A gripping psychological thriller from the bestselling author of Follow You Home and The Magpies.
It was the job she had dreamed of since childhood. But on her very first day, when an unnerving encounter drags up memories Sophie Greenwood would rather forget, she wonders if she has made a mistake. A fatal mistake.
What is her ambitious young assistant really up to? And what exactly happened to Sophie’s predecessor? When her husband and daughter are pulled into the nightmare, Sophie is forced to confront the darkest secrets she has carried for years.
As her life begins to fall apart at work and at home, Sophie must race to uncover the truth about her new job…before it kills her.
Mark grew up on the south coast of England and starting writing in his twenties while working in a number of dead-end jobs. He lived in Tokyo for a year before returning to the UK and starting a career in marketing. As well as a full-time writer, Mark is a stay at home dad for his three children, his wife and a ginger cat.
1) While a slightly generic question, what sparked the idea for The Devil’s Work?
I’ve written a number of novels that can be described as ‘X from hell’ – neighbors, relationship, vacation – and The Devil’s Work is my ‘office from hell’ book. But that wasn’t the original intention. I have long-wanted to write a novel set at a college (or university as we say in the UK), partly because I’ve always loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History but also because it’s a fascinating setting. All those young people making sense of the world, becoming adults, forming cliques. In my head I had an image of a young, nervous woman on her first day away from home, surrounded by intimidating crowds – and then another young woman, dressed in black, cigarette in hand, approaches her.
That became the basis of the college chapters of The Devil’s Work: a friendship, Sophie and Jasmine, that turns into a bizarre love triangle and a disappearance. I wrote those chapters first. They were easy. But as soon as I started writing them I knew they would only be the start of Sophie and Jasmine’s story. I wanted to know what happened to Sophie. And that’s when the ‘office from hell’ idea kicked in.
2) Was anything drawn from real-life for the story idea, perhaps an unnerving psychological conflict that became manifested due to the stresses of a real-life day job?
A lot of it was based on my wife’s experiences at work. We used to work together (it’s where we met) and after she returned from maternity leave – which is quite generous in the UK – she was immediately promoted to lead a small team. Over the coming months I watched her strain get to her, the pressures from above (management) and below (her staff) squeeze her till she almost cracked.
A few years later, I worked at another company as the marketing director. Shortly after taking the job, my writing career started to take off and I had to juggle the two. Although my boss was outwardly supportive I was convinced he wanted rid of me, that he was watching me, interviewing my staff about me, looking for excuses to fire me. He used to keep me locked in meetings for hours, in a tiny room with no windows. It turned out I wasn’t being paranoid – he really was out to get me. I quit just before I was fired.
3) 3) What about the psychological thriller genre piques your interest the most? Are there types of psychological thrillers that are weaker than others? How many sub-genres does this genre have, in your opinion?
I didn’t originally set out to write psychological thrillers. I originally wanted to be a horror writer. For me, the fun of writing is to create characters and then make them suffer, to throw an increasingly horrific set of problems at them and see how they cope. But I decided early on that I didn’t want to write about vampires and demons. My monsters would always be people. That’s what fascinates me: how cruel, psychotic, dangerous characters roam among us, preying on ‘ordinary’ people. I suppose I am writing about myself and my own conflicts with nightmare neighbors, sneaky bosses, jealous girlfriends, etc, and exaggerating those situations for dramatic effect. I’m not interested in writing about heroes. The great strength of the psychological thriller is that it features people like us, dealing with our greatest fears.
I don’t know how many sub-genres this genre has, but the dominant sub-genre right now is ‘domestic noir’, eg Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. It feels like everybody is writing one and I wonder when we are going to reach saturation point. There are only so many times readers will want to read a book about a toxic marriage, surely?
4) Further, how do you strike the balance in the craft of writing a psychological thriller, in a way where it doesn’t become too nebulous, scattered, but manages to strike some happy medium between psychological depth and a clear surface story?
With great difficulty! To be honest, I have no idea how I do it. But the basic show not tell rule applies. You show the characters’ psychological depths through their interactions with others, and through their behavior. You can’t spend too long inside their heads – or, at least, you shouldn’t reveal all those inner workings to the reader.
5) Are you a writer without outlines or a writer with outlines? Or are you a writer that just lets the unconscious mind take over completely?
I don’t outline. I have tried, but I find it impossible to find the story without writing it, without spending time with my characters, in their world. I have never sat down and thought about a three act structure, or worked out a narrative arc. But there is a blueprint in my head because I’ve read so many novels. I know how it works, I just don’t have any interest in breaking it down and labeling it.
The unconscious mind is a great thing. Not only does it keep track of that story blueprint, but it helps me solve the many problems I find myself confronted with. All of my books have complex plots, often with multiple points of view and timelines. They all have twists too. Writing The Devil’s Work was indescribably painful. I got myself into terrible tangles, couldn’t figure out how to make all the pieces fit together. The first draft was a hideous mess. In the end, I found that by removing one character I could make it all work, but had to rewrite 60,000 words in a month. Suddenly, the story I had always wanted to tell poured forth in a great torrent.
I wish I could outline, because it would prevent all that pain. But I can’t do it. And it would be a lot less fun.
6)A bit more conventional, what future novel ideas do you have in mind?
That’s a secret! But I have just finished writing a novel about a serial killer who wants his victims to die happy. It’s called The Lucky Ones and should be out June 2017.
7) Do you have a message for the many readers and subscribers to this blog, A Bibliophile’s Reverie?
Apart from ‘please read my books’, you mean? (Insert winking emoji here!) My message is that there is nothing a writer likes more than to hear from their readers. The great thing about the internet and social media is that it’s made it so easy for authors and readers to communicate. I’m sure in the olden days people would write fan letters, but now it’s so simple. If you read something you love, let the author know: a tweet, an email, a Facebook message, a comment on their website. We spend most of our lives locked away, unsure if anyone likes our stuff. Getting a positive message from a reader can make all the difference.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I greatly love books of this sort. The type that are unnerving, dangerously thrilling, and very circumspect when it comes to exploring every subversive layer of the human psyche. There are so many great, unwitting moments juxtaposed so expertly together in this novel- it begins as a seemingly mundane soap opera that erupts into something entirely different by story’s end. And just as you feel that you reached some critical epiphany as to figuring out the story’s puzzle, something new gets divulged and you are stuck trying to theorize once again.
It will thrill and elude you at all the right moments, so this definitely gets a recommendation from me. My only criticism, as all reviews of any sort require some criticism, is that there were time that some of the aspects of the story defied realism and sometimes descended into camp, which was fine by me once the story set itself back again on much firmer, less campier grounds-when a new revelation was revealed and caught you unawares.
Overall, even with the snags of some pesky camp, it is was still good enough for me to consider checking out more of Mark Edward’s works, as I felt very invested in the characters and the thriller/suspenseful aspects that were otherwise very well done, almost to an enviable degree, at least from the perspective of a novice writer like myself.
So if you’re looking for something thrilling, surprising, and subversive, then this may be up your alley. This genre is definitely a favorite of mine for sure!