AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Commuters, this one is for you. You know that person you see each day on the bus who never looks up, or when your train slows to a crawl each evening and you see the second floor apartment that never seems to have the blinds drawn? Perhaps you've made up stories about the people inside. Who's burned dinner? Why is that person drinking alone? Author Paula Hawkins once wondered the same, and she spun those daydreams into a crime thriller called 'The Girl On The Train." And she joins us now from London to talk more. Paula Hawkins, welcome to the program.
PAULA HAWKINS: Thank you very much.
CORNISH: So how did your commute plant the seed for this book?
HAWKINS: Well, I think it all started when I first moved to London. I grew up in Zimbabwe in Southern Africa and I moved to London when I was 17. And I started commuting and actually to go to college. And I used to really enjoy that part of my journey where the - it was actually a tube train, but it was over ground and it went right past the backs of people's houses and I could actually see right in. And there were these houses with little terraces and they had colored lights strung outside and I was - I sort of used to imagine the lives of the people that lived there as being really bohemian and interesting. And these were the sort of lives that I aspired having.
CORNISH: And the main character in this book - her name is Rachel Watson - and she sort of knows the people in the neighborhood she's daydreaming about, right? Her ex-husband lives on that street and the couple that she idealizes from this passing train are his neighbors.
CORNISH: Now, when the wife in that couple goes missing, Rachel thinks she needs to get involved. Why?
HAWKINS: Well, Rachel has been watching these people from her train journey. She doesn't actually know the woman who's missing, but she feels like she's made a connection with her. She sees her all the time. And Rachel is also lonely and she's also an outsider. And she also believes that she knows a key piece of information, which she thinks could unlock this whole mystery about the disappearance of this woman.
CORNISH: And she's not just idealized this couple. I mean, she thinks they're the perfect couple.
HAWKINS: Well, she's projecting because she's lonely and unhappy and she's - her marriage has ended recently. But she's also sort of idealizing what she used to have with her husband when she sees them. She looks at them and thinks that's what we're like. We were golden. We were perfect.
CORNISH: Now, this character, Rachel, you mentioned she's divorced. She is an alcoholic and...
CORNISH: Even though she may have been in the neighborhood the night that the victim, Megan Hipwell, goes missing, Rachel has blackouts that make it impossible for her to really recall anything. She's not just an unreliable narrator, right?
HAWKINS: Oh, yeah, she's unreliable not just to other people, but to herself as well because she cannot trust her own memories, and she cannot trust her own behavior. She will do stupid things and not remember it. So yeah, she's on the extreme scale of unreliable.
CORNISH: At the end of the day, this is a mystery Rachel is trying to solve, right, for better or worse.
CORNISH: And in her own way. What makes this genre fun for you? I don't know if you've always been a mystery or a thriller reader.
HAWKINS: Well, I have been on and off. I suppose what introduced me was Agatha Christie's when I was much, much younger. Like a lot of people, I really got into Agatha Christie. But yes, I mean, I love the sort of psychological thriller genre. I love that atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia. People trying to figure out other people, perhaps in unusual circumstances and not really knowing - I find all that Hitchcockian sort of atmosphere really fascinating.
CORNISH: Now, I read this is actually not your first novel, right, that you actually did some writing under a pseudonym.
HAWKINS: I did.
CORNISH: What kind of writing did you do before?
HAWKINS: That was women's fiction, I suppose - chick lit it's sometimes known as, so much more lighthearted, not so much killing.
CORNISH: You've got a dark streak, my friend.
HAWKINS: Yes, as I was - and I did enjoy writing them, but they kept getting darker and darker. And this really was - once I started writing this book I knew this is what I was supposed to be doing...
CORNISH: Oh, that's great.
HAWKINS: Because it just felt completely right for me. This sounds awful, but I'm not, you know, a joyful, romantic person. Well, I can be, but I've got a proper dark side, and I enjoying indulging it.
CORNISH: So what happened there? It's like, you're writing - I mean, we're jokingly calling it chick lit here, which is very valid, fun genre, but is it just that, like, your protagonists also would have one too many to drink, or would happen upon a murder?
HAWKINS: Some of them did. Actually there were - I did have an alcoholic in one of them, yeah. But I wasn't that interested in the sort of romantic comedy side of things. I wanted to look at darker emotions and darker acts. And, you know, tragedy interests me more than comedy, put it that way.
CORNISH: Well, Paula Hawkins, thank you so much for talking with us.
HAWKINS: Thanks very much.
CORNISH: Paula Hawkins - her new novel is called "The Girl On The Train."
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