Why Girl On A Train author is nervous about new book

The thing is, there is a pressure that comes with having a book sell more than 23 million copies and get turned into a Hollywood blockbuster as The Girl On The Train was.But Hawkins is uncomfortable this time around thinking of the 2017 release of the book that followed The Girl On The Train.Into The Water didn’t quite meet the eager anticipation, although it sold a respectable five million copies and the film rights were snapped up by DreamWorks before it was even published. But a film never eventuated. And it was largely panned as a confusing story with too many characters and perspectives muddying the waters (excuse the pun).So now, here she is in a somewhat familiar scenario.And she’s nervous.It could explain the reason Hawkins has waited four long years to bring us her third novel.But if early reviews of A Slow Fire Burning are anything to go by — it has a solid four-star rating on Goodreads — Hawkins is back in form.The new book centres around a man found murdered in a houseboat on a North London canal and the people in his life who are suspected of the brutal crime.There’s Laura, the strange girl he had a one-night stand with the night he was killed; Miriam, his socially-awkward houseboat neighbour who finds his body; and his estranged aunt and uncle, Theo and Carla Myerson. By the end of the book, their lives will be inextricably linked.It’s classic Hawkins.The author is taking another tentative peak behind the curtains of the suburban home, or in this case, the houseboat.And her lead character — Laura, a young woman who suffers from a psychological condition called disinhibition resulting from a terrible accident as a child — could well be our new Rachel Watson, the titular girl on the train whose self-destructive binge drinking and troubled relationships land her in a world of trouble and helped Hawkins sell more than one millions copies in just the first two months.“It’s always an anxious time, the time between finishing your novel and it actually being in the bookshops,” Hawkins says.“Right now is the time reviews will start to come through so that is particularly nerve-racking. But I feel better about this novel than I did about Into The Water, I feel it’s a more successful novel.“I think I did struggle to find the right story after Into The Water, which while it sold a lot of copies and people quite liked it, it wasn’t as critically successful and that was quite difficult for me.“There’s that element around there being expectations of what you’re going to do next and that is a lot of pressure. I think it’s good to have some pressure on you.“Before The Girl On The Train the pressure was mostly financial, and also the feeling that I’d failed and wasn’t doing well enough. Then afterwards, there was a different kind of pressure, but I think the pressure is necessary, I think I would find it difficult to write if I didn’t have something nagging at me.”It may have taken Hawkins four long years to release A Slow Fire Burning, global pandemic aside, but it is a story she needed to take the time to get right.Unlike so many writers who start with an idea for the plot and then build their characters up around it, Hawkins always starts with a main character.The idea for Laura in A Slow Fire Burning came to her years ago, through a vague story from a friend of a friend about someone who had been in a car accident and ended up with a psychological condition as a result.“It took me a while to find the right story,” Hawkins says.“I knew I wanted to write about Laura but I wasn‘t really sure what story I wanted to tell with her, she was like a character in search of a story inside my head. Which is very much how Rachel (from The Girl On The Train) was in the beginning too.“For me a story tends to start with a character; there tends to be a person that I think about and I wonder about what their life is like and then I have to find the right story to tell and that‘s the thing that can sometimes take me a while.“And sometimes that comes from settings. With Rachel, when I put her on the train her life started to unfold for me.“And with Laura, it was when I put her in the houseboat with this man that I realised ‘Oh yes, I can see something happening here’.”Daily Telegraph – News Feed latest episodeA Slow Fire Burning fits nicely into the domestic noir, or grip-lit, genre.The peak into the lives of suburban family homes could be something Hawkins writes so well because she relates to being a person on the outside looking in.The 48-year-old was born in Zimbabwe, only moving to London in 1989 as a teen. She has spoken about finding it hard to make friends in her early years in London and working hard to lose her accent, which was often mistaken for South African.Her novels all carry this theme of peaking into private lives.“There’s that sense of looking at other people‘s lives and imagining yourself in those lives or imagining how it might be different,” she says.“And that comes very much from me, I wonder around often near my home and I look at houses and imagine what your life would be like if you lived in that house, or that house. I feel this is fundamental to storytelling, imaging yourself in other lives.”Fans of Hawkins will be pleased to know she has already started walking around with a new character stuck in her head, though she says a future book is only in the very early stages.“There’s something brewing, that’s a good way of putting it,” she laughs.