How to write the perfect thriller
An interview with the author of 'The Perfect Girlfriend'
The Perfect Girlfriend is a compelling thriller, a modern-day story of obsession and hatred and how those two interlink in the mind of the dangerous Juliette. She is in love with Nate and will do whatever it takes to keep him in her life even though he broke up with her six months ago. She has it all planned: Nate is a pilot so Juliette changes careers to become a flight attendant to have the perfect reunion.
This is Karen Hamilton’s first published novel.
Your debut has such a keen and strong sense of story development. How long did you take to write? Is the story something that was brewing quite a while?
It took roughly two years, plus edits. I think the story was brewing for longer than I realised in my subconscious. When I worked as a flight attendant I remember once feeling a sense of returning to anonymity when I changed out of uniform. It gave me the seed of an idea for a sinister character who really did change her persona.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the writing course at Faber Academy?
I had been writing for about seven years by the time I went on the course. I worked to a word limit each day and tried to immerse myself in the writing world by attending events and festivals. I’d already written two books by the time I went on the course, but wasn’t able to attract the attention of agents. I went on the course with the intention of re-writing my second book, but on the first night our tutor advised us to experiment so I decided to work on the idea of the sinister character who hid behind an airline uniform. I received so much support and encouragement from other members on the course (we submitted 5,000 words each for group feedback) and it gave me the confidence to create Juliette in the way I did. At the end of the six months, we were given the opportunity to read our work out loud for two minutes to agents and editors (very daunting, but worth it)!
The end was chilling. Did you know how it was going to end? Was that important?
I did have an idea where it was going to end and it was important to me that it was in keeping with the main character’s nature.
The behind-the-scenes parts of being a flight attendant are particularly entertaining. Did you get feedback from former colleagues on the novel?
A friend of mine, who still flies, re-read early copies of the drafts. I tried to create an authentic, yet hopefully interesting airline world based on the most common questions people asked when I flew.
Nate is quite a one-dimensional character in the beginning. Juliette fills in his blanks, but there is a constant struggle to see him properly. Was this deliberate?
I did feel that readers should only “know” Nate through Juliette’s character so that they have to make up their own minds about him based on that version.
How did you get to formulate such a complex character as Juliette? In a sense, one is totally rooting for her to get her revenge, especially over Bella (Nate’s sister). Can you expand on why it was important to write her in such a way. Are you getting positive feedback on Juliette and her way of dealing with her trauma?
I had a sense of her character always being the outsider, looking into the windows of other lives and knowing that in all likelihood, she could never truly belong. She craves normality and thinks that Nate can offer her that, so much so, that anyone who she perceives as a threat is in danger. There has been positive feedback thankfully, and an understanding of why she thinks the way she does.How much research did you have to do?
I read a lot about sociopaths, nature versus nurture and self-help books. I found some of them very powerful in their use of positive language and I imagined how Juliette could twist their meanings into self-justification of her actions rather than trying to heal, learn or grow. I also researched various legal aspects relating to the plot, spy apps and refreshed my memory of some destinations. One particular scene near the end I wrote on location. I also spent time in the area, Richmond, where Nate “lives” (which is on the Heathrow flight path) listening to the aircraft descend and imaging Juliette “watching” whilst taking in all she’d see and hear.
Are you busy with a new writing project?
Yes, I am currently working on another psychological thriller with another damaged, female protagonist at its heart.
What has been the best experience about writing this novel?
It really is a dream come true and I still can’t quite believe it! I like meeting people at events as a lot of the time, like most writers, I am alone, in my own head, thinking up worse-case scenarios, so it’s great to socialise. There is a lot of support from other writers, bloggers and reviewers which is amazing. I also love being sent book proofs, it feels like a real privilege.
The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is published by Headline, R275