Carrie Magillen is the No1 bestselling author of When He’s Not Here.
She lives Hampshire in the UK with her husband and two American Cocker Spaniels and loves writing insanely dark and twisty psychological thrillers.
AJ Wills caught up with her to talk about training her brain with incense, misleading readers and a creative writing education at three different universities.
Where do you live?
Near Winchester. In a tiny village where you get lots of leaflets for stairlifts.
How many books have you published?
Two - When He's Not Here and Stone The Dead Crows.
How long have you been writing?
Fifteen years. What?! And only two books, I hear you say?!I studied creative writing for six years (at three universities in different countries) before writing a science fiction magnum opus I never published. My first thriller came out in 2020.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I wrote my first book when I was about fourteen. It was truly, truly awful.
Do you write full-time?
Yes. I have a wonderfully supportive husband.
Who are your favourite authors? Who's inspired you?
I love stories that surprise me and don’t get attached to individual authors. But SJ Watson, Sarah Pinborough, Gillian Flynn, and Elizabeth Haynes inspired me to write thrillers.
What does your writing day look like?
I have to set strict deadlines or the work expands to fit the time available. Once I’ve plotted a new book, my daily word count is automatically calculated from the deadline. Usually, 3,000 words per day. On a rough day, that could take eight hours, on a good day it could take three. It depends on whether the muse shows up, she’s an erratic pain in the arse!
Do you plan your books in advance or discover as you go along?
A bit of both. My characters have conversations that I feel like I’m transcribing; they have minds of their own. But my plots are complex and lead to major twists that take planning. With every chapter I have to make sure my reader is heading in the right direction, just on a completely different path to the one they think they’re on. Readers often go back and read them again, wanting to be on the real path. I like it when they do that.
Where do you write?
All over the house. I tend to change rooms with a new book, it sort of resets my mind with a new story. But I always have the same backdrop on my screen, listen to the same playlist, and burn the same incense. I’ve trained my brain to respond to those three senses and start writing. If I could type while eating ice cream, I’d add that to the senses too!
How do you come up with your ideas?
I have absolutely no idea. Things just pop into my head. I’m always playing out fictional scenarios in my mind: what-if moments. But I surround myself with fiction (books, TV, films) so that no doubt fills my subconscious with the nuts of ideas.
Which has been your most successful book to date?
In terms of publishing, When He’s Not Here. The agent response to that book was insane and it hit No.1 on Amazon and Audible. But in terms of personal success: Stone the Dead Crows. I get a lot of emails from readers who are really touched by that book (it’s a very emotional and unusual thriller). I got an email from an 84-year-old woman at the weekend who said it was one of the best books she’d read in her entire life and she reads 3-4 a week.I have to eat, so sales are lovely, but touching readers… that’s what it's really about.
If readers are new to your work – which book of yours do you recommend starting with?
Stone the Dead Crows because it’s my personal favourite. I write what I like to read (thriller, horror, sci-fi) and I read for escapism, which means my thrillers aren’t hard-boiled. You need to be able to suspend disbelief for a few hours and want to be swept away. If you want a taster, you can read a free novella called Sly Trap for a Fox, it’s a bit wacky but fun!
What are you currently working on?
A new case for psychologist Saeed Sharif. The working title is The Black-Painted Widow. Rita is in a high-security psychiatric hospital for attempting to stab her partner to death. She can’t remember what he did to provoke her, but he’s now at home with her very naive and innocent daughter, Kristen. Rita needs to remember what her partner did to provoke her and get out before the worst possible thing happens to Kristen.
Tell us about your latest release.
Stone the Dead Crows is my newest release, it came out at the end of last year in all formats. The audiobook is my favourite; Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) and Louise Brealey (Sherlock) are phenomenal. They move me to tears with their performances… and I already know what’s going to happen, LOL.
Carrie Magillen is the No.1 bestselling author of When He’s Not Here. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and two hairy children American Cocker Spaniels. She has tame hobbies like growing vegetables, sewing and embroidery, yet writes insanely dark and twisting psychological thrillers that will keep you up at night and leave your head spinning long after you close the book.
Carrie Magillenwas talking to AJ Wills, the bestselling author of multiple psychological thrillers. He was a journalist for more than twenty years and has been writing full-time since March 2021. He's married to fellow thriller writer, AJ McDine.