This is a story about the hen weekend from hell. Where did you get the idea?
It actually came about from a conversation with a friend. We were talking about settings for thrillers and mysteries, and she said she had never read a thriller set on a hen night. I immediately thought about three separate things all at the same time. The first was, Huh, I’ve never read one either. I wonder why not?
The second was, That’s actually a great idea – I mean, it’s the perfect setting in a lot of ways: you have a lot of people who don’t necessarily know each other very well, all forced into the same location for a pre-determined amount of time. Tensions are running high, there’s usually alcohol involved. . . It’s kind of amazing more hen nights don’t go horribly wrong, in fact.
And the third thought was, I really want to write this book. I kept thinking about it on the tube on the way home, and these characters were kind of walking into my head one by one. I had the whole set-up, more or less, by the time I got home. Of course, a lot of elements changed along the way – characters evolved and changed, and sometimes the plot took over in ways I wasn’t expecting.
A lot of people ask if the Glass House in the woods is a real place. The answer is no, sadly. Or maybe happily – I’m not sure! Initially the setting was a stone cottage, very old and kind of disappearing into the remote forest. . . But then I thought, how much more creepy if the place they were staying was the opposite – a super-modern Grand Designs-type house, completely out of place in the rural setting and full of sharp corners and glass walls, with lights that shone out through the forest like a beacon all around, and giving you absolutely nowhere to hide.
It’s your debut thriller. Did you always want to write a creepy whodunit?
I don’t know that I exactly set out to write a thriller – it was more that the idea that came to me was thriller-esque from the start. In some ways I’m quite an unlikely person to write a scary book as I’m extremely cowardly and can’t cope with truly terrifying films or books. I don’t mind tension or mysteries, but out-and-out terror is just too much for me. I’ve never watched The Silence of the Lambs all the way through, for example. Just the beginning is enough to send me cowering behind the sofa.
However, for some reason, writing a chilling book is a bit different – I think it’s quite hard to scare yourself, because a key ingredient of fear is suspense, not knowing what’s behind the door, or lurking in the shadows. And although I surprised myself a few times when I was writing In a Dark, Dark Wood, for the most part, I knew roughly what was going to happen and how it was going to pan out, so I never had that fear of turning the page and not knowing if something horrible might jump out.
In some ways it’s like an Agatha Christie set-up; a small group of people gathered for a reunion in an isolated house. Gradually the mystery unfolds. Are you a Christie fan?
I am a huge Christie fan. I think she’s undeservedly dismissed as being a rather cosy writer, but her plotting is second to none and some of her stand-alone novels are truly chilling. I read a lot of Christie as a teen, and although I didn’t really set out to channel her when I wrote the book, I look back at it now and I can definitely see the debt to her style and some of her trademark ingredients. The isolated location, the closed cast of characters, even the nursery-rhyme title, all those are elements that Christie really made her own.
The biggest difference, I think, is that Christie’s characters tend to be rather emotionally stiff. They’ve often lost someone close to them, and are frequently under suspicion of murder, and yet they maintain a very stiff upper lip, with just the occasional hint that really Mrs So-and-So should pull herself together a bit. Maybe it’s a post-war thing and people really were more buttoned up and impervious to sudden death, but I suspect it’s more of a literary device to let the plot take centre stage, and allow readers to enjoy the whodunit element without focussing too much on the fact that a human being – albeit a fictional one – has died.
My characters are much more emotive and unstable. In real life, I’m pretty sure if I was involved in a murder in any capacity at all I’d be a nervous wreck, and my characters tend to reflect that!
What’s next? Another thriller, or something less creepy?
I’m writing another book now, actually, and yes, it’s another thriller. It’s about a murder on a cruise ship and the plot was partly inspired by the murky legal status of ships in international waters. It’s also about perception and reality. What would it feel like if you witnessed a murder, and no one believed you?