Interview with Natalie Barelli
Author of Until I Met Her
Natalie Barelli writes psychological thrillers, domestic noir with a touch of dark humour. She speaks to Profile about domestic nor and thriller writing.
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Always tricky with a thriller, but could you give us a brief teaser (without giving the game away)?
- Meet Emma Fern, celebrated author of a prize-winning bestseller, adored by legions of fans everywhere. But it wasn’t always this way. A chance encounter with her favorite writer transformed Emma from unremarkable beige wife into a literary star, all in the blink of an eye and without writing a single word. It’s a life she didn’t earn but one she’ll do anything to keep.
Anything at all…
The book starts with a confession. Your books always start with some kind of a bump. Do you like putting readers on notice from the start?
- Because this particular story takes some time to get to the (first) murder, I felt I needed something to keep readers engaged, and it came to me one day, why not start with the confession? Admitting to killing your dearest and closest friend hopefully leads to the question: but why? And hopefully makes the reader wanting to know more.
But a strong opening is very much a feature of a suspenseful psychological thriller, and coming up with that first ‘bump’, that first OMG moment, is great fun. When I feel like I've nailed that scene, I find I can't wait to write what comes next.
You do love your psychos, don’t you? Are they fun to write? How do you get inside the mind of a truly twisted character?
- I do love my psychos and yes, absolutely, because they are fun to write. But I don’t know that I get inside the mind of such a character. If it’s my main character, then I think of it more this way: ‘why are they twisted? What made them like this? Are they redeemable?’ That approach gives me lots of ideas to develop that character in interesting ways, imagine what motivates them, and also have a go at getting them to redeem themselves. Maybe.
But sometimes the true 'villain' turns out to be someone else altogether, like the friend who seemed so nice and helpful. Now they are the truly twisted psychos.
A question we always like to ask: who would you cast in the lead roles in the movie?
- I love that question! For Until I Met Her, I’d cast: Nicole Kidman as Emma, Blake Lively as Beatrice, Mark Ruffalo as Emma’s husband Jim.
Could you talk a little about ‘relatability’ in thrillers? For example, you focus on the domestic life of your characters – how important is this for a strong sense of jeopardy?
- That’s a great question. It’s crucial that the reader care about what will happen to the main character in jeopardy, but relatability is hard to do well. I like my main characters to be somewhat flawed but hopefully also to have some redeeming quality. You might not relate to them at all in the beginning, but you just might once you get to know them better.
I’ve heard it said that it’s important to make your main character ‘likeable’, but I think you can still write a gripping thriller by doing the opposite. The main character in Caroline Kepnes’ brilliant novel You is a perfect example. None of the characters in that novel are likeable, and yet they’re so riveting you can’t look away. Same with Araminta Hall’s Our Kind of Cruelty. I think if you can come up with a relatable character, you’re halfway there, but it’s not the only way to keep the reader engaged.
A writer asks you to put your name to their new book – the world will believe that you created it. You can choose any living writer (but no funny stuff, ok?) – who do you choose?
- The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud because it’s a brilliant book in every way. The story, the writing, the characters, the twists. Of course, I’ll have the same problem as Emma Fern in that I’ll never be able to top it, so I’ll be forever known as a “one hit wonder” but that’s okay.
She should never have said ‘yes’…
When Beatrice said she wanted to publish her next novel under Emma’s name, Emma couldn’t believe it. Why on earth would Beatrice Johnson Greene, the famous crime writer, not want to publish her new book as herself?
This time, Beatrice explained, she wanted to write something different, and publish it as an unknown author. She was too famous—and she needed Emma’s help.
After everything Beatrice had done for her, Emma could hardly refuse. But what was meant to be a favour has turned into a betrayal, and now Emma has done something terrible, something shocking, and the consequences are terrifying…