1. Welcome to Words with Jam, Paula, tell us a little about you and your writing.
I was born and brought up in Zimbabwe, I moved to London when I was 17. I worked as a financial journalist for 15 years, mostly for The Times; and I wrote four novels under a pseudonym before I came up with the idea for my first thriller, The Girl on the Train.
2. You’ve taken the world by storm this year with your debut novel, The Girl on the Train, has the success sunk in yet?
It has and it hasn’t. It’s been a strange and exciting year for me – I’ve been incredibly busy, travelling all over Europe and North America to promote this book while also trying to work on the next one. But my home life remains the same, I don’t feel any different. Perhaps I never will.
3. Where did the idea for the novel originate from?
The original idea came from commuting journeys I have done in and out of London: I’ve always loved looking into the houses one passes, wondering what sort of lives those people lead. I started to wonder what I would do if I saw something shocking or surprising.
4. Psychological thrillers are big news in publishing at the moment, why did you choose that genre?
I didn’t choose a genre to write in – I don’t think many writers do. I simply had a story that I wanted to tell, and a way in which I wanted to tell it, and psychological suspense is the genre into which that story fits, more or less.
5. The characters in the book are so real – are they based on people you know? If not, how did you create them from scratch?
They aren’t based on anyone in particular, though parts of them are borrowed from people I know, parts of them come from me. Rachel’s loneliness, her sense of being an outsider, is something I’ve felt, for example. Characters build: for me, Rachel started with her alcoholism and memory loss, and from there I started to wonder how she might have got to this point, what might have brought her so low?
I was a financial journalism for fifteen years; I enjoyed it, but I’d had enough. When I was offered the opportunity to write a women’s fiction novel (which I wrote under a pseudonym), I jumped at it.
7. Research is a hard part of the writing process for a lot of writers, and obviously you touch on some tough subjects like alcoholism in the novel, how do you handle research?
I’m not a great researcher – or at least I haven’t been up until this point. I did read about alcoholism, in particular with reference to black outs, I also had to do some work on police procedure, but for the most part this book comes from observation and imagination.
8. There have been lots of comparisons between your novel and Gone Girl, which was also a huge bestseller, how do you feel about that?
It’s flattering, because I enjoyed Gone Girl very much, but I’m not sure that, beyond the obvious (an unreliable, challenging female protagonist and a missing woman), the books have a great deal in common. Gone Girl is a story of a sociopath wreaking revenge on her unfaithful husband; this book is about a broken woman drawn into a mystery and seeking to save herself, too.
9. Are there any authors who have influenced your writing?
Too many to mention. I hope that I take something from every good book I read.
10. Could you list your top three favourite books of all time?
Impossible, since I think my three favourites change with time and mood, but for the purposes of this interview I’ll say: A God in Ruins, The Secret History, Regeneration.
11. Is there discussion about a film of the novel?
The film is already in production, Emily Blunt has been cast to play Rachel, which I’m delighted about.