What inspires a psychological thriller?

The writing ideas for the psychological thrillers come very differently from the research I’ve done for historical stories. They can’t be found by visiting such obvious places as historical properties. But I’ve learned to use several things.

One. My own life – I’ve started writing scenes set in local places, and using some of things I’ve done. Places I’ve spent a lot of time in and have experienced life in not just visited. I shared some of the places when I told you about the inspirations for After you Fell in The Secrets of a Bestseller. My characters might carry different emotions into the scenes from the days that I’ve done the same thing or been to the same place. But drawing on my reality, I think helps to make the characters experience more real, which enables the reader to connect emotionally with the characters. And that emotional connection, writing a character the people feel something for, is just as important in thrillers as it is in romance.

There’s a seen in The Twins when they hitchhike to Buscot, to swim in the weir pool on National Trust land. That’s something I and my friends did as young teenagers 🙂

My Twins are truants. I admit I did skip school occassionally, but I once met a girl at the bus stop who was going to school for the first time in two years. She said she used to hide in the day. I never saw her again, she didn’t come back. It’s strange how my real life memories from a long while ago can return to influence a story now. I remember her though because I always wondered what had happened next.

Two. Learning about real life crimes, and most importantly the people who commit them. The TV channel, CBS Reality, is my late-night watch. I’m funny I know. In my day job in a meeting we were asked to draw how we were feeling, I made everyone laugh because in my drawing I included a drawing of a woman with a knife – I was tired because I’d stayed up late watching Wives with Knives. Hee hee. But another late-night programme is about twins who commit crimes. I watched it as much to learn about the relationship between twins rather than to find ideas for the story. I’m pleased to say that I’ve already had feedback from a twin to say they relate to my characters. So, that has thrilled me – thank you to the television show.

Three. Identifying the settings for the scenes. Choosing real settings adds to the stories realism. It engages people’s minds with the fiction more effectively. Although there’s always a writer’s licence to embellish spaces, my settings are usually deliberately not accurate to the real places. For instance, two of the characters in The Twins own a cafe in the Lake District. I chose the Lake District for the adult years of my characters because it’s quite an enchanting place. It’s also out of the way, where the characters could go to hide. But a lot of the lakes are full of tourists, and the towns busy with thousands of visitors. So when I found a quieter setting, it became the perfect place for my reserved characters who didn’t want to let anyone know they were there. The small cafe at the Esthwaite Water Trout Fishery became the spot I used as a reference to describe my cafe. But then I embellished it. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the real cafe. In reality, on the entrance side, it’s a solid wall with a single width door. My setting has a glass front so that the characters see who is coming and going. My fictional cafe is also bigger, it has more tables inside, and a wider selection of food. But the fact that it’s set right on the edge of the lake, and that there’s nothing else around it, those are the things that the real cafe inspired. It has a homely, welcoming atomosphere, tucked away in the woods.

Oh that might take you back to the first inspiration I mentioned in this recent flurry of blog posts.

Four. Music. The inspiration of music runs from historicals into psychological thrillers without change.

The Twins: The most gripping psychological crime thriller of 2020 with a twist you won’t see coming!

available in audio an ebook from today

If you liked Blood Orange, The Perfect Couple and The House Guest you will love this!

Susan and Sarah. Sisters. Best friends.
Together…forever?

Nothing could break them apart.

Until they meet him.

And he can only choose one…

Now Susan is back. Determined to reclaim everything Sarah has taken from her.

Her home, her husband…her life?

How a novel begins …

I’ve said it before here, and in other places, that I love how a whole novel can unfold in a moment from seeing something that inspires you, and I’m fascintated by other people’s inspirations. You may remember my previous blog on Inspirations: From J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, John Fowles to The BrontĂ« sisters and me .

As I said last week, I didn’t share the inspirations behind Entangled, the historical novel I released at the beginning of the summer, because I wasn’t well at the time. So, I thought this weekend I’ll do some catching up.

