Off the shelf:
the best psycho-thrillers

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As well as character, plot and structure, writing a psychological thriller is all about creating tension, with hooks at the end of every chapter to keep you turning the pages. I come from a scriptwriting background and find that the discipline of writing a script transfers very naturally across. 

I love strong female characters and often refer to Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley (BBC) to remind myself how to create them. It also has some great dialogue and is incredibly well plotted. Thelma and Louise is another reference point for me.

When it comes to the psychological thriller novel, I love the slow-burn variety. I think most would agree that Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (Virago Modern Classics, £5.75) is one of the best books ever written, but for many, including me, it’s one of the best psychological thrillers ever written. The prose is so beautiful: it’s creepy, gets under your skin.

I love delving deep into characters’ minds to explore what makes them do the things they do. This stems from me wanting to give people the benefit of the doubt, I guess, even those who’ve done bad things. I believe we’re all born good but it depends on our individual circumstances as to how we shape our own moral code. So what is it that makes a person commit a crime?

To this effect, I’m more interested in the whydunit than the whodunit, much like Patricia Highsmith in her novels. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Vintage New Ed edition £4.16) is a brilliant example of a character motivated by a rather warped sense of entitlement.

How you tell your story is crucial. Structure is everything. In Keep Your Friends Close, l knew I wanted multiple viewpoints and came across Watching Edie by Camilla Way (HarperCollins, £7.99). Her two female characters explain their version of events in a really interesting way, one in the past and one in the present. I haven’t done this in my book but it’s a brilliant way of unsettling the reader because you never know whose side you’re on.

Another book I came across when researching different narrative forms was Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Abacus, £6.44). It has shifting perspectives as well as shifts in time. It’s also very beautifully written.

Keep Your Friends Close is out now in ebook (paperback January 2019, £8.99) and is published by HarperCollins Killer Reads

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