British author Paula Hawkins’s career was lagging, at best, when she gave fiction one more shot and published “The Girl on the Train” in 2015. The story of an alcoholic woman who thinks she’s seen a murder went on to sell more than 20 million copies and be adapted into a major film starring Emily Blunt. In her newest, “A Slow Fire Burning,” a young man is found gruesomely murdered on a houseboat. Hawkins divides her time between London and Edinburgh.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
HAWKINS: I’m in the middle of “Dream Girl” by Laura Lippman, which I’m loving. It’s modern noir with a strong hint of Stephen King’s “Misery.” I absolutely loved her earlier novel “Sunburn.” Her writing is very slick and intelligent noir. It reminded me of Megan Abbott, who I’ve read a lot by.
BOOKS: Are you a Stephen King fan?
HAWKINS: I do like Stephen King. He’s written so much I can’t claim to have read a lot. The one I remember the most is “On Writing,” his memoir and book about writing. You can see how his life is reflected in his work.
BOOKS: Do you ever have to set a book down because it’s too unnerving?
HAWKINS: I don’t tend to read horror very much but last year I read “Starve Acre” by Andrew Michael Hurley, which was absolutely chilling. There are creepy children and terrible things happening in the house. I loved Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” She writes these incredible sentences that really stick with you. Someone wrote that nobody but Shirley Jackson could terrify you with the scene of a picnic on a lawn.
BOOKS: How much do you read older noir and crime fiction?
HAWKINS: I’m not a reader of the canon because I have so much current stuff I feel like I should read. But I recently read William March’s “The Bad Seed” and James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” I’ve also been rereading John le Carre’s George Smiley books. The character of Smiley is so interesting. He’s so much not a glamorous spy, just a sad man in a crappy house.
BOOKS: How long have you been a mystery reader?
HAWKINS: I read Agatha Christie as a child, which was my intro to crime novels. I remember reading “And Then There Were None.” You get to find out all the terrible things the characters did in the past. That is very much my cup of tea. Then in my 20s and 30s I read so much for work as a journalist that I didn’t read a lot of fiction. I read a lot of nonfiction. I had ambitions to be a foreign correspondent so I read books about Africa or books by foreign correspondents like Ryszard Kapuscinski, who wrote “The Soccer War” and “The Shadow of the Sun.” He’s a character in the reporting and some of his work has turned out to be embellished. I’ve always enjoyed the blurring of boundaries between fiction and nonfiction.
BOOKS: Are there any British writers you wish were better known in the United States?
HAWKINS: Evie Wyld is one. Her latest novel is “The Bass Rock.” It’s literary fiction with a modern gothic sensibility. Julie Myerson writes brilliant literary fiction. Her most recent novel is “The Stopped Heart.” Another one to mention is Sarah Hall, who wrote “The Wolf Border” and “The Electric Michelangelo.” She’s really clever.
BOOKS: How many books do you have on your to-read stack?
HAWKINS: I’ve got about 20. Oh it’s stupid! I know I won’t get to them all. It actually starts to stress me out. So I have to make myself come up with a timetable. This is every reader’s problem. I should stop watching TV so I’d have more time to read but you can’t can you?
BOOKS: What is your favorite place to read?
HAWKINS: I have a nice sofa in the living room in our house in Edinburgh. It’s quite a cold house. The couch is in a window that gets sunshine in the afternoon so you can curl up there. It’s lovely and warm. The danger is I might fall asleep.