Today I’m welcoming my fellow Carina UK author Amy Bird to my site. Amy’s debut novel Yours is Mine reached the coveted No. 1 spot on the Amazon.com Women’s Crime chart. Her new novel, psychological thriller Three Steps Behind You was released last week. It tells the story of a crime writer who believes he has to experience everything in order to write about it. But behind his writing is the obsessional need to get closer to his childhood friend, Adam, and Adam’s wife, Nicole – whatever steps he must take. Today Amy is talking about her influences in writing Three Steps Behind You. Over to you, Amy!
Reading as a writer – my thrilling influences
There are some writers who don’t read other people’s work while writing their own, for fear that their style suffers under outside influences. When I was writing my first novel, I used to be like that. But as I wrote my second novel, psychological thriller Three Steps Behind You, I devoured films, plays and books in the same genre. If you’re writing a thriller, you need to inhabit the intense noir-ish and sinister world that exists in art. Everything in the world of your fiction becomes about enhanced suspicions, suspense and intrigue. Exposure to other literature in the genre heightens that sensitivity. It reminds you what is gripping, and what is not; how tiny details can chill a reader; how character’s motives can be obscured then – shockingly – laid bare. Your plot, your style and your words are your own, but there is a shared heritage to help along the way.
Here’s an insight into my reading pile while I was writing Three Steps Behind You:
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This classic psychological thriller had long been a favourite novel and I revisited it to see how du Maurier deals with the relationship of man, dead ex-wife and current wife, which I also explore in Three Steps Behind You. I was not disappointed. She was a true master of drip-feeding little bits of information to create a gradual unease in the reader, and then the realisation by the protagonist, coming together in a gripping final third of the novel.
2. Precious Thing by Colette Macbeth and Stay Close by Harlan Coben. Both of those contemporary novels deal with the gradual emergence of shocking family secrets. In both, we know from the start that there is a secret, but we don’t know what it is, which is what grips. My talented host Helen also deployed that tactic in her excellent debut The Ghost House, which I was reading too.
3. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler was in my mind, for his wonderful cliff-hanger chapter endings. I also love the stylishness of his prose, the seediness of his settings, the oppressive atmosphere he creates, and the weird investigative journey of the hard-boiled Philip Marlowe.
4. Susanna Moore, for her shockingly unlikeable and obsessive characters in In the Cut. I admit that I actually threw Moore’s book across the room when I first read it (a rare act for a book-lover) because I found the almost predatory self-victimisation of the female protagonist offensive, but the hypnotic style and strange illogical choices of the protagonists still haunt me. I deliberately took quite a stylised approach to writing Three Steps Behind You, from the viewpoint of my psychotic protagonist, which will hopefully be equally haunting.
5. Now for a leftfield choice – I did a close reading of the section of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that deals with Echo and Narcissus. One of the themes that Three Steps Behind You novel deals with is male friendship and sexuality. The idea of obsession with a reflection of yourself really intrigued me, and you’ll see Metamorphoses mirrored in one scene between Dan and the object of his obsession, Adam, as they bathe in Hampstead Ponds.
There were also some great pieces on my reading list that I only got to once I finished writing Three Steps Behind You. I’m listing these too, so that if you read it and (hopefully!) love it, you have access to work on a similar theme:
1. The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene. Greene is a master of using tiny details to create an atmosphere of danger and suspense. His work is also set in the underbelly of London, like Three Steps Behind You. Plus there is another take on the classic man-woman-man relationship struggle that I explore in Three Steps Behind You.
2. The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell. This is a play, rather than a novel. It deals with a complex man-woman-man relationship and male friendship/ sexuality. I saw an excellent production at Trafalgar Studios at the back-end of 2013, but I’m sure you’d get a lot from reading the play too.
3. Strangers on a train by Patricia Highsmith. I confess, shockingly, that I haven’t read the book. But I’d previously seen the Hitchcock film, then in January this year I saw the stage version in the West End. They are strikingly different, as apparently Hitchcock was prevented by censors from including elements of the book in his film. And again, we see that claustrophobic man-woman-man relationship in which power and secrets can be deployed so compellingly.
You’ll have to see for yourself whether the above influences are apparent in Three Steps Behind You. For the readers amongst you, I would love to hear your views. For the writers amongst you, my lesson is this: read and watch widely to absorb yourself in the type of world you want to create, and learn from the technical skill of other writers, but ultimately you must create a story and style that showcase your own unique voice – that’s why we will read your work.
Three Steps Behind You is available now from all good e-retailers, including Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Three-Steps-Behind-You-Bird-ebook/dp/B00IG9Q2EA) Kobo (http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/three-steps-behind-you) and iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/three-steps-behind-you/id823643776?mt=11). You can connect with Amy at http://www.amybirdwrites.com or via twitter @london_writer or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/amybirdwrites