An exclusive chat with Paula Hawkins on The Girl on the Train
Zimbawe-born British author Paula Hawkins went from working as a business reporter for The Times to writing romantic comedy fiction under the pseudonym Amy Silver, before penning the best-selling novel The Girl on the Train (2015), which went to become a film directed by Tate Taylor. The story follows an alcoholic divorcée (played by Emily Blunt in the film) while addressing matters of domestic violence in urban society. In an exclusive chat, Paula spoke about writing more novels centred around women, and handling dark emotions in her stories.
How real was the experience of writing this story, in that particular time and space of your career?
Well, it took me about a year to write. I had been thinking about Rachael, my protagonist, for quite some time, and her voice came to me eventually. I wasn’t doing anything else at that point in time.
Tell us about the dark emotions at play in the story.
The story speaks about a traumatic experience, and bringing that out is emotionally draining, as you have to speak of what it must feel like for the character, deep inside. And certainly, there is something therapeutic when it comes to writing about such experiences, as you try and work out those feelings of coming out of such a situation.
How did you make the shift from journalist to full-time writer?
I was a journalist for a few years, mostly writing on finance. And I had came across an opportunity offered by a publisher to write a romantic novel. Obviously, there are a lot of things about journalism that are very useful for the novelist — in terms of the way you write, how you serve people, and how you sift people, and kind of figure out what they’re telling you or what they’re not telling you. So there are plenty of skills that you can take from journalism, which can be very helpful for a novelist. At that time, I had written four books — all romantic comedy, which was actually very good training for me, before I sat down to write The Girl on the Train.
Did you enjoy being a journalist?
Yes, it was interesting, and it’s fun to be in a news room. I travelled a fair bit and got to meet lots of new people. It definitely helped me a lot, but I don’t think I have the right temperament to be a journalist.
What would you like to write about next?
I write about women, and I’d like to write more in the same space — about women in society, their talents and roles that women play. My next novel will be about that. Also, I want it to be about a very dark subject. I’m still planning the next one.
And what about the genres you’d like to explore?
Well, I definitely won’t be getting back to romantic comedy!
How important, would you say, is the making of a film to determine a novel’s ultimate success?
The movie The Girl on the Train had the kind of commercial success that I could never dream would ever happen — that was surprising for me. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have that!
How do you respond to negative criticism?
It is difficult and a very uncomfortable experience. Sometimes I accept or I ignore them. But it can be hard and depressing!
Is there any other book that you’d pick up for a movie remake?
I have always wanted someone to make a movie out of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I think a few people have tried, but nobody has made that movie yet.
The Girl on The Train airs on October 1 at 1 pm & 9 pm on Sony Le PLEX HD