A little like The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the setting for the last book in the Wickedly Romantic Poets series is a windswept coastal town. The first encounter with the characters is on a deserted beach. I always intended from book one that Clio would end up moving to Hartlepool to hideaway, and that James would encounter her on the beach there several years later. As readers know, there’s a long prologue in book one that starts their story and then through the series you read about the years of their seperation through the lives of others. In book four, their story picks back up when they meet unexpectedly on Hartlepool beach, with the wind whiping up the sand around them. Clio is flying a kite with her son and James walks across the otherwise empty beach with his daughter.

My Nanna and Grandad were born and grew up in Hartlepool, on the northeast coast of England. They left Hartlepool when they were in their twenties. I didn’t visit there until after they’d both passed away. I wish I had. I wish I’d visited with them so I could ask them the stories of life there.

After Nanna died we were staying in Yorkshire, near Whitby, I was researching settings for The Marlow Family Secrets, and I decided to visit Hartlepool in a sort of pilgrimage to explore where she’d come from. I walked through the town to find the street and the house on the Headland (a dairy in the late 1800s and early 1900s) where Nanna grew up. I’d seen pictures of the house, but it was a suprise when I reached it to discover it was only a hundred meters from the harbour wall. We walked down to the harbour and then walked on around the historic Headland. People who know something but not much about Hartlepool will think it’s industrial, and relatively modern, and very large. They are right, but, at the heart of that is a settlement on the Headland that dates back centuries. A monastry was built on the Headland in AD640. That is the area where Nanna and Granded grew up.

When my husband and I went to Hartlepool it was a cold, windy, autumn afternoon. There wasn’t much to do, so, we carried on walking and came across a Headland Story Trail board. We followed the Headland Story Trail boards around the Headland to a long windswept beach. I didn’t know my Nanna grew up so near an amazingly, dramatic, beach. It was a bigger surprise than the harbour. I didn’t even know Hartlepool had beaches. And, in my opinion, beaches are more interesting when there’s a storm 😀 I might not be normal, I love watching a wild sea more than lying on a sunbed. I don’t have a copyright free picture to share but if you follow the Headland link you’ll see it. The waves were rolling up the sand and crashing down in a froth of angry foam, and the wind rushed at us with a strength that made sure you knew you needed to be suitablely in awe of the force of nature; the few trees along the edge of the beach grew with a lean that said the wind was fairly constant too. It was a very BrontĂ« setting.

I’m one of those people who always finds those classic, harsh, BrontĂ«, Wuthering Heights like, environments inspirational. No one was on the beach that day. No one else was on the headland path looking down at the beach. It drew the emotions of someone who needed to isolate (of course that was years ago, so put COVID-19 thoughts aside) they were hiding for some reason. The Wickedly Romantic Poets series began in that moment.

The BrontĂ« family, in their real lives, lead me to take the step from there to the tragic lives of the romantic poets. In the same trip, we visited the parsonage in Haworth, where they used to live. It was another stormy day. The clouds above were a dark steel grey at the edges. It wasn’t raining but it was very windy. The moor began a couple of hundred yards from the parsonage front door, so they would have looked out at the windswept landscape constantly. It is a very macabre setting on a stormy day. Which probably put me in a macabre mood. In the Parsonage Museum I then learned not just about the sisters but their brother, Branwell. Another creative person, who fell in with the wrong gathering of men and lived a hedonistic life – as many of the artists and poets did. He ended his life tortured by addiction as a result.

So the Wickedly Romatic Poets inspirations began by putting together those two things – Hartlepool beach and the tragic life of Branwell BrontĂ«. I then went off, and as you know from all my previous inspiration blogs about the series, read diaries, letters and biographies, visited the homes of the romatic poets (and other period properties), and added lots of realistic details and settings into the lives of my poets. But I thought today I would share where it all began and why.

My Nanna and Grandad. Edith Smith nee Copeman and John Smith.

This picture was taken on Scarborough beach. They used to travel to Scarborough when they were courting even though there were beaches just up the road. It’s no wonder I didn’t realise there was a beach in Hartlepool. They probably travelled there because Scarborough was a place with lots of entertainments, like Brighton. 

Here’s the links to the other blogs on the inspirations behind this series:

Inspirations for the Wickedly Romantic Poets Series