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Behind the Book: Only We Know by Karen Perry

Karen Perry is the pen name of crime writing duo Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. After the huge success of their first co-written novel, The Boy That Never Was, we’ve been excited to see what’s next from them.

Now, with their second psychological thriller – Only We Know – publishing in paperback, we’ve asked Paul and Karen to tell us a bit about the book, their inspiration and their writing process.

“We wrote our first novel The Boy That Never Was as an experiment – it was written at a break-neck-pace, each of us writing a chapter before sending it off, waiting with nervous anticipation for what the other would write. Only We Know is our second novel. It’s also a psychological thriller, and has two narrators. This time they are not husband and wife, but childhood friends – Katie and Nick – who have become estranged over the course of thirty years on account of what happened one summer in the Masai Mara. Katie’s a journalist – hard-bitten, hard drinking, a little lost. Nick is a musician – sensitive, about to be married, reluctant to come home to Ireland. But he has to return – his brother Luke has gone missing; Luke is the other person who was there the summer everything changed, the other person who knows what really happened.

Karen and I write our chapters independently. We send our work to each other; we read, respond, edit, suggest, discuss, argue, revise, redraft until we have the semblance of a first draft. Then our wonderful editor at Michael Joseph, Maxine Hitchcock, reads the manuscript and makes her superb insights and suggestions. What we’ve learned is that writing a novel is a fluid only we knowprocess, chapters are made up of scenes which have become a moveable feast. Of course the finished novel is fixed between the pages of a book, but when we are writing it, it is anything but – it is in flux, flowing like a river.

Now in Only We Know, the river is this powerful site of transgression. Something terrible happens there, at the river Mara, and in the novel, we are returned there over thirty years later: the secrets of the past will out. Karen had made a trip to Kenya and the Masai Mara in the past, and drew on this experience for the African sections of the book, but our anchor is Dublin. Our characters are invariably from there – even if they end up leaving, like Nick. It makes sense. It’s where Karen and I both live. It’s where we decided over a few pints of Guinness in Neary’s of Chatham Street to write together. Who knew where it would lead? Dublin – no longer the graveyard of dreams as one other writer once put it, but a hot-bed of literary life – poetry, prose, and the new crime. It’s where we know best. But the pull of other places – the unfamiliar, and exotic takes our imaginations farther afield, and our characters too.

We did not know where Katie and Nick would take us: this sense that you as the reader and co-writer are on a journey of discovery with your characters is the magic that makes an unlikely enterprise like Karen Perry work – our characters, they took us into the past, back to Kenya in 1982, and forward into the heart of Dublin, and into their own hearts where they laid bare their secrets for us to see and share, with you – dear reader.”

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