Nicci French


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Our May-June Profiled "Author" is the creators of LAND OF THE LIVING...the magnificent and surprising (!) writing duo of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French a.ka.  NICCI FRENCH.


Abbie Devereaux wakes up and discovers that she is tied up and is being held in a dark and dank room.  Not remembering how she got there, her nightmare continues when her tormentor returns to slowly terrorize her.  But when she suddenly escapes, she finds her nightmare has only just begun when she discovers that nobody believes her tale of captivity.  Determined to find out what happened, she starts on a trail that leads her to more questions and more mysterious disappearances.  With only herself to rely on, and almost no memory of her recent past, she also discovers that she had not only quit her job, broke up with her boyfriend, but also had a new roommate who also seems to be missing.  Was she just making it all up, or had something dreadful really happened? 

Every now and again a book comes along that truly has the talent to stir the emotions, thrill the senses, and stimulate the intellect.  Nicci French’s latest does all this and more.  (An even bigger surprise being the fact that this author is really the combined talent of two authors!)  These author's creations are masterful, thrilling, provocative, and emotionally poignant, with this latest one being the best thus far, and that in its self is a mighty feat.  This is not just a thriller of a woman being terrorized, but a mystery of what happens when one loses themselves, and the hope that always lies in once again finding oneself.   Needless to say, this is by far one of the best books of the year.  



1.      Your characters are so fully drawn, how do you manage to reach so deeply into the psyche of a fictional character?

Thank you very much - and that's rather hard for us to answer, because in  way it goes to the heart of the mystery of writing: that someone can imagine themselves into the voice and under the skin of their characters. However,  it is true that Nicci French novels depend as much on the psychological perceptions of the narrator, and the journey that she undergoes, as upon the plot. We always start writing from an idea of an emotion rather than the story. There's got to be a heartbeat to the novel. And we want to write books that are about the way we live now - not about celebrities, not about outrageous and unlikely situations, but about ordinary people who face extraordinary situations - heightened normality, if you like.
   Then, it's a question of asking ourselves the question: how would this particular woman behave in this particular circumstance? The answer always lies in the details; the minutiae of her daily life. You  have to get the language right; you have to imagine what is in a character's wardrobe and fridge; you have to try and think the way she would be thinking.  


2.      Where did your inspiration for your latest book come from?

It came quite starkly, from the opening image. For a long time, years even, we were haunted by the idea of a woman waking up bound, gagged, tied up, with no sense of where she is or how she got there. We wanted to start with a complete blank, in other words, and gradually fill in the picture.


3.      Is Abbie part real, as in part you, or part someone you know?

She isn't real, but of course, you take bits and pieces from everything around you (writers are very cannibalistic like that). We wanted, with Abbie, to have someone vulnerable, a bit quarrelsome, self-doubting, stubborn. And we wanted her to discover strengths that she did not know she possessed, so that by the end of the book she is stronger and more fully realised than she was at the beginning. She's got to do it all by herself - party of the journey of the novel is Abbie's dawning realisation that no-one is going to help her - no doctor, no police officer, no romantic lover - and she must save herself.


4.      Some of your books seem to carry a theme of loss of oneself, and if lucky, the reclamation of oneself.  Why is this theme so seemingly dominant in your writings?

That's an interesting question. We think that the 'self' is much more fragile, inconsistent and blurred than is often presented. We are different people in different circumstances. We show a surface to the world that is usually coherent and polished, but underneath it most people are quite chaotic and anxious and full of mixed motives. When we are in love, or when we are terrified, or jealous or very sad, our control over the surface lessens and there are these glimpses into the mysterious inner self.
  But perhaps it is also part of the fear in our books. Looking back at our stories, we see that the heroine's life, even her 'self', is torn apart by the threat she faces. Sometimes there is even a temptation to give in, to die, rather than continuing the struggle to survive. But mostly they do make that struggle, and they make discoveries about themselves as they do it. One of our strong feelings is that at the end of our books, our heroines have not just survived but they have changed, surprised themselves.


