there are plenty more Helen Grace books in the pipeline.