How the Prospect of Being Murdered Inspired My Writing
By Sheryl BrowneJuly 9, 2019
Sheryl Browne, author of The Babysitter, discusses how people and ordinary (though unfortunate) events, such as falling off a boat into the water, can be the perfect cocktail of inspiration to write a psychological thriller.
I’m often asked what inspires me to write psychological thrillers. The short answer is people. I’ve always been fascinated by what shapes people and I like to strip away the layers and, hopefully, share with readers a little of what lies beneath the surface. A writer’s mind thrives on exploration. Every scenario, every face, every place tells a story. A glimpsed situation, an argument between a couple, for instance, a verbal ‘slanging match’ in the street, and you have your stimulus for a story.
There are many facets to the human character; no one can be truly good or irretrievably bad. Or can they? The driving force linked to most murders, I’m reliably informed by a former DCI, is humiliation. How many of us haven’t felt humiliated at some point? Who hasn’t wished for revenge? That’s where the ‘what if’ scenario kicks in. What if the ‘good guy’ isn’t all good? Then there’s the ‘bad guy’. How deep does his/her humiliation run? Is it nature or nurture that makes him evil? This was the question I posed when I started writing The Babysitter. I had my main character, Jade—beautiful on the outside, but flawed on the inside. What made her that way? Nature? Nurture? Or was it a cocktail of genes, brain function and childhood experience that created the monster?
Obviously, Jade’s story wasn’t going to fit any other genre but psych fiction, but what started me out on this journey exploring the human psyche? Well, when I’m not writing I can usually be found messing about on the water with my partner in our little narrowboat, which I can also often be found falling off. I kid you not. Coming into moor one evening, I fell off the back of it. My partner didn’t notice I’d gone. Needless to say, when I emerged from the canal resembling the abominable mud-woman, my words were choice. I digress. Back to the inspiration.
It’s perhaps hard to imagine how travelling the tranquil British Waterways in all its verdant glory, might entice my mind to conjure up murder or psychological torture. Bear with me. Boating actually being quite a strenuous activity—there are many heavy locks that have to be worked to get the boat from A to B—we tend to moor up as near as we can to a pub for our evening meals. Sometimes the spots we moor in can be very remote and the pub can be a long way off, involving a trek along the towpath with nothing but the wind whispering through the trees and the ghostly calls of nightlife for company.
Hold in mind here my last reads were The Ladykiller by Martina Cole, who definitely fuelled my desire to delve into the darker side of human nature. I love how Cole gets inside the head of her characters. It’s with morbid fascination you glimpse into the mind of a sexually depraved killer.
And It by the fabulous Stephen King, which spooked me so much I swear I could see clowns peering evilly at me through the foliage on the embankments. Thus was my mindset on one eerie moon-free evening when we set off along the towpath to the local hostelry. Wined and dined and a little worse for wear, we made the return journey, no light to guide is, other than a dodgy flashlight—canal banks are sadly lacking in streetlights—and no sound other than the low swoop of a heron, the slosh of the water against the sidings and the snap of twigs underfoot.
A prickle of apprehension ran through me. Why, my suspicious mind wondered, would a lone driver just be sitting there in the dead of night? My mind then immediately going into writer mode, I was soon playing the ‘what if’ game. What if… he’s a burglar? A mad-axe murderer? A ladykiller!
Nearing the boat, I was surprised to spot someone parked in the secluded country lane running parallel to the canal. A prickle of apprehension ran through me. Why, my suspicious mind wondered, would a lone driver just be sitting there in the dead of night? My mind then immediately going into writer mode, I was soon playing the ‘what if’ game. What if… he’s a burglar? A mad-axe murderer? A ladykiller!
Imagine my trepidation therefore when, on reaching the boat, my partner announced he’d left something in the pub and promptly about-faced to retrieve it, leaving me with the strange night-watcher and my vivid imagination. On my own on the boat—with those branches snapping and a lone owl hooting outside, it wasn’t long before the man had morphed into … a hitman! Obviously, my partner was after the life insurance and I would soon be found floating bloated in the canal (please remember my tendency to fall in. It was a full proof plan!).
Panicking now, I searched frantically for something with which to defend myself. The rubber ring, I decided, possibly wasn’t an effective weapon with which to fend off a hitman. Hour-long minutes ticked by as I waited, my heart thrashing feverishly and armed with a mallet (the tool with which to hammer pegs in. Wooden, unfortunately. Also therefore not that lethal). Then, finally, the doors stern-end creaked open and a figure silhouetted against the night-sky appeared—and promptly fell about laughing.
My ‘hitman’, my partner informed me, had apparently broken down and was waiting for the rescue service. Personally, I wasn’t that amused. The poor man could have been rubber-ringed to death.
So, that’s where my inspiration comes from. Reading sparks my imagination. People, and the infinite possibilities I read into scenarios, create the story.
For information, my DCI, Stuart Gibbon (mentioned above), is a mine of information. I’ve used him as a writing consultant for a while now. A former Met Police detective with 30 years’ experience in crime investigation, a DCI on murder cases and also an SIO on a Special Operations Unit, he’s a leading expert in his field and I’m super-pleased he has now co-authored two fabulous books. For anyone writing anything with a UK crime element, Being a Detective, along with The Crime Writer’s Casebook, really are excellent reference tools, providing easily indexed information about everything police procedural.
Right, time for another boat trip, think. Minus the hitman.
About The Babysitter by Sheryl Browne:
You trust her with your family. Would you trust her with your life?
Mark and Melissa Cain are thrilled to have found Jade, a babysitter who is brilliant with their young children. Having seen her own house burn to the ground, Jade needs them as much as they need her. Moving Jade into the family home can only be a good thing, can’t it?
As Mark works long hours as a police officer and Melissa struggles with running a business, the family become ever more reliant on their babysitter, who is only too happy to help. And as Melissa begins to slip into depression, it’s Jade who is left picking up the pieces.
But Mark soon notices things aren’t quite as they seem. Things at home feel wrong, and as Mark begins to investigate their seemingly perfect sitter, what he discovers shocks him to his core. He’s met Jade before. And now he suspects he might know what she wants …
Mark is in a race against time to protect his family. But what will he find as he goes back to his family home?
The Babysitter is available now from Grand Central Publishing.