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10th Apr 2020

‘There’s always been a dark side to my writing’: C.L. Taylor on what drew her to thrillers

Keeley Ryan

“There’s always been a dark side to my writing,” C.L. Taylor tells Her, as she opened up about her new novel Strangers. 

The author recently spoke to Her about making the move from romantic comedies to thrillers, getting her first rejection letter aged eight and about her latest book, Strangers (which you can read an excerpt from here).

“I wanted to be a writer since I was eight. I used to make these little books, hand draw them and do the pictures and the cover and stuff. I sent them to Ladybird Books – and I got my first ever rejection aged eight,” she said.

“I tried again when I was 11, possibly in between, but I only have evidence from age eight and 11, because my mom kept the rejection letters and all the books that I drawn and stuff. So I still have them now.”

And while thrillers weren’t the genre that she started out in, the switching of genres was something that came “naturally”.

“Originally, I was massively inspired by Lisa Jewell – and this was pre-thrillers, when she was writing her chick-lit. And in her acknowledgements for Ralph’s Party, she said that a friend had bet her while they were on holidays that if she wrote the first three chapters of a book, she would take her out for dinner or something like that. So she did – and she ended up getting a book deal,,” Taylor told us.

“She worked at admin in London and I just thought, I could really relate to that. And I thought, oh my god, she didn’t she didn’t have any contacts in the publishing industry. She’s just a regular person. So I wrote a rom com when I was about was about 33 – a bit of a supernatural one.

“I wrote Heaven Can Wait, which was about a woman who dies the night before her wedding and tries to be reunited with her husband as a ghost. So it’s kind of romantic and funny and that sort of thing.”

But her editor at the time decided that she didn’t want any more romantic comedies, and so Taylor – as well as several other authors – were let go that year. When they asked her what kind of book she wanted instead, she told them a “Richard and Judy Book Club read, or something a bit like Jojo Moyes.”

“I had no idea how to go about writing either of those,” the author continued. “But about six months earlier, I had entered a competition for the Romantic Novelist Association to write a chapter on the theme of keeping a secret. I wrote this chapter about a woman at her daughter’s bedside – her daughter’s in a coma, after she deliberately stepped in front of a bus – and the mum has has found her diary. It said ‘keeping this secret is killing me’.”

The chapter ended up winning the competition – and people were eager to know what was going to happen next.

“The lovely chair of the RNA asked what’s going to happen in  the rest of the book – and I had no idea. I thought, you know what? I’m going to finish writing that book. I asked my agent what she thought [of the idea of her writing a psychological thriller], and she said, yeah, go for it. So I did, and when she read it, she said it was the best thing I’ve ever written,” she continued, adding that the winning chapter ended up being the first one used in The Accident, “word-for-word.”

“And there’s always been a bit of a dark side to my writing, when I was writing short stories in my early 30s. So I think it just came naturally to turn to crime.”

Strangers, her latest novel, tells the story of Ursula, Gareth and Alice – three strangers, each with their own secrets, who aren’t used to relying on others.

But when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

“I wanted to write a novel about loneliness. I thought, you know, I could have three characters who are all lonely in different ways, but that brought together by a crime,” she explained, as she opened up about the inspiration behind the book.

“I thought that that could be quite an interesting premise for a book, but I wasn’t sure where to set it or you know, who my characters were going to be or anything. And then I went to my local shopping centre, and then I realised how many people were shopping alone; how the security guards were wandering around aimlessly and how bored some of the shopping assistants looked.

“I thought, Okay, I think that’s, you know, that’s, that’s the setting that would work for my book. And so I decided to make Gareth a security guard, Alice a shop manager and then Ursula was a kleptomaniac.”

The character of Ursula was a long-time coming in one of her novels, as the author told us how she had been in head “for years.”

“Because I’m tall anyways at 5’11” 1/2, and I had this idea of this character who was 6’3″ and socially awkward – I just couldn’t fit her into any of my other books; she just wasn’t the right kind of character,” she added, noting that it was only when she started thinking about Strangers that Ursula fit.

“I was like, ‘oh, she is perfect for this book, she’s going to be my kleptomaniac’. But you know, I couldn’t decide what her job was going to be. And then one day, there was a knock on my door and I went to answer it. There was this woman there, a courier, and I had to look up at her, she was so tall. She was the spit of Ursula in my imagination; I wrote Ursula as a courier and based the way that she looked a bit on the courier. Weirdly, I have never seen that courier again.”

She also shared details of what fans can expect from her next book (and in good news, it sounds just as gripping as the rest of her books).

“The book I’m working on now, I don’t have a title for it – well, I do but my publishers will change it. Over Christmas, I went to Gozo [an island near Malta] for research. The new book takes place in Gozo, London and rural Wales,” she explained.

“It’s about three women, another three points of view, who are sisters. They’re not close, and they’ve got a wide age difference – and one of the sisters has gone missing. It’s also about ambition, how your past can screw you up. I can’t really say any more than that, because I’ve only 22,000 words written – but hopefully, it’s as mysterious as Strangers.”

  • Strangers by C.L. Taylor, published by Avon, is available now.