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Meet Paula Hawkins

The author’s pulse-quickening debut, The Girl On The Train, will leave you restless for days

By Cheryl-Ann Couto  March 10th, 2015

The comparisons to Gone Girl are coming in thick and fast for Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train. An unstable woman who rides the train every day thinks she’s witnessed something horrific in one of the houses on her route. A complex, compelling female protagonist; an accelerating sense of danger and an imminent Hollywood adaptation (DreamWorks has optioned the film rights) have all come together to put Hawkins in the psycho-thriller hot seat for 2015. Here, she talks to ELLE about it:

ELLE: Did the comparisons scare you?
Paula Hawkins: I am very flattered by the comparisons, Gone Girl is one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read. But while there are some similarities, essentially I think the two books are very different animals. Gone Girl centres on the disintegration of a marriage, whereas in The Girl On The Train, we are way past that: Rachel’s marriage is gone, she has no job, no home – she has lost everything. Most importantly, she’s lost control, whereas Gillian Flynn’s protagonist is very much in the driving seat.

ELLE: How did the idea come about?
Like many people who live in big cities, I’ve spent a lot of time shuttling backwards and forwards on trains and tubes and buses, gazing out of the window at the same streets and the same houses, every now and again catching a glimpse into the lives of others. I started thinking about what I would do if I saw something strange, something frightening: how would I react?  

ELLE: Tell us more about your protagonist Rachel.
She is someone who’s fallen from grace in a sudden and devastating fashion: in just a few years she has gone from a devoted wife with a good job and lovely home, to an unemployed and desperately lonely person dependent on the kindness of an old friend for a roof over her head. So eager is she to form connections with people that she sees relationships where they may not exist, her voyeurism draws her into a situation that she cannot control. 

ELLE: Do you have fiction heroes?
PH: My interest in crime thrillers was first piqued by Agatha Christie. Reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt was a big moment for me because it made me see the psychological thriller in a new, more literary, light. I’ve always loved books with essentially very normal characters at their heart, in situations that become increasingly menacing. Notes On A Scandal, for example, or We Need To Talk About Kevin, also Alys, Always. These are the stories I find frightening, because of their everyday quality – the sense that if terrible things happen to those ordinary people, they could happen to us, too.

ELLE: It’s easy to think of a psycho-thriller writer’s mind as a dark, twisted place; what’s your reality like compared to the disturbing fiction you write? 
I think it’s helpful to have a certain sort of mindset if you write crime fiction or psychological thrillers: you see the darkness in things, the danger in seemingly innocuous situations. It’s not a particularly restful way to exist! Having said that, my everyday life is very ordinary. I live in suburban South London in a house I share with a friend. I just happen to sit at my desk all day making up disturbing stories.

The Girl On The Train (Transworld) is out now 

Photograph: Kate Neil