Do you really know the people you’re closest to? It’s a question thriller writers often toy with and it’s one that’s central to Canadian author Jennifer Hillier’s first novel, the suitably titled Creep. In it, psychology professor Dr Sheila Tao becomes the victim of one of her students – one she’s been sleeping with. She breaks up with Ethan in order to preserve her engagement to businessman Morris Gardener. But there’s much more to Ethan than she thought. Unluckily for her, he’s a sociopath. We asked Jennifer to introduce her very first book to us…
You’re from the Toronto area and relocated to Washington state. Tell us a little more about your background and also how you got into writing crime thrillers?
I’m actually moving back to the Toronto area at the end of December and am very excited to be close to family once again. I started writing seriously when we first moved to the USA because I had to wait on my work permit. But the Pacific Northwest is so beautiful, and the rain turned out to be really good for writing – I never feel guilty spending all day inside. I’ve always been a big fan of thrillers, and knew that if I ever wrote a novel, I would write one in this genre.
Can you introduce us to Creep?
My debut novel is a psychological thriller about a sex-addicted college professor who is stalked and terrorised by her teaching assistant, who also happens to be her former lover. He’s a psychopath, but she doesn’t know this until she breaks up him. Everything unravels from there.
Your main character Sheila is pretty unique in that she’s a reforming sex addict. Where did that idea come from and how do you use it in your story?
Sheila is definitely a flawed heroine, maybe more flawed than what you’d normally see in a thriller. She makes terrible choices as a result of her sex addiction, which lead directly to the horrific things that happen to her. I really wanted to see her dig herself out. The story is as much about her redemption as it is about her survival.
How did you make Ethan unique and challenge the expectations the audience might have about an antagonist who is a stalker?
Ethan is obviously the creep in Creep, but I wanted him to be someone you could maybe understand. I didn’t want to write a villain who was pure evil. Ethan is someone you could be attracted to, and even sympathise with at times, but you’re also terrified of him and you feel icky for ever feeling sorry for him. His greatest skill is how he plays with your emotions.
How far have you pushed the audience psychologically with this book, and where did you find yourself having to pull back a bit, either for reasons believability or taste?
Oh, I’d say I pushed pretty far. I give readers a very voyeuristic experience and really don’t hold anything back. I was delighted when my editor didn’t ask me to cut anything! It’s always a risk to push this hard, because you don’t want to stretch credibility or gross anyone out, but I wanted to experience everything the characters were experiencing. It’s a psychological thriller – I don’t think I’d be doing my job if I didn’t mess with your head.
Surely you have another book on the way. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’d like to do next?
Yes, I do! Freak, the sequel to Creep, will be out in July 2012 in the US and Canada. In terms of a third book, I’ve got some ideas brewing for a standalone novel set in New York. It’s just a seed of an idea right now, but I love seeds. You just never know what they’ll grow into.
Creep comes out 22 December in the UK for Kindle and in paperback format. Watch for our review here on Crime Fiction Lover, or pre-order your copy below. If you can’t wait, the link on the right below enables you to order the US hardback on import via Amazon.co.uk.