Erin Kelly, Crime Writer by Claire Coughlan | Magazine | Crime | Interviews
House of Mirrors Erin Kelly

By Claire Coughlan

“I can’t really remember ever wanting to do anything else,” Erin Kelly says from her home in London over Zoom, when I ask her if she always wanted to be a writer. After stints working as a nightclub cleaner and in call centres after she graduated from university, Kelly became a freelance magazine journalist before her debut novel The Poison Tree was published by Hodder in 2010. It made a big splash, was adapted for television, and endorsed by none other than Stephen King, which is arguably the dream for any debut author. The email from her American publisher with King’s quote came through on 1st April, and Kelly initially thought it was an April Fool’s prank.

“I didn’t respond to it, and I had to spend some time Googling to see if American April Fool’s Day was a thing,” she says. “And then I got an email from my agent saying. ‘Why haven’t you responded to this? It’s not every day your debut gets a quote from Stephen King.’”

Kelly has a growing backlist of psychological thrillers with dramatic settings, brilliant premises, and memorable, untrustworthy characters, such as abandoned psychiatric hospitals (We Know You Know); treasure hunts where human remains are dug up (The Skeleton Key); and nail-biting rape trials (He Said She Said). The latter book, which came out in 2017, was a reflection of the conversation around sexual assault in the zeitgeist as it was published in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

“Crime writers don’t write for posterity, we are always responding to what is happening now,” Kelly says. “Crime fiction and thrillers have to reflect the zeitgeist on some level, if you want to get a portrait of a society.”

Kelly also has the novelisation of the popular ITV show Broadchurch created by Chris Chibnall to her name and she teaches creative writing at Curtis Brown Creative, part of the Curtis Brown literary agency (I completed an online course of hers there in 2021, which I can highly recommend).

Her output is enviable, and she says she writes from 9am-1pm most days while her two children are at school. “I’ve got an app that locks me out of the internet from six in the morning until 1pm,” she says. “And if I’m not writing I try to check in on the book. I might read or watch something that fires me up creatively.”

Kelly grew up in East London and Essex and says she is “genetically 97 per cent Ulster”. Her paternal grandparents came to London after the Second World War and she attended a convent school “where well over two thirds of the girls were of Irish Catholic stock. I feel culturally Irish.”

Her fantastic new book, The House Of Mirrors, out now, and acts as a sequel, but also as a standalone, to her much-feted debut The Poison Tree. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy and it is Kelly at her very best, with a trademark twist at the end. She says she received many emails asking what happened to the characters next, which compelled her to write the next instalment.

Looking back, publishing her debut in 2010 was a “really positive experience” though compared to now, it feels like a completely different landscape.

“I feel like I became an author when no-one was looking at me, the expectations were very different in terms of engagement,” she says. “I didn’t know anybody who had a Kindle for a start, so all my readers as far as I was concerned were going to read the [physical] copy of the book. I had a private Facebook account, but I wasn’t on Twitter [as it was then] though I was gently encouraged to go on social media.

“The promotion was very different because there were a million magazines – all the magazines I used to write for, I was freelance for almost my entire career – and they’ve all shut down now. So, everything about it was not the same as if I were a debut today.”

However, she says some things are better for emerging writers now; it’s all about managing your expectations.

“Everybody who writes a book, it’s a dream come true and it’s something they’ve been working towards for years and years,” she muses. “It’s very easy to get caught up in the hype and think, ‘I’ll outsell Richard Osman and Robert Galbraith and this time next year, I’ll be living in a castle made of gold bricks.’

“The goal should be if you are still in contract, you are one of the lucky few. If people ask me now what’s my ambition, I say, to keep being published, to stay in contract. To have a publisher who wants me. For that to happen, I need to have readers who want me.”

(c) Claire Coughlan

Claire Coughlan’s debut crime novel Where They Lie is out now

Erin Kelly photograph (c) John Godwin

About The House of Mirrors by Erin Kelly:

One of them has killed before.
One of them will kill again.

In the sweltering summer of 1997, straight-laced, straight-A student Karen met Biba – a bohemian and impossibly glamorous aspiring actress. A few months later, two people were dead and another had been sent to prison.

Having stood by Rex as he served his sentence, Karen is now married to him with a daughter, Alice, who runs a vintage clothing company in London. They’re a normal family, as long as they don’t talk about the past, never mention the name Biba, and ignore Alice’s flashes of dark, dangerous fury.

Karen has kept what really happened that summer of ’97 hidden deep inside her. Alice is keeping secrets of her own. But when anonymous notes begin to arrive at Alice’s shop, it seems the past is about to catch up with them all …

Order your copy of The House of Mirrors by Erin Kelly online here.

About the author

Claire Coughlan worked as a journalist in Ireland for many years. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UCD and lives in Co Kildare with her husband and daughter. Where They Lie is her first novel.

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