5.      You don't always give your characters happy endings, why?

We try to write novels that are psychologically convincing. Life is not neat. many ending are not happy. It used to be the case that thrillers were very consoling - evil was expelled, order and goodness restored. But we d on't believe in that kind of world. Evil and good are much more mixed and ambiguous.
   We want to provide readers with the satisfaction of a solution, an answer to a mystery, but at the same time not tie everything up so that there is the feeling that everything ends with the final page. At the same time, although we might not provide conventional happy endings, we hope there is a feeling that the narrator has in some ways come through, which is a kind of human triumph.

6.      Which authors have inspired you?

Where do we begin? Everyone we've ever read and loved, really - many more names than we could mention. Anyway, inspiration comes in strange and unexpected forms. Oddly, the last place we look for inspiration is in the pages of other detective novels. What we do is read and read. At the moment, Anne Tyler and Charlotte Bronte. The day after tomorrow, the names will be completely different. And we hope that we're inspired by it all, good or bad.


7.      What is your ultimate goal when you start a book?  Are you writing for yourself, or do you have your audience in mind?

We always ask ourselves what we're trying to do with a book, and with each book it is something different (that's one of the things we've promised ourselves: to never repeat the book we've already written). There has to be an impetus that comes from the psychology of the characters as well as the pleasure of the story. We want to write about the things that disquiet or intrigue us. And we don't write for an audience, except for each other and ourselves - it can be dangerous and even corrupting to think of what will please and attract readers. You have instead to put away the world, and go deep down inside oneself, find things there that are like mysteries to yourself.


8.      Do you always know how the plot and character will grow as you write, or does it sometimes just evolve?

We know the overall journey of the novel but not all the roads we will take to get there. And writing is organic, and in a strange way it leads you in directions you never quite expect. That's what is so exciting about it when it is going well. Often we change things as we go along.


9.      What is the most important advice you could give to a new author?

There's never a right time to start. Do it now. Write every day, and read eery day.

10.      What's next?   

We have just finished a novel called 'Secret Smile' - it opens with the narrator, Miranda, ending a casual affair with a man she hopes never to see again. A few weeks later, he turns up engaged to her sister.....



NICCI FRENCH is the pseudonym of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, two English journalists. They are married and live in Suffolk, England. In addition to Killing Me Softly, Beneath the Skin, The Red Room, and Land of the Living, Nicci French is the author of two bestselling earlier books published in the UK, The Memory Game and The Safe House.England. In addition to Killing Me Softly, Beneath the Skin, The Red Room, and Land of the Living, Nicci French is the author of two bestselling earlier books published in the UK, The Memory Game and The Safe House.

Nicci Gerrard was born in 1958 and grew up in Worcestershire/Shropshire, near the Wales border. She studied English literature at Oxford University where she received first class honours. Her first job was taking care of emotionally disturbed children. She then taught English literature in Los Angeles and at London University and founded and edited Women's Review, a magazine for women on art, literature, and female issues. Nicci married her first husband in 1981 with whom she had two children, a son in 1987 and a daughter the following year. From 1989 to 1990 she was acting literary editor at The New Statesman, where she met Sean French. They were married in October 1990 and have two daughters, born in 1991 and 1993. Since 1995, Nicci has been a senior feature writer and contributing editor at the Observer. She has contributed to such publications as The New Statesman, The Guardian, The Independent and The Sunday Times and is the author of a novel under her own name which will be published in the UK in early May.

Sean French was born in Bristol, England, in 1959. He studied English literature at Christ Church, Oxford University, where he received first class honours. In 1981, he won the British Vogue talent contest and was the magazine's theater critic from 1981 to 1986. He held a variety of journalism jobs, including film critic for Marie Claire and columnist for The New Statesman. He now devotes himself full time to writing books and has published novels, biographies and essays under his own name as well as the novels by Nicci French. A new Sean French novel will be published in the UK early next year.