Like many people, Paula Hawkins thought that Covid would blow over quickly and things would soon be back to normal.
At the start of lockdown, The Girl on a Train author and her partner went to Edinburgh, Scotland, where they own a home – and more than a year later, they're still there.
“Our plan was that we were going to split our time between Edinburgh and London but we’ve actually just been here,” Paula tells us by video call as she kicks off the publicity for her third novel, A Slow Fire Burning, which hit the shelves at the end of last month.
Paula often shares pictures of the beautiful Scottish capital with her followers on Instagram, including this one of the Royal Mile, near where she lives. It's a part of the city that is usually bustling but during the early days of lockdown it was eerily empty.
WHERE SHE WROTE HER NEW NOVEL
“It was mostly written in London. The last draft, which was written last year during lockdown, was written here in Edinburgh but the genesis of the story was very much in London because that setting, along the Regent’s Canal, is very close to my flat in London.
“When I was thinking about the book I was doing a lot of walking around there, looking at the little houseboats and imagining the lives of the people who might live there and what might be going on.”
“I started writing it in March 2018 but there were a few false starts. It took me a year and a half to get to final draft stage. There were earlier drafts that had some other characters in them. There was one draft that had a completely different sort of branch storyline that went somewhere else. And I wasn't happy with that. So it took a lot of shaping until I got to the point in early 2020 when I was like, ‘Right, I’ve got it now.’ "
AUTHOR IN LOCKDOWN
Some writers struggled to focus on their work during all the craziness of last year but Paula found that the enforced downtime was really beneficial.
“I found it quite conducive to working. It was nice to have something to focus on, because obviously the world was like crazy and I didn't want to think about that so it was nice to have something to put all my focus into. And also there were no other distractions and I couldn’t go out and do anything. There was nothing else to do but sit at my desk and write.”
HOW SHE MADE SURE SHE DIDN’T LOSE THE PLOT
The writer shared a pic of her study at her Edinburgh home. Once you’ve finished ogling her magnificent bookshelves – which are so large she needs a specially made ladder to reach the top shelves – take a look at the noticeboard above her desk. This is how she kept track of the different storylines of her new book, A Slow Fire Burning.
“There was a stage at which I had all the chapters pinned up so I could know what was happening to all the characters and where everyone was,” Paula says.
“All my novel have points where it all becomes really quite complicated and I've moved things around so much that I've sort of slightly forgotten where we are.
“It helps to have it visually there so I can just glance up and go ‘Oh, that’s where we are right now.’ "
WHAT SHE MISSED MOST DURING LOCKDOWN
“I haven't seen my parents for two years. Not being able to see family and friends has been the hardest part for me,” Paula says.
She was born in Harare, Zimbabwe but moved to the UK when she was in her teens. Her parents and other members of her family are still in Zim.
WHAT SHE DOES DURING HER LEISURE TIME
“I've been going swimming a lot,” Paula tells us. “I bought a
wetsuit and it’s been quite a revelation – the beaches here are actually quite
nice. It’s not South Africa but they are nice beaches.
I’ve also been taking lots of walks, and going to galleries – that kind of stuff I find really helpful for the creative process, for thinking about the new book, or, you know, thinking about new ideas.”
ON HOW MANY BOOKS SHE READS EVERY MONTH
“I’d say probably about six a month. In 2019 and 2020 I was judging the Women's Prize in the UK so then it was like a crazy number of books. I think I had to read about 100 in a few months, so that was very intense, but enjoyable. I'm not one of those writers who can't read when they're writing. I want to read all the time.”
HOW IT FEELS TO RELEASE A NEW BOOK KNOWING FANS HAVE SUCH GREAT EXPECTATIONS
"It's uncomfortable but then I should not complain because, obviously, that expectation comes from the success of The Girl on the Train and there are lots of writers who would love to have that level of expectation. It means people will review you, people will talk about it and that is a good thing. However, obviously from the inside, it's nerve wracking when you know that a lot of people will be waiting to see what you do next and they’ll have views about it.”