Ahead of the cinematic release of highly anticipated The Girl on the Train, the book’s author, Paula Hawkins, talks about appearing at Chiswick Book Festival, how she nearly gave up writing and that tricky second novel…
It’s that time of year again. Summer might be nearly over, but there’s a fresh excitement in the air with the return of Chiswick Book Festival and this year might just be the most thrilling yet.
The programme will run over five days from 15-19 September at venues including Chiswick Library and the beautiful Chiswick House and Gardens. This year, the line-up includes Nina Stibbe, SJ Watson and Janet Ellis – but, in the midst of it all, is Paula Hawkins, whose hit novel The Girl on the Train is being released as a Hollywood film version by Dreamworks next month, complete with the A-list casting of Emily Blunt as the protagonist Rachel.
The festival is a place where people can come together with a shared love of reading in the area and beyond. ‘I’m so looking forward to seeing some of the other speakers,’ Hawkins, who lives in Brixton, enthuses. ‘I love getting the chance to see other people talk – I find it incredibly inspirational and I come away with a massive pile of books to read.’
It is Hawkins, however, who is the author of the moment following the runaway success of her debut thriller. Although having been a financial journalist and freelancer, it’s clear that she never expected the success that she has achieved from writing.
‘I wrote a non-fiction book that was a financial guide and after that I was commissioned to write women’s fiction, which I did under a pseudonym. It was never really my genre and I didn’t feel comfortable writing them,’ she explains. ‘When the last one didn’t do very well, I decided I either needed to stop writing or actually write what I wanted to write – which was a thriller.’
When the last book didn’t do very well, I decided I either needed to stop writing or actually write what I wanted to write – which was a thriller
The story quickly sparked some strong reactions from a hugely diverse audience. ‘I think the voyeuristic impulse is a universal thing,’ she attempts to explain its appeal. ‘Obviously it resonates strongly with Londoners, because of their commutes and how it was inspired by this. It has had such a wide reach though, so I think it’s because we all have that interest in private lives.’
The success of the novel was predicted before it was even published in the UK, as Dreamworks had bought the rights to the film six months before. ‘Lots of things get optioned and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be made, so it was exciting but you can’t allow yourself to get carried away because it may never happen,’ she says. ‘But they moved really quickly on it.’
She kept her distance from the making of the film, however, something that she will be talking about at the festival. ‘I’d never written a film script before, which is a very different skill, and secondly I think you’re too close to your own work to adapt it,’ she explains. ‘I’ve also been focusing on my second novel, so it was an easy decision for me. It’s worked well as I’ve met with the producers, directors and been to the set and they wanted me to be happy with it, so I’ve had a really good relationship with them all the way through.’
[My second novel] is another thriller that centres on the relationship between sisters. There’s a focus on memory and how childhood memories shape the people that we become
A lot of people can’t contain their excitement for Hawkins’ second novel, so what can we expect from the book? ‘It’s another thriller that centres on the relationship between sisters,’ she reveals. ‘There’s a focus on memory and how childhood memories shape the people that we become, but are less reliable than we think they are. Once it gets out there next year, I’ll be very nervous.’
It’s a good job, then, that she knows where to go when she feels overcome with stress or nerves. ‘When I first moved to London I lived right on the edge of Richmond Park, so I used to go walking there every evening as it gave me time to think,’ she says. ‘It’s so gorgeous and it was always my happy place.’
I leave Hawkins pondering over how much life has changed and can’t help but reflect on how open, honest and modest she is. She’s got a lot to offer in terms of knowledge, flair and wit, so it’s a given she’ll be inspiring the masses at Chiswick Book Festival.
For more information on the Chiswick Book Festival see chiswickbookfestival.net