Nicci French is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. The couple are married and live in Suffolk. There are twenty bestselling novels by Nicci French, published in thirty-one languages. Blue Monday was the first thrilling story in the Frieda Klein series, which concludes with Day of the Dead.
Q. There are two timelines—a “before” and “after”—you expertly weave together in The Other Side of the Door. How did the structure of the novel take shape?
Nicci: We like to challenge ourselves by telling stories in different ways. For example, in Beneath the Skin we tell the same story three times basically using a different kind of suspense in each one. In Losing You the story unfolds in real time, like a film shot in a single take. In The Other Side of the Door we were grabbed by the idea of starting a story in the middle and then telling two stories: how did we get here and where do we go from here? Not only do we not know who the murderer is, for a part of the book, we don’t even know the identity of the victim.
Q. What inspired the original story idea?
Nicci: We’ve normally written stories about a single person. This time we had the idea of writing about a group of friends and the terrible things that can happen in the dynamics of a group when things start to go wrong. Very, very wrong in this case. And since we were writing about a group, it seemed natural to write about a group of musicians, where the highs are highs and the lows are lower. Rock group break-ups are often even worse than marriage break-ups!
Q. How do the two of you work together and how do you resolve any conflicts that might arise in the writing process?
Nicci: The secret is that we never actually write together! We think of ideas together, we brainstorm, do the research, visit the book’s locations. All that is together. But when we start writing, one person writes a short section, then sends it to the other, who is free to edit, rewrite, whatever. We resolve conflicts simply by trusting that it’s not about control, it’s not about egos, it’s about what’s best for the book. If we didn’t share that trust, we wouldn’t have lasted fifty pages as collaborators.
Q. Famously, one of your rules is that you will never say who wrote what. Do you have others?
Nicci: We have two other rules. The first is that if, say, Nicci reads something that Sean has written and doesn’t think it’s right, she doesn’t talk about it. She should just rewrite it and make it better. And second, following on from this, if Sean notices that a beautiful sentence of his has been removed, he is not allowed just to re-instate it. Again, it’s a matter of trusting that it’s all about what the boo needs.
Q. Have you read anything lately that you particularly enjoyed?
Sean: Reading has been my refuge during lockdown. Recently I’ve loved two very unconventional (and very different) crime novels written in the 1940s. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey doesn’t seem to be a crime novel at all and gut punches you. In The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge (recently re-issued by NYRB Books) a murder in Stalinist Russia sets off a cascade of chaos.
Nicci: I was blown away by The Book of Ebenezer le Page, by G B Edwards, a long, compelling novel narrated by a fabulous old man looking back at his life on the island of Guernsey; funny, harrowing, incredibly moving. And then there’s the haunting, dazzling Piranesi, a novel that’s a homage to C S Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew and yet unlike anything I’ve ever read.
Q. What are you working on now?
Nicci: We’ve just finished a book called The Unheard. A three-year old girl shows her mother a drawing she’s made which seems to a portrayal of a murder. Her mother sets out to discover whether a crime has really taken place – with terrible results.
Nicci French's Latest
Bonnie Graham stands in the open door of her friend’s apartment. She is alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood on the floor. What happened? What will Bonnie do now? Whom can she turn to? And what role has she played in the murderous events?
Bonnie is a music teacher who has spent a long, hot summer in London rehearsing with a band to play at a friend’s wedding. It was supposed to be fun, but the band members find the complicated knots of their friendships–some old, some new–unraveling as the days themselves unwind. What was meant to be a summer of happiness, love, and music turns deadly as lovers betray one another, passions turn murderous, and friendship itself becomes a crime. Everyone tells lies. But is anyone prepared to tell the truth to uncover a murderer?
More Psychological Thrillers