C.L. Taylor talks to the 5:2 Book Club
It’s interview time – and this time we welcome C. L. Taylor, author of The Accident – also known as Before I Wake in the US and Canada. We’re reading this tense page-turner throughout April – you can join in the debate from the middle of the month or on the Facebook group any time – but first, read on to find out all about author Cally’s double life, how her deepest fears inspired the book – and her future plans.
I was solely responsible for a little person and knew I had to protect him for the rest of his life. I needed to explore my darkest fears…
First of all, Cally, tell us about the book.
‘The Accident’ is a psychological thriller about a woman called Susan whose teenaged daughter Charlotte steps in front of a bus and falls into a coma. Susan’s husband Brian thinks it was an accident but Sue isn’t convinced and when she finds an entry in Charlotte’s diary that says ‘keeping this secret is killing me’ she sets out to discover exactly what that secret is.
It’s such a dramatic place to begin the story. Where did the idea come from?
I was pregnant with my son when the idea first came to me. I wanted to write a novel about ‘keeping secrets’ but I had no idea who would be keeping the secrets or what those secrets would be. Then one day, when I was walking back from the supermarket – waddling along under the weight of my groceries – the first three lines popped into my head:
“Coma. There’s something innocuous about the word, soothing almost in the way it conjures up the image of a dreamless sleep. Only Charlotte doesn’t look as though she’s sleeping to me.”
I heard Susan’s voice as clear as day and knew immediately that she was the mother of a teenaged girl who’d stepped in front of a bus. I kept repeating those three lines over and over again as I walked home so I wouldn’t forget them, then frantically scribbled them down. I kept writing and, less than two hours later, I had the first chapter.
When my son was born I started thinking about how to progress the novel. I wondered how I’d react if my son was in danger from something very different from SIDS or choking or falling or any of the other ‘normal’ dangers. What if there was a person who meant him harm? Years before I met my current partner I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and, while I never really believed that my ex would come after my child, I channelled those fears into Susan who’d been through a much more horrific experience than me.
You’ve had your romantic comedies – Heaven Can Wait and Home for Christmas – published all over the world and have lots of fans. So what made you want to change direction and write a thriller with a much darker theme? And how did you find it, writing in a genre with very different expectations and tone?
I’ve always been lead by my heart and if my heart tells me ‘you need to write this novel’ I find it very hard to say no. When I wrote my romantic comedies I was single, lived alone and was searching for love but, after I had my child, my priorities changed. I was solely responsible for a little person and knew I had to protect him for the rest of his life. I could have written a romantic comedy about having a baby but I needed to explore my darkest fears and I could only do that by writing a psychological thriller.
I found myself in a position where my heart was telling me to write ‘The Accident’ but my head was telling me that doing so might damage my career as an author. I asked my agent what she thought I should do and she told me to write it. When I’d finished it she told me it was the best book I’d ever written so I’m so glad I did.
I didn’t really think about the expectations of psychological thriller readers. I didn’t get a book deal until after I’d written it so I just wrote it for me. I wrote the tale I felt needed telling. Getting the tone right wasn’t hard – I was severely sleep deprived, isolated (I was living in a city where I only knew my partner and one other person), and struggling with undiagnosed Post Natal Depression – so I found writing something dark came naturally.
Without giving too much away, I found the relationships portrayed in the present day story and particularly the flashbacks, very compelling and also very raw. How did it feel to write that and how much research did you do?
I found writing the flashbacks particularly hard to write as James was such a brutal character and it was horrible putting Sue through so much pain and hurt. I had to do it though as forty-three year old Susan has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and her past informs the decisions she makes in the present. In order to make James’s character as realistic as possible I did a lot of research into sociopaths and abusive relationships.
The present day story was easier to write but it was still a challenge to maintain the balance between the reader believing in Sue and suspecting her of being an unreliable narrator. If the reader tipped too far one way the suspense would be lost.
There’s a fantastic choice of ‘psychological suspense’ or ‘marriage thriller’ books available now, like Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep. I love them – but what do you think that says about what readers are looking for?
I think there’s a huge appetite for page-turning mysteries that make your heart beat a little bit faster. I can’t speak for all readers of the genre but I love them because, with a toddler, a day job and a writing career, my attention span isn’t what it was so a book has to really grab me and pull me in for me to keep reading it and not put it down. I also think ‘marriage thrillers’ tap into our darkest fears – of our husbands or wives keeping secrets from us, our children in danger or being separated from those we love.
What books do you LOVE to read? What are you reading right now?
I love all sorts of book. At the moment I’m devouring psychological thrillers by my contemporaries (I’m currently reading ‘Apple Tree Yard’ by Louise Doughty) but I’m also a huge sci fi fan, adore women’s fiction and love a good literary novel too. I’m a member of a book club who meet once a month for book talk and wine (mostly wine) and ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern is next on my ‘to be read’ pile.
We love good food in the 5:2 Book Club – so what’s your favourite meal?
That’s the toughest question so far in this interview! So hard to choose. I can’t resist a pork belly roast dinner so it would have to be that.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my second psychological thriller, Last Girl Standing. It’s about four female friends, each with a dark secret, who go to a retreat in Nepal. Instead of finding peace and relaxation they find themselves in a deadly situation where they’re forced to turn against each other if they want to survive.
Thanks, Cally. You can read more about C.L Taylor on her website or via Twitter. And keep an eye out on here and the 5:2 Facebook group for an announcement about our next book, for May: it’s a fantastically written read that will have you absolutely gripped by the kind of dilemma that has no ‘right answer’…
If you’d love to read the book, try an excerpt here – and you can buy the UK version here and pre-order the US version here. We’ll be discussing the book in the last week of April on this site – you can either follow the feed via this site, follow our Twitter Feed (@the52diet) or join our Facebook group – www.facebook.com/groups/the52diet