Please welcome NMR's featured author for January: Erin Kelly!
Erin Kelly's first book is both suspenseful and intelligently written; a saga of friendship gone bad, this first outing by this very talented author will not only leave readers uncomfortably squirming in their seats, but also eager for more of the same nail-biting suspense provided here in her first amazing novel.
NMR: Can you start off by telling us a bit about your new book The Poison Tree?
EK: Itís a psychological thriller set in London, in the summer of 1997 when Karen, the narrator, was a naÔve student waiting for something to happen. She finds her adventure in the form of Biba Capel, a decadent drama student who lives in a crumbling mansion on the edge of the city with her brother Rex. Karen is drawn into their world of parties, drugs and sex. When an outsider joins the group, threatening her friendship with Biba, she takes refuge in a relationship with Rex.
The novel opens with Karen, now a brittle, nervous mother, picking Rex up from prison ten years later. We know that he has served life for two murders, but not who was killed. As the story progresses, it is gradually revealed what happened in the past Ė and it also becomes apparent that the future too is full of secrets, lies and threats.
NMR: This is your first novel; tell us a bit how difficult, or easy, the process was from finishing that final page to getting it published.
EK: It took about a year from finishing the last page to signing my first book deal. I was rejected by the first agent that I approached, which Iím now delighted about because I couldnít be happier with my current agent. The novel was first shown to London publishers in November 2008, and while there was some interest, nobody made an offer because (and I quote) ĎWe donít know whether to market this as crime fiction, womenís fiction or literary fiction.í In June 2009, after a little polishing, we re-submitted the novel. This time it was enthusiastically received as Ďcrossover fictioní, with publishers saying they could market it to all the above readerships, and eventually went to a four-way auction. It was bewildering, but a good lesson in how capricious publishing can be. My experience in America was much more straightforward Ė my editor there read it, liked it, bought it in a matter of about 48 hours.
NMR: Most authors find the business end of writing a novel to be less enjoyable than writing the novel; how did you find the experience?
EK: Iíd be suspicious of any writer who enjoyed the number-crunching and meetings more than the writing! Fortunately, Iím surrounded by people who make this feel like fun, not work. Itís still early in my career and to be honest so far Iíve loved the learning curve, finding out how publishing works. Iím constantly astonished and impressed by how many people it takes to edit, distribute and promote a book.
NMR: Your first novel is a stand-alone, unlike many authors who seem to prefer writing a series. Was this an easy decision for you, or did you just want/need to write this one book to start things off?
EK: I think that if youíre writing suspense fiction you need a recurring character whose job or lifestyle means they repeatedly encounter crime. While I admire those who can write a convincing detective or private eye or pathologist or amateur sleuth, those arenít really the kind of stories I want to tell. Iím inspired by ordinary people who are out of their depth; Iím interested in what happens before the cops arrive on the scene.
I also enjoy the liberty of knowing that once a novel is finished, I can say goodbye to those characters and start something new. But never say never!
NMR: The portrayal of friendships proves to be rather bleak in this novel; what led you to such a dark narrative?
EK: I think that when youíre young your friendships are the primary relationships in your life. In your late teens and early twenties, thatís where your loyalties and passions and even, to a degree, your sense of identity, lies. That means a lot is at stake, and I wanted to explore the frightening potential of that uniquely intense time of life.
NMR: On the one hand, as talked about above, your dark portrayal of friendships is a main theme, but on the other, family loyalties end up being the concluding factor; how hard was it to create a character who would do just about anything for one of these, but draw the line differently for the other when all was said and done?
EK: As mentioned above, thatís something that comes with time. When Karen is young, she has a poorly developed sense of family. Itís only when she is older and has a family of her own that she develops that protective mother-tiger instinct.
NMR: Your ending came as quite a surprise, and without giving it away, why did you write such a shocking ending?
EK: My favorite books always have a twist in the last few pages. I love a book that appears to have reached its conclusion but clearly has a few pages to go. For example, in We Need To Talk About Kevin the bombshell is dropped in the last few lines. That took my breath away.
NMR: What in your past influenced your book?
EK: I think that most of us have fallen under the spell of a friend who is charming and dangerous in equal measure. Biba, the friend who fatally entrances Karen, is a composite of various people Iíve encountered or observed over the years. And I was a bookish, quite shy teenager, so the scenes where Karen psyches herself up to go to a party and then spends the whole time hiding on the staircase were drawn from life.
NMR: What are your plans for your next novel?
EK: I just finished it last month. Itís called The Sick Rose and itís about Paul, a lonely, bullied schoolboy who finds a bodyguard in the shape of Daniel, an illiterate classmate, whose charm fails to mask his propensity for violence. Their adventures in petty crime escalate until, almost inevitably, someone ends up dead. To save his own skin, Paul must incriminate his best and only friend. In hiding, he meets an eccentric, enigmatic older woman, Louisa, who has made her home in the grounds of a ruined Elizabethan mansion. Before he has time to recover from his friendship with Daniel, he is drawn into her world and too late, he finds out that she, too, has dark secrets in their past. The closer they become, the clearer it is that someone is out to get them. But whose past will catch up with them first?
ERIN KELLY has worked as a freelance journalist for ten years, specializing in women, health, sex and lifestyle. She has written for a variety of UK publications including The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, Elle (UK), Marie Claire (UK), and Glamour (UK). THE POISON TREE is her first book.