This week Alex Day answers my questions on psychological thrillers: their popularity, the writing of them and what she enjoys — and doesn’t — as a reader. Alex Day is author of THE MISSING TWIN, a psychological thriller published in August 2017 by Harper Collins (Killer Reads imprint). It is her debut psychological thriller; she also writes under another name.
Any thoughts on the rise in popularity of psychological thrillers?
The rise and rise of the psychological thriller cannot have escaped any reader, writer, agent, publisher or blogger. Lots of the aforementioned have pondered how and why it’s happened, what is behind it and whether it will continue. In answer to the latter, I believe that the genre as a market favourite is here to stay. And I think the reasons are very simple. Psychological thrillers are easy to read, thoroughly enjoyable and, if they have a twist, often surprising. Though the caveat for twists is that the more I’m told I’ll never get it the more mental energy I expend on making sure that I do. But the great thing is that, even if I don’t try to work out the twist, or even if I can’t, it doesn’t matter because it will all be explained to me at the end.
The other reason that I personally enjoy a good psychological thriller is that they are usually not full of blood and gore. The fear and suspense are in the mind and built by the rising tension rather than the body count. Every now and again you get ones that feature a murder a minute and those I don’t usually enjoy. Apart from anything else, a) it’s quite hard to kill someone (I imagine; I don’t speak from experience here!), so the story stops ringing true b) it’s hard to commit murder and get away with it for any length of time but that’s often what happens in books and c) murder just isn’t that common in our society (fortunately), so if there’s too much of it going on in one book it ceases to be believable. Above all, to me a good story is about the characterisation and the plot development and that’s rarely enhanced if the author is killing people off all along the way.
Do you enjoy writing twisty plots? What are the pitfalls/challenges and how do you go about creating good twists?
I like twisty plots but I’m easily confused as a reader and so if there are too many twists I can find them really hard to follow. Personally, I prefer a really great twist at the end. I don’t even mind if I’ve guessed the twist if the writing is good and compelling, but I am getting increasingly frustrated with the number of books that are labelled ‘the twist you’ll never guess’ – I might, and I often do – or ‘if you only read one book this year, make it this one’ – I’ll decide what I read, thank you – or ‘the thriller of the year’ – says who? Some twists do feel incredibly laboured and I think if an author has to spend hours cooking them up they probably aren’t going to work that well. A very simple twist is often the most effective – for example, as in Apple Tree Yard – although interestingly I read an interview with Louise Doughty in which she said that she doesn’t think of her books as psychological thrillers, even though that is how they are generally labelled.
Do you find it easy to write about very dark themes? What draws you to them? Do the best authors of these books have their own dark sides, would you say?
Some books are incredibly dark and I have no idea how the authors come up with the ideas. Perhaps I don’t want to know! I simply couldn’t write scenes of torture or excessive cruelty. But I don’t think that being able to write about dark themes means you have a dark side – I think it just means that you have an imagination (that works in a particular way), which is after all the most important attribute for any writer to possess.
The Missing Twin contains characters who are ruthless and without any kind of moral compass. Who will do whatever it takes to get what they want. And both female protagonists suffer at the hands of men who take advantage of them and who use sexual violence as a weapon and a form of control. Sadly, many millions of women the world over will have been used and abused in the same, or similar, ways. How they respond and what happens to the women at the end I can’t tell you as that would be a spoiler. You’ll have to read the book to find out….
What are your favourite authors/novels in this genre, and what do you like about them? Any comments on other books/sorts of books that you like less?
I really enjoyed I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly – I partially guessed the ending of both of these but it didn’t take away from the interest of reading. As I’ve alluded to earlier, books that are based on completely ludicrous premises or feature serial killers gaily getting away with murder after murder just don’t do it for me at all. Mentioning no names!!!
Last year on holiday my kindle broke and I ended up reading some Patricia Highsmith novels that were in the place I was staying. I loved the movie of The Talented Mr Ripley, especially in its French incarnation Plein Soleil, but I found Strangers on a Train and The Blunderer preposterous because they were so implausible. Absolutely no one would behave the way the protagonists do and it was so frustrating that they just let themselves get drawn further and further into the s*** without doing anything about it. I was literally screaming at both of these books (quietly, because I’m British and was on a public beach) and I only finished them because I didn’t have anything else to read!
Alex Day is a writer, teacher, parent and dreamer who has been putting pen to paper to weave stories for as long as she can remember. The Missing Twin is her first psychological thriller but she is a bestselling author of fiction under the name Rose Alexander.
Inspired by a real pair of identical twin girls, The Missing Twin also draws on Alex’s experience of teaching newly arrived refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in a London comprehensive school.
You can find and follow Alex on Twitter @alexdaywriter and on Facebook.