Meet Our April Books:

WATCH HER FALL

by ERIN KELLY

Our first book is Watch Her Fall, Erin Kelly's eighth novel is a brilliant psychological thriller - a wonderfully tense, sharp and immersive plunge into the power and determination of ballerinas to succeed - at any cost. All set to the backdrop of the iconic ballet, Swan Lake.

Behind the book with Erin Kelly

Why were you so drawn to Swan Lake?

A few reasons. I wanted to write about a ballet that was only a ballet. Many of the famous ballets, like Sleeping Beauty or Romeo & Juliet are already well-known fairy stories or plays. Swan Lake – like The Nutcracker is only ever told through dance and that makes it mysterious and magical. And the show itself reflects the themes of my book: two women, both after the same crown, identity, love and betrayal. Finally, the look of the show is iconic: two doppelganger dancers, one dressed in white, the other in black, the moonlit lake and the opulent but loveless palace.

“The settings are glamorous and sinister at the same time.”

I learnt a lot about the craft of ballet while reading. How did you go about researching the world of ballet?

I always begin my research the same way; in a bookshop. I read dancers’ memoirs and histories of ballet, I absolutely loved a book called Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead, about the New York ballet world in the 1970s. I watched films and went to performances at the Royal Opera House, Sadlers’ Wells and various regional theatres.

I also worked with two dancers as consultants, asking them questions as they arose, and they read my manuscript and gave me feedback. I was going to meet them for coffee, watch them in rehearsal: but then the pandemic struck, and I had to cancel everything.

“It gave me an insight into the fragility as well as the steeliness of the ballerina’s mindset that I might not have seen otherwise.”

At first, I was in absolute despair because I always like to visit the places and meet the people I’m writing about, but actually a lot of ballet companies already had amazing footage online, and all of a sudden the dancers I’d been following on Twitter and Instagram started talking to the camera about how upsetting it was to see the theatres shut, and how frightening it was not to know when they would dance again. A few days later, they were all dancing again, even if that meant twirling on a square of lino in a studio flat. It gave me an insight into the fragility as well as the steeliness of the ballerina’s mindset that I might not have seen otherwise.

Watch her Fall references the pandemic – was this a narrative device or did you want to record what’s happening now?

I finished the book in the summer of 2020 and most of it was written during the first lockdown, so of course COVID-19 and the devastation it was wreaking was on my mind all the time. The book only really hints at the pandemic at the very end. I didn’t want to write anymore detail than I did, partly because it felt too raw for me to get enough distance to write about it objectively but mainly because the situation seemed to change on an almost hourly basis and I didn’t feel I was on solid ground.

How did you find writing over the last year, versus writing in non-pandemic times?

It was like the difference between night and day, with pandemic writing being the night. A long, dark night! My usual routine is that I write when my children are at school, so you can imagine how that was derailed. I managed to complete the book with a lot of early mornings – I slept with my window open so that the sun would wake me up – my husband taking unpaid leave from work, and a very laissez-faire attitude to schoolwork. It was horrible!

You teach creative writing: what advice do you have for budding new writers out there?

Read. I’m always astonished by the people who want to write a book but don’t read for pleasure, or don’t read the kind of book they want to write. And then re-read. Think of the book as a car: you are a mechanic, taking apart the engine to see how it works. Scribble in the margin, notice what works and what doesn’t. And when you start to write, don’t expect perfection. Most first drafts are awful, but the point of them is that they give you something to work with.

“I’m always astonished by the people who want to write a book but don’t read for pleasure, or don’t read the kind of book they want to write.”

What books do you recommend to all thriller fans?

Recently I loved How To Disappear by Gillian McAllister. I think Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn’s masterpiece. And for a classic of the genre, you can’t go wrong with A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine.

Lastly, what fictional character would you like to go for a coffee with?

Everyone’s favourite charming, book-loving psychopath, Joe Goldberg from Caroline Kepnes’ YOU trilogy. Or maybe I’d just like to go for a drink with Penn Badgley who plays him in the Netflix adaptation? I think Penn is less likely to murder me, so let’s settle for the actor rather than the character.

Thank you so much for talking to us, Erin! Get your copy of Watch Her Fall here.

We'll be discussing the book over in our Facebook group, so make sure you join us there!