Ticket to write
Clerkenwell is a crime hotspot – at least when it comes to authors. The latest local writer to achieve a bestseller is Paula Hawkins, whose debut thriller is heading to the big screen. So who is the woman behind The Girl on the Train?
What it is about Clerkenwell and crime fiction? Local authors in the area include Anthony Horowitz, Christopher Fowler and Jake Arnott, while Mark Sanderson took inspiration from EC1 for his Snow Hill trilogy. Then there’s City University, which established the first crime writing MA course and has since produced published authors. Even during the pre-war golden age of detective fiction, Campion creator Margery Allingham (see issue 27) was penning thrillers in our neighbourhood.
Now one of the genre’s biggest new stars has arrived in Clerkenwell. Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, moved into a “nice big apartment” (as she told one interviewer) just before Easter. She can afford it thanks to the success of her debut thriller, which has been a worldwide bestseller. Hawkins apparently has a constant reminder of that success in the unopened boxes of foreign- language editions in her new home in EC1.
Like Gone Girl, the bestselling crime novel to which it’s been compared, The Girl on the Train is also getting a movie adaptation. Emily Blunt will star as the bleary, boozy Rachel, a troubled commuter whose journey in and outof the London suburbs turns into something out of a Hitchcock movie. Rachel sees something from the train but her alcoholism – fuelled by cans of gin & tonic – also makes her a potentially unreliable narrator who makes bad choices.
“I actually don’t think Rachel is that unlikeable,” Hawkins recently told The Guardian. “She’s let herself spin out of control, but many of us walk a bit close to that line without crossing it. You could imagine if something dramatic happened like a failed marriage or lost job then we might, so that’s how I see Rachel. I’m very sympathetic to her.”
The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins Commuters have certainly embraced the suspenseful exploits of this fictional rail traveller: the novel has been a literary phenomenon since it appeared in early 2015. It remained in the bestseller lists in hardback and broke records. “Sales have actually risen throughout the book’s lifespan and that can only be down to incredible publicity and word of mouth,” Waterstones crime buyer Joseph Knobbs tells The Post.
In fact, Hawkins is not a debut author, though her earlier efforts were written under the pseudonym Amy Silver. Her writing developed from her career as a financial journalist on The Times when, in 2007, she penned The Money Goddess advice book aimed at women. She went on to write romance novels, though sales started to slide a few years later.
It was this period, when she was struggling as a writer in her flat near Brixton Prison, when the Zimbabwe-born author hit on the idea for The Girl on the Train. It was inspired by her own overground rail journey, which took her past back gardens of houses between Putney Bridge and Earl’s Court, when she first arrived in London years earlier.
Of course, Hawkins doesn’t have to commute any more now she’s a proud resident of EC1. She’s tweeted pictures of Clerkenwell Green and been known to hang out in the Zetter Townhouse. But don’t expect to run into her writing her follow-up in a Clerkenwell café. “I just end up listening to other people’s conversations and don’t do any work,” she recently admitted.
“The Girl on the Train” (Black Swan) is available in paperback. The film is released on 7 October.