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Introducing Alvina Knightly: One Mad, Bad B*itch by Chloé Esposito

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Chloé Esposito © 3 July 2017.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews · Women's Fiction ).

My debut novel, Mad, has been described as “this summer’s raciest read” and ‘Gone Girl plus” by The Daily Telegraph. It is a sexy thriller with a darkly comic voice set in London and Sicily over one blood-soaked week in the dead of summer. Mad tells the story of Alvina Knightly, a train-wreck and evil identical twin. It reveals the lengths she will go to, to not only steal her sister’s perfect life, but to go on living it. Expect sex, lies, twists and murder from a brand new kind of anti-heroine. She is uncensored, unhinged and unforgettable.

The inspirations for Mad were diverse and included novels and plays.

I started with Shakespeare’s brilliant tragedy, Othello, and the theme of jealousy. What, I wondered, would make me the most jealous ever? For Othello, it was his wife’s supposed infidelity with Cassio. For me, it would be having an identical twin, who was more successful than me, more beautiful than me, richer than me and married to the guy that I was in love with. The guy that I had slept with first! That would really p*ss me off.

I have always found the villains in literature to be the most fascinating characters. What motivates them? How can they live with themselves? And what the hell goes through their minds when they are lying, manipulating or killing? I stole the character of Iago from Othello, too. He is the unforgettable, Machiavellian villain responsible for the pile of dead bodies at the end of the play. What, I wondered, would Iago be like as a Millennial woman living in London in 2017? Violent, crude and materialistic, someone who would literally kill for shoes: I called my badass new anti-heroine, Alvina Knightly, and her identical twin sister, Beth.

I turned to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth for inspiration for the ultimate wicked woman. Macbeth’s über-ambitious wife says she would rather kill her own baby than give up on her plan for power and wealth. Maternal or traditionally feminine she most certainly is not. I love how Shakespeare broke that taboo all the way back in 1606 and yet it is still controversial today. I enjoyed smashing the conventions about femininity and turning gender stereotypes on their heads. In Mad, Alvie is the one doing all of the things that we are used to seeing the bad boys doing: driving the car in the high-speed chase, pulling the trigger on the gun or sexually objectifying men and having lots of crazy hot sex. And boy, does she enjoy the ride!

For something a little more light-hearted, I looked at the famous twin swap in the comedy, Twelfth Night. In this play, Sebastian and Viola swap places when they are marooned on the island of Illyria. Viola transforms into the boy servant, Cesario, and disguises her identity well enough to fool almost everyone. Shakespeare, being the genius that he was, managed to pull off the swap with twins of different genders. I played it safe and made my identical twins both girls.

In terms of modern fiction, I was inspired by the shocking 1930’s novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. The novel was so controversial when it came out, that it was banned in some states in America. (I’d love it if Mad was banned somewhere, but so far, no such luck.) Cain combines sex and violence to create a shocking and erotically charged drama with more twists and bite than an anaconda. I loved how fast paced and outrageous it was and wanted to capture some of it’s dark magic. In some ways, Alvina Knightly is a modern, more female, more British version of Frank Chambers, and the male characters in my novel, are different versions of the hyper-sexualised Cora.

I also loved Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley and her sociopathic anti-hero, Tom. Highsmith succeeded in getting readers to sympathise with and root for this cold-blooded killer. I defy anyone to read the Ripley novels and not want Tom to get away with his crimes. In Alvina Knightly, I have created a character who is as fashion conscious as Tom Ripley, as obsessed with the high-life, designer clothes and Italian sun. But Tom was rather morbid and serious. He very rarely cracked a smile. I wanted Alvie to be funny and dangerous, so I added an element of black comedy to the novel. I would describe Alvina as Bridget Jones gone bad. She’s a bit like an LOL Amy Dunne. 

My journey to publication was both whirlwind and long. As I child, I always had my nose in a book and dreamed of becoming Enid Blyton. My favourite subjects at school were English and theatre studies, and I went to Oxford to complete a BA and MA in English language and literature. I always wanted to be a novelist, but didn’t have the confidence to write a whole book. So, I became a fashion journalist, an English teacher and then a management consultant. I would scribble away in my spare time, locked away in the spare bedroom like it was some kind of dirty secret. Until, one day, when I turned thirty, I suddenly became aware of my own mortality. Holy sh*t, I am going to die! I have to actually give it a try. I followed my dreams and my life-long passion and applied for the wonderful Writing a Novel course at the Faber Academy. I absolutely loved it and wrote most of Mad on the course. At the end of the six-month academy, Faber published an anthology of all the students’ work and we all read an extract at a (terrifying!) agents’ day. I was really lucky, I had 21 agents offering to represent me and, after interviewing a few of my favourites, I decide to sign with the legendary Simon Trewin at WME. He sold my novel in 25 countries, including to Penguin Random House in the US and UK. My agent at WME in LA also sold the movie rights to Universal Studios. Mike De Luca, the producer of Fifty Shades of Grey, is producing the film. I still think I’m dreaming and do have to pinch myself when I think about it…

(c) Chloé Esposito

About Mad:

Mad makes the utterly outrageous a glittering, sun-soaked reality – get set for the wildest ride of your life . . .

Alvina Knightly: Uncensored. Unhinged. Unforgettable.

‘There’s something you should know before we go any further: my heart is in the wrong place. Now don’t say I didn’t warn you . . .’

Perhaps that’s why nothing in Alvie’s life has ever gone right? Until now.

She can finally abandon her credit card debt – and her fruitless three-way relationship with Tinder and Twitter – when fate gives her the chance to steal her identical twin’s perfect life.

It’s just a shame Beth had to die to make Alvie’s dreams come true.

So begin seven days of sex, violence and unapologetic selfies – one wild week that sees Alvie break every rule in the book. She never did have much respect for boundaries.

It might be madness, but rules are meant to be broken. Right?

Mad is the first in the sexy, shocking and compulsively readable Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know trilogy.

Order your copy online here.


Chloé Esposito is from Cheltenham and now lives in London. She has a BA and MA in English from Oxford University, where her dissertation focused on nineteenth-century feminist writers. She has been a senior management consultant, an English teacher at two of the UK's top private schools and a fashion stylist at Condé Nast. She is thirty-two, a graduate of the Faber Academy and is now writing full-time. Mad, the first book in the Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know series, is Chloé's first novel.