Titles are hard.
Like, really hard. Even when you think you’ve got a good one, a quick internet search usually reveals that it’s already in circulation, generally attached to the kind of book which could reasonably be mistaken for your own—and no publisher (or author) wants that. Neither of the working titles I used when writing my first two novels ultimately made it to the front cover, and I wasn’t in the slightest bit upset about it. The Mademoiselle Next Door became The French Girl, which is much catchier, and also had the added advantage of avoiding a pitfall I hadn’t envisaged: according to my US publisher, American audiences are inclined to confuse mademoiselle with madame, and so, with the original title, rather expected the action to take place in a brothel. (It doesn’t, just to be clear.) For my second book, I knew from the start that The Manse would never make the cut, for the simple reason that nobody outside of Scotland can be expected to know what a manse actually is (a house provided for the church minister); consequently, The Missing Years is a definite improvement. At that point, after two failed titles, if someone had told me that I would never ever dream up a title that made the grade, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all—but then I came up with How To Kill Your Best Friend. I knew immediately that this one had legs.
I don’t usually start with a title, and perhaps I never will again. Ordinarily, I become hazily aware of a sense of atmosphere coupled with a particular setting, and a protagonist begins to take shape within that… In this case, the title just sprang into being in my mind and, initially, that title was literally all I had. Still, that was enough to set me thinking. Why would anyone even consider killing their best friend? What kind of relationship must it be for that to even cross someone’s mind? What must be lurking in the shared past of these friends? At the time, I had just finished the editing work on The Missing Years and was enjoying a summer vacation abroad, during which I was beginning to idly cast around for the seed of an idea for my next project—and this certainly seemed promising. The central equation of the three women—Bronwyn, Georgie and Lissa—came to me very quickly; there was definitely something there that I wanted to explore. There had to be a dark, twisted intensity to their relationship for murder to be on anyone’s mind, and then, of course, three is always a tricky number to balance in any relationship… And even if a delicate equilibrium had been achieved among the trio, if one of them was removed, what would the repercussions be for the two left behind?
Next, I had to consider where to set the tale. Setting is extremely important to me; I view it almost as a character in its own right. Undoubtedly the location I was in at the time—a lovely, but remote, tropical island resort—had a strong influence, given that How To Kill Your Best Friend takes place in a lovely, but remote, tropical island resort! I remember walking alone to dinner one evening, right after a thunderstorm had taken place. The usually immaculate paths were strewn with broken branches and foliage, stray sun loungers lay toppled on their sides, and there were no signs of any other guests or staff. It was oddly disconcerting. For the first time, it occurred to me that if something catastrophic happened, I had only a very hazy idea of exactly where I was, geographically speaking, and literally no idea how to get to the airport, given that I’d fallen asleep on the transfer to the resort. In that moment, I saw how the resort could switch from being a wonderful sanctuary to a place of terror, and I drew on that in writing the novel.
Lastly, I needed some kind of glue for the group—a shared passion that provided sufficient incentive for busy people living different lives in different cities/countries to regularly catch up with one another. The island setting, coupled with my own background, provided the obvious answer: swimming. Specifically, open water swimming; not something on which I needed to do any additional research given I spent much of my teenage and university years swimming competitively—initially in a pool, but later in open water too (I swam across the English Channel solo in 2007). The dynamic provided by the shared history of competing together particularly appealed to me: when you train with people every day, seeing them at the crack of dawn and late at night, at their best and their worst, you’re inclined to believe there are no secrets between you, that you could predict their actions and reactions. Even if that’s approximately true for that fleeting period of closeness, people change. The different lives they go off to live rub off on them. You might have the same best friends that you had at twenty, but they’re not the same people. And you’re not the same person, either.
So that is the story of the genesis of How to Kill Your Best Friend—a novel born entirely from a title. It wouldn’t surprise me if I’m never quite so lucky in my inspiration again.
(c) Lexie Elliott
About How To Kill Your Best Friend:
The perfect getaway – to get away with murder…
Georgie, Lissa and Bronwyn have been best friends since they met on their college swimming team. Now Lissa is dead – drowned off the coast of the remote island where her second husband owns a luxury resort. But could a star open-water swimmer really have drowned? Or is something more sinister going on?
Brought together for Lissa’s memorial, Georgie, Bron, Lissa’s grieving husband and their friends find themselves questioning the circumstances around Lissa’s death – and each other. As the weather turns ominous, trapping the guests on the island, it slowly dawns on them that Lissa’s death was only the beginning. Nobody knows who they can trust. Or if they’ll make it off the island alive…
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