Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Q&A with Nicci French

Nicci French (the pen name for the wife-and-husband writing team of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) is the author of the new novel Sunday Silence. It's the seventh in their series featuring psychologist Frieda Klein, which also includes Blue Monday and Tuesday's Gone. They live in Suffolk, England.

Q: How did you come up with the plot for Sunday Silence?

A: We always knew that Sunday Silence needed to be a story of nerve-wrenching dread. It is the seventh book in our eight book series, and Frieda is reaching the end-game, when there will be a final show-down between herself and Dean Reeve, the serial killer who the police believe is dead but Frieda knows is alive.

We wanted to show how the trauma and distress that Frieda has lived through over the years that Reeve has pursued her now threatens not just herself but everyone she holds most dear.

Everything in the plot follows from our need to make the danger close and intimate. Her friends are targeted in a series of attacks – and she doesn’t know who will be next, or what the cost will be.

Sunday Silence follows Frieda in her fierce determination that others will not suffer because of the terror she herself inadvertently unleashed.

Q: How do you think your character Frieda Klein has changed over the course of the seven novels you've written about her?

A: Frieda – our prickly, reserved protagonist – has had a very hard week! When we first met her, in Blue Monday, she was a therapist who believed that you can’t solve the mess of the outside world; all you can do is address the chaos of your own life.

Events dragged her into the outside world and made her an unwilling collaborator with the police. She has witnessed terrible things and suffered a great deal – and one of the points of the series is that experience marks and changes people; nobody is unscathed.

By Sunday, Frieda has become darker, fiercer and more powerful. She also feels that she carries a kind of curse, so that those who love her are in danger.

At the same time, she has learned that she needs to accept help from people – something that is very hard for her and that she couldn’t do at all in the earlier novels. So there’s a vulnerability and humanity about her.

Q: Did you know from the start that you'd be writing a series about her?

A: Yes. It was actually because of Frieda that we wrote a series at all. We had always written stand-alones, but when we thought about a character who’s a therapist, a detective of the mind, a truth-teller, a reclusive and solitary woman with a gift for seeing other people’s secrets and for guarding her own, then we knew that she would need more than one book to disclose herself. She would need eight!

Q: How do the two of you collaborate on your writing, and has that evolved over the years?

A: The way we write together now is more or less the same as the way that we wrote our first novel together, over two decades ago.

We spend a lot of time coming up with ideas and working out the plot – we go on long walks and talk, sit at the kitchen table and talk. Bit by bit, we build up the novel – and only when we are sure we each have the same book in our heads do we start to write.

We write completely separately – Sean in a shed in the garden, Nicci in an attic study at the top of the house – though we meet often through the day to talk about things.

One of us will write, say, the first chapter, and email it to the other who is free to change, to add, to edit, even to re-write. We have to trust each other a great deal, because it’s a vulnerable process, being each other’s writer and editor.

When it’s finished, we each edit in again. We are both writing into the voice of this mysterious third person we have created between us: Nicci French.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We have just finished the eighth and final novel in the series, Day of the Dead. And now – after so many years of living with Frieda and seeing the world through her eyes – we have started a new, stand-alone novel – which we can’t tell anybody about because it might go up in a puff of smoke.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Writing together is our way of exploring the world together. It’s revelatory, intimate, an adventure. And fun.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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