For years now I’ve been almost exclusively writing YA fantasy in all its various forms – paranormal, dystopian, urban, speculative, and even a bit of science fiction (but that was a mistake, a very big mistake) – all revolving around a central, incredibly clichéd angsty romance. But for the last few months I’ve been writing a contemporary novel on the other end of the spectrum, something so dark and gritty, that I often take myself completely by surprise, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone is watching.
Even though I have a Bachelor of Criminology, I never pictured myself writing anything remotely dark or scary. So why on Earth did I even delve into this genre?
Well… in early 2016 I was, I’m ashamed to say, blithely unaware that finding a publisher or agent is actually really frigging hard. The bubble well and truly popped when in November last year I pitched a YA Urban Fantasy to a mid-tier Australian publisher during a workshop. And as I sat there, dumb-faced and sweating, she told me that there was no use submitting it to her company as it would never even get through an acquisition meeting.
The mid-tier publisher must have felt sorry for me, having pulled the rug out from under my feet, so she let me know how her company were crying out for ‘sweet contemporary romances’. To her credit she was very, very nice and her kindness somewhat softened the blow.
Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, I wasn’t really in the mood for writing a sweet contemporary romance at that point. So when I got home I started to write something a tad darker to match my swirling, black emotions… and what should come tumbling out of my fingertips but a twisted psychological thriller?
From somewhere deep in the woods they heard a bird cry out, the sound shrill and alarming for one frighteningly obvious reason. Edwina knew it couldn’t be a bird. She was pretty sure they’d just heard a chilling and very human cry.
I had no idea what I was writing (oh wait, Blair Witch 4.0) and where it would lead, but it didn’t matter. I honest to God have never had more fun writing a novel in my life. Blood, fear and untamed desires, who knew there was someting more exciting to write about than romance? Suddenly the future was filled with endless possibilities – murders to be told, mysterious disappearances to be explained, and f—– up minds to explore.
So what is it actually like to write a dark psychological thriller? I believe it looks something like cats (because we all know cats are secretly serial killers).
Firstly, you have no idea that you’re actually writing a psychological thriller, you truly believe you’re just writing a story about a straight forward murder. Someone’s died. Someone will get framed. Yep, you’ve got it all sorted. Crime novelist extraordinaire here you come.
But then, hang on, what’s going on here? Why is the murdered girl not dead? You wanted her to die, but she just won’t go quietly. Damn it.
And then you come to that scene. That one scene that would even shock your horror movie resistant friend. Your insides curdle and you wonder if your parents will disown you, or even worse, disinherit you.
After you’ve written ‘the scene’ you become so terrified by your own thoughts that you literally freak yourself out.
You’re so disturbed you can’t even read the words. So you make a jump for it.
But you survive. Because there’s a twist. I really awful and obvious twist (that is hopefully hiding the real twist…) But is the real twist real? And who really is real and who really isn’t?
It gets so damn complicated that you begin to question your own sanity. And then you realise. Oh. You’ve written a psychological thriller. Hot diggity damn.
After much chocolate-eating, sweat and tears, along comes the magnificent ending you’ve been dreaming of. But… then you realise it’s not really the ending, but the beginning. And the beginning is the middle. And the middle is the ending. Is anyone ever going to understand this?
But it doesn’t matter because, YOU’RE FINISHED! Hell yeah! The excitement doesn’t last long. I mean, come on… have you really forgotten that you still have to edit?
UPDATE 14th June
Thought I’d share the title of the thriller I’ve written, the cover (that I made for fun) and a short blurb for letsnotfailwriting
(Please note this is from a query if it doesn’t read right!)
THE ECHO IN THE WOODS begins when the beautiful and privileged Tiggy Sewell is found with a disfigured face and near-death in the woods surrounding her parent’s home. Now whenever she looks in the mirror, she no longer sees her perfect skin, but the jagged lines of flesh created by the edge of a shattered piece of glass… Tiggy only has patchy memories of that day, so the only clues to what might have really happened rests with those who were present at her family’s home during the disturbing attack, including her missing sister Nancy, the young couple caught trespassing on the property, and Tiggy’s long-time boyfriend, Taylor.
THE ECHO IN THE WOODS explores one girl’s decision to commit an unthinkable act in the hopes that it will change her life forever. But the question is, can she get away with it?