When I got an email asking me whether I wanted to be one of seven bloggers to interview Matt Arlidge about one of his books I jumped at the chance. Regular readers of my little blog will know how much I love Arlidge’s Helen Grace books and that he is one of my absolute favourite authors so you might be able to imagine just how excited I was. I was asked which book of his I wanted to ask Matt vabout and I didn’t have to think twice, Eeny Meeny was the first book in the series and my absolute favourite. I first read it in January 2015 after hearing some buzz about it, two and a half years later I can tell you a lot about it, not just the shocking storyline but also how I felt reading it. I very much doubt that there is another book that I read in 2015 that I could say the same about.
I’ve found two different blurbs for Eeny Meeny, one I found when I was trying to come up with my questions for Matt but the other seems to be more prevalent so I’ll put that one here, but the one that I read gave me question two, as that is a question asked in the blurb. I just love that Matt thought that it was an enjoyable unpleasant question! So, without further ado, here’s the blurb of Eeny Meeny followed by my Q&A with M.J. Arlidge.
The “dark, twisted, thought-provoking” (#1 New York Times bestseller Tami Hoag) international bestseller–first in the new series featuring Detective Helen Grace.
Two people are abducted, imprisoned, and left with a gun. As hunger and thirst set in, only one walks away alive.
It’s a game more twisted than any Detective Helen Grace has ever seen. If she hadn’t spoken with the shattered survivors herself, she almost wouldn’t believe them.
Helen is familiar with the dark sides of human nature, including her own, but this case–with its seemingly random victims–has her baffled. But as more people go missing, nothing will be more terrifying than when it all starts making sense….
Hi Matt! Thanks so much for joining me on If Only I Could Read Faster. Regular readers of my blog will know how much I love your Helen Grace series and how excited I am to have you stopping by.
- The premise for Eeny Meeny was shocking, how did you come up with the storyline and did you find it difficult to write about the characters in such an awful situation?
I was interested in writing a story about competition culture. When I came up with Eeny Meeny, reality shows were in their pomp. Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity and other shows were actively encouraging us to judge other people – who do we like more, who’s hottest – and then discard those found wanting. I thought it would be interesting if a serial killer did something similar, raising the stakes so it became a case of life and death. The point was to ask questions about how we value people. If a woman was imprisoned with a man, the gun lying between them, should the man be chivalrous and let the woman live? Likewise, if a mother was imprisoned with a woman who doesn’t have kids, should the latter spare the former, because her life is somehow worth more? It’s knotty, moral territory and something I was keen to explore. I was also interested in serial killer’s calling cards – this is a trope in fiction and in real life – and I wanted to play with this notion. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought, if in Eeny Meeny the calling cards were not a glove or a printed letter or what have you, but rather living breathing beings. I loved this idea, so in my debut novel the survivors – tortured by guilt and the knowledge of what they’ve done to survive – are effectively the killer’s calling cards.
- Would you rather lose your life or lose your mind?
What an enjoyably unpleasant question. And not an easy one to answer. I’d like to be dramatic and say my life, but I suspect I’d plump for the latter, in the fond hope that I would one day recover my senses. In terms of the Eeny Meeny dilemma, I’ve always suspected I would kill, rather than be killed.
- Do you have any regrets of how you have treated any of your characters? Anything that would change if you could?
Absolutely not! Not because everything I write is great – far from it! – but because I never flinch from making tough decisions. There have been times during the writing of the novels, when editors etc have said “Are you sure you want to kill that character? People really like them.”, but I have generally ignored them, favouring the honest, logical conclusion of a story, rather than a fudged decision made for the wrong reasons. Everyone gets rocks thrown at them in my stories – I treat everyone equally!
- I have heard that Eeny Meeny is being made into a tv series. As you used to write screenplays why have you decided not to be involved with adapting your own book?
For the simple reason that I’d already told the story once and wasn’t keen to rehash it in a screenplay. I was – and remain – far more interested in moving Helen’s story forward, than in going over familiar ground.
- Why did you decide to have a female lead detective? How did you find it as a man writing a woman’s character?
Three reasons. First, because I think women are more interesting than men both in life and fiction. Men are predictable and relatively simple in their desires, women are much more complex and nuanced – and thus more interesting to write. Second, because life is harder for women, which is good in terms of creating an interesting protagonist – you want to be able to throw as many rocks as possible at your main characters. And lastly, because it just feels like the hour of the woman in crime fighting fiction. All the interesting crime fighters of recent years – Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Noren – have been female. How do I find writing them? No different from writing male characters really – I just imagine what might be going through their head and off I go…
- Helen has an interesting way of dealing with the stress of her job, can you tell me a bit more about why that became part of the story?
I guess we’re talking about the S&M element! Well, I wanted to avoid a lot of the cliches of the genre – hard drinking male cop with marital problems etc etc. So I created a female copper who was tea total and allergic to relationships. However, everybody needs a pressure release, Helen more than most given her traumatic back story, so I opted for pain. Whenever Helen feels the dark clouds descending she heads to her dominator and manages her feelings through the controlled use of pain. I wanted to make Helen different and I thought that it would be interesting if the person she had the closest personal relationship with was the man she paid to beat her.
- You pitched seven Helen Grace books to penguin, who thankfully got very excited. Have all the books you pitched stayed as you set out or did you make changes as you wrote them? How many more Helen Grace books do you have planned?
Some of them made it into print, but several fell by the wayside as I came up with better ideas! My point in pitching the seven books was not to faithfully follow those ideas, but more to show that both Helen and the series had legs. There are many more Helen Grace books planned – as long as people keep buying them, I’ll keep writing them!
- Do you have any strange writing quirks?
Not really, I’m quite boring. If I have a quirk, it’s my tendency to wave a wand around when searching for inspiration. My kids gave me a replica of Voldemort’s wand for my birthday and occasionally I find a touch of Slytherin aids the writing process.
- Can you tell us one thing about Eeny Meeny that we, your readers, won’t know?
It was originally called “Nemesis” – a truly terrible title. I have my agent to thank for coming up with a better one.
Favourite music while you write?
Classical music, especially choral religious music. Very sinister.
Favourite snack while you write?
Wasabi peas or jelly babies. It’s a mood thing…
Favourite place to write?
Anywhere where I can people watch.
Strangest feedback or review comment?
Someone once gave a copy of Eeny Meeny to a friend who he feared was trying to starve himself to death, in order to try and jolt him out of it. I wasn’t convinced of the wisdom of this and was slightly freaked out by it.
Book you’ve read that you wish you wrote?
The Silence of the Lambs. I think it’s a near perfect crime novel.
Well, I hope that you enjoyed that! If you haven’t read any Helen Grace books then why not??!! Definitely start with Eeny Meeny and then Pop Goes The Weasel. I’ve reviewed the rest of the books from the series on here, The Doll’s House, Liar Liar, Little Boy Blue, No Way Back, Hide and Seek, and Love Me Not. You can buy all of the Helen Grace books on M.J. Arlidge’s Amazon UK and Amazon US author page.