More Than a Few Words With The Girl on the Train Author Paula Hawkins
Paula Hawkins has sold more than 32 million copies of her 2015 thriller The Girl On the Train.
Photo by Alisa Connan
You’ve read it, I’ve read it, President Obama read it last summer. In the spring of 2015, crime novelist Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train blew expectations away, selling 32 million copies worldwide, being adapted into a movie starring Emily Blunt and spawning legions of fans craving their next obsession. Well, it looks like Murder by the Book is about to make people happy. According to store manager McKenna Davis, the Rice Village bookshop was “one of only six stores” chosen to host the British author in person during the world tour for her newest novel, Into the Water.
“I visited Murder by the Book before, and had a really great event there on my first book tour,” Hawkins says while traveling to a recent event in New York. “I love those small bookshops, and you have so many great ones in America. My natural state is sitting at home and writing, but I certainly enjoy these bookstore visits, and I love talking with booksellers and readers.
"If anything, it’s all the actual traveling that’s not so fun," Hawkins adds with a dry laugh. "I actually miss writing, and can’t wait to immerse myself in my characters, places and plots again.”
Monday, fellow writer Megan Abbott (novels Dare Me and You Will Know Me, and HBO’s upcoming The Deuce) will host Paula Hawkins in Conversation, presented by Murder By the Book at Lone Star College-Kingwood's Student Conference Center. According to Davis, attendees will have the unique experience of not only getting their new hardback signed and personalized, but will get a rare glimpse at two talented women of fiction talkin’ turkey.
Hawkins lights up with anticipation at Abbott's name. “I’ve never met her but I’m really excited to meet her," she says. "I love her books. We’ve messaged each other on social media and talked a little bit, but never actually met in person. Meg’s one of those people I definitely look up to, so it’s gonna be great. You know, I’m certain to be more nervous talking to her than just…oh, anyone. We have a lot in common: She writes about young women a lot and I have in this book, so we’ve got themes to discuss.”
For anyone who might be intimidated by Hawkins’s writing, the Murder by the Book manager quickly points out that even if certain writers have a literary bark, they rarely bite. “There’s almost a rule of thumb that the darker the fiction they write, the funnier the author is in person,” Davis laughs. “But in my opinion, major successes begin with a voice that captures your reader’s attention. As the book spirals downward into more unsettling material, the reader follows that voice. Paula’s new book is wholly different, but it’s still a twisty, windy tale that’ll have people talking.”
Flashing back a few years earlier, Hawkins recalls the (comparatively easy) process of penning The Girl on the Train. “When I wrote Train, I basically had nothing else going on in my life, so it was an intense period of writing — sort of beaver-ish,” she jokes. “When I started writing Into the Water, my first book hadn’t been published yet, but it was coming and I had a lot of distractions and other things going on. So it was very different. But I also had the knowledge that I was writing for a certain readership, so there’s a certain confidence that comes with that. You know this book isn’t just gonna disappear; there are people waiting for it and interested. So that’s nice. But it’s precious too, because you don’t want to disappoint people! You want to do something different, but also appeal to the same readers. It brings with it a certain set of pressures.”
On the pressure to deliver another best-seller, Hawkins’s primary solution was simply to ignore the urge to panic. “If you think about it too much, it could paralyze you,” she recounts. “Obviously, there are elements of success that are more difficult. I don’t like to complain about it, because it makes you sound ungrateful, but you are a little vulnerable and a little bit exposed because suddenly millions of people have bought the book and the media is talking about you. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable position for someone who is a little introverted, and someone who is used to sitting in a room alone making up stories.”
While The Girl on the Train was the debut book of Paula Hawkins, she actually had published a number of novels under the pen name Amy Silver from 2001 to 2013. “I was commissioned to write one of those, and I didn’t really want to put my name on it because it wasn’t really my idea. It didn’t feel like me. So I sat down with my agent and my editor and we came up with a bunch of different names, and that was just the one that stuck,” she scoffs. “It’s not related to anything in my life; it just sounds like a snappy women’s fiction writer.”
But when it came time to put a name on Girl on the Train, originally Hawkins intended to create a new pseudonym. “I did think about having another one, because there is something quite nice about having a bit of distance from a book. But in the end, I couldn’t come up with anything and my publishers were just like, ‘Why are you doing this? It’s ridiculous! Just put your name on it!’ But there is a certain security in having a different name on it, but of course, if you’re successful, that security disappears anyway. People will find out who you are. For me, it was just a question of nerve.”
While many might long for the name recognition that comes with a book on the best-seller list, that’s simply not Hawkins’s style. “I’m just not that sort of person! I’m not the type to hanker after fame. Fame’s not my cup of tea, really.”
While novels are Hawkins’s current focus, she doesn’t rule out a foray into other media. “I would like to write more short stories, because I think it’s really good for your writing to write short stories. I think it’s so hard to do one well, but it’ll never be my main medium.”
But with movies, Hawkins seems more skittish. “They’ll never be my main thing, but when they adapt Into the Water in a movie, I’ll be consulting on the screenplay, but not writing it,” she explains. With the tepid reception of the Emily Blunt adaptation of her first novel, the writer seems to keep the pictures at arm’s length. “I try to think of them as their own things: The book’s the book and the movie’s the movie," she says. "The book still exists uncut and the movie is kind of ‘inspired by.’ It’s not from me directly.”
As much as Hawkins writes, she’s also an avid reader. She says her favorite author is Kate Atkinson, author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Life After Life and, most recently, A God in Ruins. She also mentions Pat Barker, Karen Fenech and Cormac McCarthy and says she “really liked” the debut book by Emily Ruskovich, Idaho. “I read a bit of crime, but actually not that much when I’m writing,” Hawkins admits.
On the topic of the very strange and uncertain world of 2017, Hawkins says she foresees a few developments in the literary world. “I definitely think people are going to be turning to fiction a lot,” the author speed-speaks, as she lets the predictions fly. “Well, I think there’ll be two trends. There’s going to be a trend of nonfiction books that try to explain the world as it is, and there’ll be a certain sort of person who tends to read that.
"And there’ll be another sort of person who just wants to completely run away from it, because they find it inexplicable and awful," Hawkins continues. "I think the whole fantasy genre will benefit tremendously from it! People just want to get away.”
So before you begin fleeing into your own mind, grab a copy of Into the Water for the trip.
The conversation is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, May 15 at the Lone Star College Kingwood Student Conference Center, 2000 Kingwood Dr. For more information, call 713-524-8597 or visit murderbooks.com. $35, which comes with an autographed copy of Into the Water.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.