“I have a couple of ideas for a couple of characters who I’m thinking about and making notes and wondering where they might go but I haven’t written anything yet.“Hopefully in the (European) autumn I’ll start writing again.”A Slow Fire Burning is out this week through Penguin Random HouseEXCLUSIVE BOOK EXTRACTSLOW FIRE BURNING by Paula HawkinsBlood-sodden, the girl staggers into the black. Her clothes are dishevelled, hanging off her young body, revealing expanses of pale flesh. Shoe lost, foot bleeding. She is in agony, but the pain has become inconsequential, eclipsed by other sufferings.Her face is a mask of terror, her heart is a drum, her breath is the stricken pant of a fox gone to ground.The night’s silence is broken by a low hum. A plane? Wiping blood from her eyes, the girl looks up at the sky and sees nothing but stars.The hum is louder, lower. A car changing gear? Has she reached the main road? Her heart lifts, and from somewhere deep in her gut she summons the energy to run.She feels rather than sees the light behind her. She feels her shape illuminated in the black and knows that the car is coming from behind her. It’s coming from the farm. She turns.She knows, before she sees, that he has found her. She knows, before she sees, that it will be his face behind the wheel. She freezes. For a second she hesitates, and then she leaves the road, takes off running, into a ditch, over a wooden fence. She scrambles into the adjacent field and runs blind, falling, picking herself up, making no sound. What good would screaming do?When he catches her, he takes handfuls of her hair, pulls her down. She can smell his breath. She knows what he is going to do to her. She knows what is coming because she has already seen him do it, she saw him do it to her friend, how savagely he…“Oh, for god’s sake”, Irene muttered out loud, snapping the book shut and slinging it onto the charity shop pile.“What utter drivel.”Solid line for storiesInside Laura’s head, Deidre spoke. The trouble with you, Laura, she said, is that you make bad choices.Too f…ing right, Deidre. Not something Laura expected to say or even think, but standing there in her bathroom, shaking uncontrollably, blood pulsing hot and steady from the cut to her arm, she had to admit that imaginary Deidre was bang on the money. She leaned forward, her forehead resting against the mirror so that she wouldn’t have to look herself in the eye, only looking down was worse, because that way she could watch the blood ooze out of her, and it made her woozy, made her feel like she might throw up. So much blood. The cut was deeper than she’d thought, she ought to go to A&E. There was no way she was going to A&E.Bad choices.When at last the flow of blood seemed to slow, Laura took off her T-shirt and dropped it on the floor, she slipped out of her jeans, dropped her knickers, wriggled out of her bra, inhaling sharply through her teeth as the metal catch scraped against the cut, hissing, “f… f… mother of f…”.She dropped the bra on the floor too, clambered into the bathtub and turned on the shower, she stood shivering under the paltry trickle of scalding water (her shower offered a choice of very hot or very cold, nothing in between). She ran the tips of her wrinkled fingers back and forth over her scars: hip, thigh, shoulder, back of skull. Here I am, she said quietly to herself. Here I am.Afterwards, her forearm wrapped ineffectually in reams of toilet paper, the rest of her wrapped in a threadbare towel, sitting on the ugly grey pleather sofa in her living room, Laura rang her mother. It went to voicemail, and she hung up. No point wasting credit. She rang her father next. “You alright chicken?” She could hear noises in the background, the radio, Five Live.“Dad,” she felt a lump rise to her throat and she swallowed it.“What’s up?”“Dad, could you come round? I… I had a bad night, I was wondering if you could just come over for a bit, I know it’s a bit of a drive but I…”No, Philip. Deidre, in the background, hissing through clenched teeth. We’ve got bridge.“Dad? Could you take me off speaker?”“Sweetheart, I…”“Seriously, could you take me off speaker? I don’t want to hear her voice, it makes me want to set fire to things…”“Now, come on, Laura…”“Just forget it, Dad, it doesn’t matter.”“Are you sure?”No I’m not no I’m not no I’m f…ing not. “Yeah, sure. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”On her way to the bedroom, she stepped on her jacket which she’d dropped in the hallway in her rush to get to the bathroom. She bent down and picked it up. The sleeve was torn, Daniel’s watch still in the pocket. She took the watch out, turned it over, slipped it over her wrist. The toilet paper around her forearm bloomed scarlet, her limb throbbing gently as the blood pulsed out of her. Her head swam. In the bathroom, she dropped the watch into the sink, tore off the paper, dropped the towel on the floor. Climbed back under the shower.Using a pair of scissors to scrape beneath her fingernails, she watched the water running rosy at her feet. She closed her eyes. She listened to Daniel’s voice asking, what is wrong with you? and Deidre’s voice saying bridge, Philip, we’ve got bridge, and to her own.Set fire to things. Set fire. Set fire set fire set fire.Extract from Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins, ©Paula Hawkins 2021, Penguin Random House. Available at all book retailers from August 31NAT – Stay Informed – Social Media

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