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Interview: December 1, 2021

Sunday Times bestselling author Erin Kelly, whose books have been translated into 25 languages, ascends the throne as the Queen of Psych Suspense with her eighth novel, WATCH HER FALL. Her million-copy pole-vault crossbar is sure to rise given the US release, which has had additional printings to accommodate market demand. In this interview, Kelly chats with’s Dean Murphy about her astounding thrillers, what she has in store for us next, and a typical day in her writing life. It’s been two years since the US release of WE KNOW YOU KNOW (aka STONE MOTHERS, my Bookreporter 2019 Reviewer Top Pick). Why was there an elephant gestation-length period for the current title?

Erin Kelly: I began this book in 2019, and just as I was getting to the really knotty plot points, lockdown hit. I took it hard. I found myself home-educating two young children and managing their anxiety as well as mine. All the while I was wrestling with my most ambitious and audacious book yet. There were times when I thought my head was going to explode. So, yeah. It wasn’t a vintage year for word count.

BRC: WATCH HER FALL has more psychological twists and turns than a triple set of fouettés, a term meaning “whipped turning.” There are several major turns. Is this an accurate accounting of your stunning novel’s twists?

EK: I do love a quick one-two punch. Many of my favourite books, such as SHARP OBJECTS or FINGERSMITH, hit the reader with a twist early on, to lull them into a false sense of security --- only to sneak in another gotcha near the end. The multiple twists in WATCH HER FALL are a lot, but I wanted a book that reflected the ballet itself, and the stories dancers tell on stage --- gothic, magical, spectacular, all about unrequited love, identity, betrayal, and exaggerated versions of femininity and masculinity.

BRC: For a section heading, you have a one-word title followed by a question mark. Brava! What inspired this unusual title?

EK: There’s a twist that comes two-thirds of the way into the story that will have readers questioning everything they thought they knew about the story so far. As a reader, I love those pull-the-rug moments, but 10 years of feedback tells me that there’s a fine line between a reader going “Aha!” and a reader scratching his or her head. So I included that section title partly because I liked the way it looked on the page but also to reassure readers that, no, you’re not going crazy. Yes, you should be asking yourself that question!

BRC: You attended a “Swan Lake” performance shortly before the March 2020 COVID lockdown. Did the worldwide hibernation inspire the ballerina’s isolation in Ava’s dacha?

EK: I’ll never forget that performance. Knowing that COVID was on the horizon lent that already stunning show an extra charge. After the curtain dropped, I walked through Covent Garden, which is usually thronged with tourists, but it was so deserted that my footsteps echoed on the cobbles. Actually, I’d written those scenes where the ballerina is in her own kind of lockdown, alone in a luxury house, long before the pandemic. What the lockdown did give me was a new and unprecedented insight into the ballet dancer’s mindset.

I had arranged to interview a handful of dancers I admired, but instead I had to talk to them via Zoom. Like the rest of us, they were scared and vulnerable, a million miles from the polished, perfect creatures on stage. I saw them in a state of despair (they didn’t know when they’d dance again) and determination (I will dance again). And there was an explosion in online barre classes during lockdown. I joined in in my kitchen, swishing and plié-ing in an old tracksuit, and made that part of my working day.

BRC: Your journalism career began in 1998. A decade later, you received auspicious accolades for your debut novel, THE POISON TREE. Why did you choose psychological suspense as your fiction venue?

EK: I think most readers have a core story that they keep returning to, much as we might have a “type” when it comes to dating. For some it might be supernatural twists, for others it might be coming-of-age or a David and Goliath story. I’ve loved mystery novels since my first Agatha Christie and return time and again, as a reader as well as a writer, to the theme of a misspent youth catching up with someone years later. I cannot resist a campus mystery, the richer and more spoiled the students, the more I enjoy their comedown. So I cut my teeth on books like THE SECRET HISTORY and A FATAL INVERSION, and like a lot of debuts, THE POISON TREE was in many ways those books that I had re-read so often and internalized so deeply finding their way back out again.

BRC: On April Fools’ Day 2010, you received Stephen King’s email stating, “I wish I’d written it.” This is panegyric praise from the Master of Macabre for your debut. Did you know then you had “made it”?

EK: No! I thought it was my editor playing a prank! Also, I don’t think the idea of having “made it” is a particularly healthy one. If you look at this career from the outside, you’ll go insane as it’s so unpredictable. Of course, making the bestseller charts is wonderful, but it’s also very arbitrary, and my idea of having made it is to be happy at my desk.

BRC: Describe a typical day in your writing life.

EK: I’m an early bird. I like to get outside and taste the daylight before I sit at my desk, even if it’s just a walk around the park. My best work is usually done by noon --- and my brain stops functioning after about 3pm. I tend to write in long stretches rather than short bursts, which is terrible news for my back. But I’m getting better at taking screen breaks.

I write on a desktop PC, using Scrivener for my early drafts and then refining in Word. I have an idea of where I’m going, but I don’t storyboard in advance. I carry the ideas in my head and trust that the right ones will spill out eventually. I don’t write linearly. I write scenes as they occur to me, or as the need for them arises --- part of the fun is then shuffling them around, getting the chronology just right to milk the maximum suspense. And I read a lot, for research and for fun. Great writing inspires me to make my own words dance. Actually, even crappy writing inspires me if I’m learning something that will enrich my book.

BRC: This Erin Kelly addict needs to know what’s in store for the next title.

EK: It’s a book about a book: a fictional picture-book-slash-treasure-hunt that was never completed, the author and his family, and the treasure hunters who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. I’ve loved delving into the world of the armchair treasure hunter --- Google Forrest Fenn if you want an idea of how obsessive hunters can be, and what they will risk in their quest for gold. At the time of this writing, we’re still trying to land on the right title.

BRC: Thank you for a thrilling read, and for this interview. Do you have any final thoughts?

EK: Thank you for having me! *Curtseys*