Each week, we invite our Crime Cymru authors to tell us a bit about themselves and their writing. This week, Louise Mullins talks about the films and novels that have inspired her writing, how classics can influence modern literature and how this is reflected in her work.
I’ve thought a lot about the things that influence my writing and I think it all stems from childhood. I’ve always loved to read, to escape into another world. And crime fiction was probably the first genre that really caught my attention. Starting with Enid Blyton and the characters in her novels who investigated mysteries. Even the cartoons I watched, Scooby Doo for instance, involved detecting crimes. I probably watched – in secret – many films I shouldn’t have, The Exorcist, for one. When I hit my teens it was a nineties thriller fest of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream. I read Junk by Melvin Burgess about fifty times before my fourteenth birthday. I had a love of all things gothic and as I grew older began to appreciate the earlier works of Hitchcock and Hamilton.
I read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca during lockdown and rewatched Psycho, Rear Window and Gaslight. I bought about a hundred old Harlequin Mills & Boon romances and stayed up late devouring Karen Robards’ books and old Hallmark films. Reigniting the spark that had begun my interest in the dark and complex psychological suspense genre. It was these as well as Thelma and Louise and those films that Marlon Brando and James Dean starred in that helped me develop the idea for my latest novel: Love You Bad. Which is a return to my earlier works, including a married couple who are withholding information from one another and lying to each other. Add to this a detective investigating a cold case, the disappearance of their au pair, a daughter with behavioural problems, and a gothic mansion on a hill overlooking the sea and you have Cornish weather that matches the emotions of the characters inhabiting the foreboding setting. Much like those old films where the music ratchets up to match the tension.
There are of course problems in old literature and film. Sexism, racism, and prejudice against the LGBTQIAP+ community, and a much more noticeable class system that seemed to actually impact the characters’ status and prospects, much more so than today at least, were present in just about all of them, to some extent. I’m thinking Gone With The Wind and Fire and Ice by Catherine Hart. But there are also things writers can learn from them. The structure and pace of a novel for instance. They are almost all character-driven too, the plot thickening and the suspense building based on the characters’ interactions and reactions to their surroundings. The settings too, tended to be similar to those found in a theatre, so involved much less props and were focused almost exclusively in one place: a room, a house, a street. This added to the tense atmosphere and the sense of claustrophobia which I wanted to create for Dominic and Kerensa in Love You Bad.
Love You Bad is set in Cornwall, though the village isn’t named, the story isn’t dated, nor are the characters identifiable. All the reader knows is that a man and woman live in a huge old house facing the ocean and that something terrible happened there. This was deliberate on my part because after many years of ensuring my writing included a diverse set of characters I realised that wasn’t enough. It’s far better to suggest the gender of your characters (if it is important to the plot) and let the reader imagine what they look like.
My current work in progress is about a couple too, only some of the characters are identifiable as it’s the third in my Detective Inspector Emma Locke series, set in south Wales. Wales offers a huge selection of picturesque scenery to borrow and its history contains some very dark deeds in which to steal ideas. The book I wrote and abandoned that was meant to be book three in DI Locke’s series is going to be rewritten as a historical crime novel. The character’s stories just weren’t working in a modern setting. I suppose, on reflection, the last eighteen months have assisted in a return to my writing roots. Exploring history and place and how these factors impact or are affected by a person. The overarching theme in the series is how our pasts shape our futures and, when you look at domestic dramas such as A Streetcar Named Desire or more contemporary retellings of classics such as The Wife Upstairs or The Winters it’s clear this is nothing new.
What I hope to achieve in each of my novels is to provide readers with an authentic cast of characters who are thrown a realistic set of circumstances in a difficult situation they must somehow work through to achieve their goal, whatever that may be. And I find that though their lifestyles and the scenery may be very different, the problems they must overcome: infidelity, betrayal, loss, trauma, in order to be rewarded with emotional or physical freedom, love or hope, aren’t.
The ‘Love You’ series, which involves four standalones, are domestic noir. Each novel focuses on the intimate relationship between a man and woman, it explores the power dynamics of partnerships and how things can go wrong when it is unequal. The first, Love You Gone is about a missing college student who was having a secret relationship with her tutor. Love You Dead is about domestic abuse. Love You Bad involves a woman with amnesia, whose husband is keeping a lot of secrets from her that would be deadly if she were to discover them. The sequel: I Don’t Love You, involves the couple’s daughter, who’s been accused of murder.
You can buy all of Louise’s books here.