Earlier this week, we were asked to take part in the Dead Good Fiction Festival, organised by Random House. An online event, it featured Nicci French on 28 May, and Sharon Bolton and Karin Slaughter on the 29th and 30th respectively. Crime Fiction Lover was invited to post a question for Sean French and Nicci Gerrard – the husband and wife team working as Nicci French – on our Facebook page.
So, that’s exactly what we did. As you may know, together the pair have written more than a dozen psychological thriller and the latest ones feature crime-solving psychotherapist Frieda Klein. We’ve reviewed Waiting for Wednesday and Thursday’s Children here on Crime Fiction Lover. We decided to be greedy and ask two questions, and these were written by our resident Nicci French experts DeathBecomesHer and MarinaSofia. Here’s what we asked, and what they said in response…
Firstly, what made you decide to write the ‘days’ series featuring Frieda Klein, as opposed to standalone crime stories, and what are the challenges involved in keeping it fresh for readers?
And secondly, Princess Diana once commented that there were three people in her marriage – does it feel as if Frieda is a third person in your marriage, and how does she affect things?
Nicci French: We’ve discovered that as soon as you rule a subject out of bounds, it suddenly becomes enticing. Years ago, we had a conversation about whether there any subject that we just couldn’t deal with. At the time we had young children and we agreed that we wouldn’t be able to write about the death of a child. It was just too painful. Almost the moment we said that, we realised that that was exactly what we had to write about next.
Barry Forshaw wrote a review of our novel, Complicit, in which he said something like: ‘The good thing about Nicci French is that she’s never written a series. Long may it continue.’ Immediately, the idea of a series became rather attractive.
More seriously, we started talking about the character of Frieda Klein. We started talking about a detective who wasn’t an actual detective, or a forensic scientist, or a pathologist. But a psychoanalyst is a kind of detective, a detective of the mind. We thought of a woman who believes that the outside world is a terrible, chaotic place and there’s nothing much we can do about it. What we can do something about is the mess inside our mind. That’s how we can achieve some kind of control. She believes she can solve people’s problems from the ‘safety’ of her consulting room. What if this woman was dragged out of her consulting room to solve a crime out in the world? What if she were forced to become a real detective?
But what was this woman – Frieda Klein – like? She quickly became a woman with a remarkable sense for other people’s secrets and an equally remarkable ability to protect her own secrets. And as soon as we recognised this, we realised that she was a character who needed more than one novel. But it was a big decision and it felt like we had to become a different kind of writer.
The second question is an interesting one. In our earlier novels, we always saw the central character going through an arc which left them as a different person at the end of the book from the beginning. Often they had found out who they really were, which was not always a comfortable discovery. But their story was over. They went back into the box.
But in these books, the experience is completely different. The whole idea is to take Frieda Klein, and a group around them, and the city they live in, and follow them through a decade. Although each book is designed to be read on its own, we want to show them changing, being marked by time. What they all go through takes a toll. They grow older alongside their authors.
So the answer is, yes, ours is a crowded marriage. When we finish a book, Frieda is still there and, in a way we’ve never experienced before, she is present to us. We’re constantly asking, what would she think of this? How would she respond to that? And, even more disconcertingly, what would she think of us?
For more insight into the writing of Nicci French, Sharon Bolton and Karin Slaughter, visit the Dead Good Fiction Festival Facebook page here.