Today I’m handing my blog over to Emma Rowley, who writes about how sometimes writers can find themselves at the centre of a nightmarish mystery…
As children, we are told that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Of course, we soon learn that the reality is quite the opposite. Like many thriller writers, I am all too aware of the dangerous power of the written word – and have loved exploring this in my own books.
In my latest, You Can Trust Me, a professional ghostwriter and the picture-perfect influencer whose autobiographical book she’s writing clash over who gets to control this story – and present their version of the truth.
Drawing on my own experiences as a professional ghostwriter, it was inspired by a throwaway comment from a client who was a little uneasy about how much she was telling me, a relative stranger, about herself. ‘You know everything about me,’ she told me once. ‘But I don’t know anything about you…’ That unusual relationship seemed ripe for exploring further.
Of course, it’s also great fun for writers to imagine themselves as protagonists – perhaps most famously Stephen King in Misery (1987), in which bestselling author Paul Sheldon falls into the clutches of a deranged fan, Annie Wilkes, and is forced to write for his life.
And in Robert Harris’ The Ghost (2008), the unnamed narrator, a ghostwriter, starts to fear for his own safety, as he discovers more about the former politician whose memoirs he has been tasked with writing – and exactly what happened to the previous ghostwriter… It builds to a brilliant climax, with the reader cleverly becoming part of the story.
In fact, quite a few great thrillers feature the act of writing as key to their plot, with characters often using their words as a way to expose or entrap others.
In Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012), the suspense is drawn ever tighter as the reader follows the diary entries our heroine Amy Dunne made prior to her disappearance, communicating her growing doubts and fears about her husband Nick. But is Amy’s diary all that it seems? The brilliant midpoint twist to this tale is deservedly iconic.
While Disclaimer (2015) by Renee Knight asks the question: what if the next thriller you started reading was all about you? In a nightmarish scenario, Catherine Ravenscroft realises that the book she has picked up from her bedside table somehow features ‘a chunk of her life she has kept hidden’ but which is now bared ‘in printer’s ink for anyone to see’.
She is horrified – she had ‘trusted’ this book: ‘Its first few chapters had lulled her into complacency, made her feel at ease with just the hint of a mild thrill to come, a little something to keep her reading, but no clue to what was lying in wait.’ A feeling familiar to many a thriller reader…
Emma’s first thriller Where The Missing Go was a 2020 Edgar Award nominee. Her new book You Can Trust Me is published in paperback by Orion on September 3