Dear Reader: a letter from Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train and Into the Water author Paula Hawkins on writing her new thriller, A Slow Fire Burning…
A Slow Fire Burning starts with a brutal murder on a London canal boat. Laura, a likely suspect, is witnessed leaving the scene and for a while it looks like a straightforward case. But what I wanted to explore in this book is the way that no tragedy happens in isolation: an accident in childhood can have ramifications a decade later; trusting the wrong person at the wrong time can derail a life completely. I am interested in the way we become the people we are: how we choose what to hold onto and how those things can wound us.
My starting point, as it often is, was character. There are three central characters in my new book, and in this case, I began with Laura, a person who has suffered terrible setbacks in her life and who is struggling to manage her already chaotic existence when she is accused of a brutal crime. With a history of violence and criminal behaviour, blood on her hands and witnesses pointing in her direction, she seems to be in a hopeless situation.
Laura is one of a number of characters in the book who have suffered tragedy and loss, and have incorporated those losses into their life stories. Their pain has become so much a part of them that sometimes they barely notice it, they keep going anyway. They function, on the surface at least, but there is damage there, sometimes visible, sometimes not, and the true cost of that damage is yet to be seen, the true extent of it is yet to make itself felt.
Like many writers, I am a magpie – I collect snippets of stories, I interweave things that happened to me with stories that I’ve been told by other people: this is how I came up with the characters of Laura and Carla. Miriam’s story is a twist on something I read in a newspaper some years ago but have been thinking about ever since.