Nicci French, the husband and wife thriller-writing duo Nicci Gerard and Sean French, on how they write novels together: 'We share a belief that what we call normal life always takes place on very thin ice'
Some years ago we were driving together, not working, just chatting. We started talking about the way we had met and moved in together, all within a few weeks. A month or so after that, we had decided to get married. In retrospect it felt crazy. How could we have been so sure? We knew so little about each other. It suddenly occurred to us that falling in love is a bit like going mad. You meet someone, you become obsessed with them, they seem more important than anyone else, including people you know far better. Perhaps it’s a madness we all go through, once or twice in our lives. And the madness has to end. You leave the calm, normal world for a bit, but after a while you have to return to sanity, to paying the bills, turning up on time doing the washing.
In’t that what A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about? The two pairs of lovers leave the city and go into a dark forest of magic potions and fairies and wild animals and madness. But when day returns, they have to return to the city, to normal life. And that’s a process we should all go through. We should all go mad for a while, but then we have to leave the madness.
So far, a normal sort of conversation. But then we suddenly said: couldn’t this be a thriller? A young woman meets a man and the two of them fall passionately in love and get together, though she knows almost nothing about him. And what if they don’t go back to normal life? What if the madness continues? And then gradually she starts to discover about his past and it’s something terrible? We got so caught up with this idea that we scrapped the book we were working and threw ourselves into this new book and wrote it in a passionate rush. It became our third book together, Killing Me Softly.
That story shows why we write together. Being Nicci French has been our way of exploring the world with and through each other. Our stories of suspense and betrayal and anxiety don’t come from reading about murder. Our belief is that everybody’s life, everybody’s relationship, every decision, is just a few short steps from becoming a psychological thriller. It just takes a mistake, meeting the wrong person at the wrong time or just turning left instead of right. We share a belief that what we call normal life always takes place on very thin ice and it doesn’t take much for the cracks to appear.