Stephen King in his book titled On Writing emphasizes that writers also need to be readers. As a writer myself, it makes sense to me that reading is part of my job.
Although I write mysteries, I find that the thriller genre is a close sister. Thrillers teach the importance of pacing. The plot must move along similar to the strides of a runner or the gait of a prancing horse.
Roadblocks, known as conflicts, result in the escalation of tension whether it be a character against himself, against another, or against the environment itself.
Beside pacing, conflicts, and tension, another aspect of both the mystery and the thriller, is the cliffhanger at the end of a scene or chapter. This is what keeps the reader turning those pages.
So, let me tell you about a recent thriller by author John Marrs that accomplished all of this and more!
John Marrs, a former freelance journalist based in London and Northamptonshire, spent 20 years interviewing celebrities for magazines and newspapers. Today, he writes stand-alone
What Lies Between Us, his most recent book, is a perfect example of a thriller. The plot is told from different perspectives and alternating time periods. Marrs is quick to involve his reader by letting the reader decide who’s lying and who’s telling the truth…Maggie the mother or Nina her daughter. The title of the book is a clever pun. He doesn’t miss a beat and keeps the action going right to the end. With Maggie trapped and chained in the attic by her own daughter, the conflict continually adds a layer of tension. Marrs’s style of writing, with short chapters that leave the reader anticipating what’s to come, results in a book that is near impossible to put down!
Today, I have the honor to welcome this exceptional writer and to interview him in my blog.

John, let’s begin with some general questions and then some specifics about your book: What Lies Between Us.
Where do you get your ideas?

They can come from anywhere. The One came to me when my husband and I were planning our wedding; The Passengers came casually during a conversation with my former editor. The Good Samaritan appeared through a chat with a friend’s partner who volunteered for a helpline and the next book I’ll be working on came to me in a dream. I woke up and typed it into my phone at about 4am so that I wouldn’t forget it in the morning.

How many hours a day do you write?

I used to write from about 9am until 6pm, five days a week but that’s now dropped to three days. I aim to get at least 2,000 words a day on my screen of the first draft. Since we had our son eleven months ago, my schedule now consists of grabbing any moment I can before the demands of feeds, nappy changes and play time.

What is your writing process like?

Every year it changes. Three years ago, I’d write for 90 minutes on the train to London in the morning, then for an hour at lunch time, and a further 90 minutes on the journey home. In fact, my first five books were written on trains. Then I gave up journalism in 2018 and started writing from home full-time. But since our son was born a year ago, it’s now a case of making the most of the rare free time I have. When I’m writing, it’s always in silence. I can’t do background music. I always print the book out to do my edits, makes notes in coloured pens I buy from a shop called Muji and when I make the on-screen corrections, that’s when I’ll listen to playlists on Apple Music.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

It has to be a combination of both. If you are writing about a subject that won’t engage your readers, then you can’t expect commercial success from that book. But if you are writing the same thing as every author out there, then you are not likely to stand out from the crowd. So I try and find an original spin on the genres I write – psychological fiction and speculative psychological fiction.

Why do you write in various genres?

It wasn’t purposeful. My first two books were psychological thrillers and my third, The One, was based around technology that doesn’t exist. It wasn’t a book suitable for my existing publisher Thomas & Mercer, but it found a home with Penguin. They placed it in the category of psychological fiction with a sci-fi twist and I’ve since written two more in the same category. I’m fortunate as I also get to write straight forward psychological thrillers for the other label.

Because you write in various genres, do you have a predetermined theme or idea before you begin?

Yes, but because it’s based on who I need to contractually deliver a book to next. What Lies Between Us was completed last year for Thomas & Mercer and then I was contracted to write my next one, The Minders, for Penguin which comes out in the US and Canada next February. So I take it in turns.

You’ve written several books now. When you begin to write a new book, do you question how it will fair with the others you’ve already written?

To a degree, yes. But I have to want to tell that story. I need to feel passionate about it otherwise it comes across as an endurance. I would not be able to spend a year of my life writing and then editing and promoting a book that I’ve not put my heart into. There has to be a fun side to this – if there’s not, what’s the point?

Looks like your book The One has been chosen as a Netflix episodic adventure. Could you explain how this came about, and why this book?

The book was originally self-published and in its first week, I was approached by Penguin who asked if I’d be interested in it being traditionally published with them. The same week, a production company asked me if they could option it to turn it into a TV project. Of course, I said yes! It’s taken almost four years but it comes to Netflix early next year. I went and visited the set to watch filming in January. It was very surreal. I was sitting behind the cameras, counting 50 people on set and thinking ‘they are all here because of an idea I once had on an escalator coming home from work.’ It was a fantastic day being there and seeing the process involved of bringing a book to life.

As a reader, what favorite genre do you like to read? Any authors, in particular?

As a boy, I grew up obsessed with The Hardy Boys books, and wanted to write like their author, Franklin W Dixon. It was only as an adult that I learned he didn’t exist; he was a conglomerate of writers! I like most genres, I’m not snobbish. I just like a good, memorable story. I don’t like that authors such as Dan Brown are criticized just because they write books and appeal to the masses. What’s wrong with that? If you don’t like his style, there are plenty of authors out there who you will enjoy. My go-to authors are John Niven, Tom Rob Smith, John Boyne, Gillian Flynn, Cara Hunter, Peter Swanson, CL Taylor and CJ Tudor.

Now, let’s talk about your thriller What Lies Between Us.

I found this book thrilling but also with a hint of Gothic-like horror. In some ways, it reminded me of the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Did you deliberately hope to achieve this?
I’ve not read that book, I must confess. My last two books included a police procedural followed by a high-concept thriller, so this time, I wanted to write something very character-led. With What Lies, I wanted to write a dark, claustrophobic saga about two women who share a house but who hate each other. I wanted to go back and forth over 25 years and drip feed how their relationship deteriorated to the point where you join them in the book.

Telling your plot, as you did, from more than one perspective and more than one timeline, what techniques did you incorporate to keep things straight?

I’ve only recently learned to start plotting books in more depth. I used to be more impatient and just wanted to get the book started and then deal with the changes required in the second, fourth and fifth rewrites. So planning this out and knowing exactly what was going where helped me to keep track of two current and two past storylines and perspectives. I didn’t stick to it rigidly though, I like to keep a story fluid and mix things up as I go along if a better idea pops up in my head.

Without giving too much away, did you plan to have the male character enter into Nina’s life, or was it just something that happened as you wrote?

He started life as female before I decided to switch her sex to a male. But she/ he was always going to appear to help take the story to its conclusion. Although the epilogue was a last-minute addition. It was originally going to end with the last chapter, but I felt the reader deserved a more definitive ending.

Parts of this novel deal with Nina as an adolescent. Where did you get your ideas for her character?

I can’t answer that question very well, I’m afraid. My husband might suggest that it’s down to my own immaturity! I just knew who Nina was from the moment I started writing her. I knew what motivated her as a teenager, how awful she could behave and how vulnerable she could be at the same time. She was probably easier to write than Maggie.

Any general advice to writers?

I’m still way too early in my journey to ever think I could offer anybody advice of my own! I can share these tips though – I was told to read out loud whatever I write when I start the editing process – and it has really helped me with pacing, grammatical errors and sentence structure. I’ve also learned that research is key – if you want to write a commercially successful book, then pick a genre that people want to read. You might know everything there is to know about Himalayan snowdrops, but it doesn’t mean other people want to read a book about them.

Thank you for taking the time to be part of this blog.