Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press.She is the author of the word-of-mouth sensation The Wicked Girls, which won a prestigious Edgar Award and The Killer Next Door, which won the coveted Macavity Award. She has also been shortlisted for numerous other crime writing awards and her first two novels have been optioned for the screen. Alex lives in south London.
Hi Alex/Serena – Thanks so much for agreeing to answer my questions – before we begin do you prefer me to call you Alex or Serena?
Honestly?I’m good with either. I”ve been Alex for long enough that I automatically turn if I hear the name called, these days.
I’ve spent weeks researching you online (actually 20 minutes but I want to sound professional here) and you have 2 brilliant websites:
http://www.serenamackesy.com and http://www.alexmarwood.com. Reading through your “About Me” pages it becomes pretty obvious that you have a wicked sense of humour or perhaps your medication needs reviewing – but my question here is what and who makes you laugh?
Oh, gosh. Everything, honestly.I’m a weird mix of lachrymosity and laughter, often in the same breath. I’m not madly good at intentional comedy, though there are noble exceptions – the Bill and Ted movies, which never stop making me laugh, Zoolander, Father Ted. And The Walking Dead. I adore The Walking Dead; howl with laughter when I’m not blubbing. Lots of people seem to have missed how funny TWD is. Their loss.
You posted on your website that “as a young thing I was a devil on horseback” – now I am a little confused because I thought they were bacon wrapped oysters. What’s your favourite ‘hors d’oeuvre’?
Oysters. Lovely raw oysters with chilli sauce. My favourite lunch is oysters and chips, too.
Now as you know I have read all 3 of your dark and disturbing psychological thrillers The Killer Next Door, The Wicked Girls and The Darkest Secret for the benefit of those who haven’t had the pleasure yet – can you please tell us a little bit about each book and the inspiration behind them?
Um, let’s see. I don’t write straightforward mysteries. Nothing wrong with them – I read a lot of them myself – but the things that really interest me as a writer are the causes and effects of crime, the terrible decisions people make, from selfishness, or ignorance, or impulsiveness, and the way those can snowball to terrible effect. But there’s always a crime at their heart. Even when I was writing romantic comedy, they always ended up a bit crimey; in the end I’m just more interested in people’s bad decisions than I am in their good ones.
It’s fairly obvious that they all have a starting point in real life, but it’s mostly something that make me wonder about some other aspect of life. The Wicked Girls’s starting point was a notorious child-on-child murder twenty years ago; but also the amazing film Heavenly Creatures, which was alaso based on a real, and horrific murder but teenagers. I’ve always wondered how, if you’d done something as awful as that, you’d ever live with yourself afterwards. This was one of my takes on it. Actually, The Darkest Secret is also partly about that (though the initiating event was a different notorious case involving, erm, rather unorthodox attitudes to child care), but my answer is very different in that one: it’s an exploration of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the devastating effect is has on everyone linked to the narcissist. And The Killer Next Door is based on the case of Dennis Nilsen, who murdered and dismembered fourteen young men while living in crowded houses full of bedsits. The thing that always fascinated me about that was all the other people living in the houses, and how they managed not to notice that this was going on. So in the end the book’s about them, or a very twisted version of them, more than it is about the serial killer at its heart.
Stephen King is a HUGE fan of THE KILLER NEXT DOOR and tweeted about it – tell me the truth – when you saw his tweet did you do a victory dance and scream for joy?
You never forget your first Stephen Kinging! It’s a bit like getting a thunbs-up from God, you know? Actually, he’d put The Wicked Girls on his Best Of Year list in Entertainment Weekly the Christmas before. I was up in Northern Scotland looking after my gaga stepmother while going up and down the hill to visit my dying father in hospital, and had up til that point been doing it with dry eyes and stoical practicality. And then someone Tweeted a picture of the page to me, and I burst into tears and cried for about half an hour. More than anything, it made me, after five books, accept that I actually am a writer, and shouldn’t suffer from Imposter Syndrome as badly as I do. it was amazing.
Are you working on a new book and if so will you please tell me more about it?
Right now, I’m fascinated by cults – there’s just so much culty behaviour going on in the world at the moment, and it’s causing absolute chaos. So I’m doing a book about a nice suburban couple who suddenly inherit a newphew and niece who are recent survivors of something similar to the Jonestown massacre. It’s going to be a bit Midwich Cuckoos and a bit Rosemary’s Baby, in my head. God knows how it’ll turn out on paper.
One of your lesser known skills is that you trained as a hypnotist. If you could hypnotise anyone famous who would it be and what would you get them to do?
Actually, I’d unhypnotise Donald Trump. I’d 3-2-1-back-in-the-room him and watch the look on his face as he realised what the hell he’d been up to.
Seriously, though, those Trump rallies were classic hypnotic inductions – the repetitive language, the sudden changes of subject halfway through a sentence (which make the brain hang and render it totally vulnerable to being told what to do), the hyperventilation from the singing and the chanting and the shouting… they used exactly the same techniques at the Nuremberg rallies, and it’s what makes people hand over all their money and believe their cancer is gone at those huge Evangelical gatherings. Scary stuff.
You get asked a lot of daft questions according to your website – but what is the strangest or funniest thing you’ve been asked so far?
I get asked if I write from personal experience a LOT. I mean… I’m writing my fourth murder book, for heaven’s sake! How many people am I meant to have killed?
Do you read much and are they any particular books or authors we should be looking out for this year?
I do, though I don’t read much fiction when I’m in writing mode; it distracts me and can also make me feel despondent if it’s good, because I despise my work while I’m making it, like many writers. Writers I absolutely adore include Sarah Hilary, Laura Lippman, Megan Abbot, Alison Gaylin, Sabine Durrant, Mark Billingham, Stephen King, obviously, Lisa Unger. Books I’ve read recently that are coming up soon: Emily Barr’s new YA novel The One Memory of Flora Banks, which is brilliant; a bit Dog in the Night-Time, but toally itself; Gillian McAllister, whose debut, Everything But The Truth, comes out in March and is a sad and sweet exploration of how events in the past take on a whole new perspective when there’s a baby on the way; also out in March is Sarah Hilary’s latest Marnie Rome book – I just can’t get enough of them; love, love, love the slow unfolding of the chilling back-story pitched against her sharp psychological cases; Lou Berney’s breathtaking The Long and Faraway Gone, which is like the Cloud Atlas of Crime. The next two on my list are ones I’ve had roaring recommendations of from American friends – Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter and Emma Flint’s Little Deaths. And then I have to stop. I really, really have to stop. I’ve got to get this book finished before summer and aaaargh…
What are your plans and what are you looking forward to in 2017?
Finishing this damn book! And then I’m getting a strong urge to go East, and South, for a bit. I’ve spent a lot of my travelling time in the States lately, for obvious reasons, and I’m missing the places I used to go, So I’ll go and see one of my best friends, in Bangkok, then go on down to Australia, where several of my life friends are scattered about. Maybe stopping off in Bali en route, because I bloody love Bali and haven’t been there in ages.
Finally, if please describe yourself in words that began with A L E X and S E R E N A
Awfully Loud and Excitable
Strange, Eccentric, Roly-Poly, Enervated, Ntroverted (soz – getting tired!) and Articulate