“There are two tragedies in life,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” Unfortunately, the desires so often lusted after when we are too young to know any better can carry perilous and sometimes deadly consequences. Such is the premise of U.K. author Elizabeth Hill’s gripping debut novel, Killing the Girl. A buried body about to be unearthed. Lies that are hidden in the past. Will Hill’s protagonist escape justice or pay for the sins of her friends? Who else deserves to die?
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the greatest influence on your storytelling style.
A: I joined the library when I was young and was an avid reader. Many writers have influenced me from Christie to Lawrence to King. One book stands out that made me want to write and that was, Stolen by Deborah Moggach. My previous career was mainly in credit management and litigation, but writing was my dream. Unfortunately, my spinal problems worsened, and by summer 2018, I decided that it was time to leave the 5.30am alarm clock and see if I could start a new career.
Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your young adult self? Now?
A: Nancy Drew was a favorite, then Christie and many mystery writers, though I read many by Graham Greene in my late teens. Now it’s anything with a mystery, and there are too many talented writers to name them. Jane Harper is one stand out.
Q: You classify Killing The Girl as “domestic noir.” What prompted you to choose such a dark genre for your debut novel?
A: I wanted to write about the reasons women kill, (those that aren’t serial killers), and decided that for my first novel the premise would be a relationship between lovers. My principal character set out on her doomed path to fall in love with the gorgeous Frankie and told me about what pushed her to the point where she killed him.
Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?
A: Relationships going wrong, dreams being thwarted, and people using and abusing others. Killing The Girl is about relationships between women and lovers, Killing The Shadowman is about relationships between women and their fathers. My third novel will be about women’s relationships with their mothers—that will be called, ‘Killing The ‘Something’.
Q: Tell us about the story’s setting. Is it a real place or one which exists only inside your head?
A: The place setting is imaginary but vaguely set on a range of hills south of Bristol, UK. There was a possibility of a ring road being built years ago around these hills. That’s where the idea sprang from—what if your house was demolished for a ring road and you had buried someone in your garden…
Q: Oftentimes what we perceive to be a dream life when we are younger can become the stuff of nightmares when seen through the prism of adult perspective. Such was the tortured path you crafted for your main character, Carol. During the development of the story, did you ever feel badly about giving her so many wicked obstacles?
A: No. I wanted to push her to her limit, and I wanted the reader to react against what she was accepting as normal behavior, but also to understand that she was young and naïve. Many women put up with abuse and I hoped that the story would make them think about what they would accept – or not – and recognize cohesive behavior if they were in that kind of relationship.
Q: If Carol could be offered a single do-over, what would it be?
A: To learn to become independent and gain self-confidence.
Q: What are the prevalent themes in Killing The Girl, and why did you choose them?
A: The themes are, ‘go careful what you wish for’, and ‘you can’t make someone love you’ -both chosen to illustrate that you have to accept life’s limitations and make your own way despite the many set-backs you encounter.
Q: What governed the decision to write Carol’s story in first person rather than third?
A: The first drafts were in third person (there were eighteen drafts!) but one day I started writing and Carol ‘took over’ so the novel had to be re-written. I’m glad I changed it as, to me, the first person is more effective and Carol came ‘alive’ on the page.
Q: The plot is split between 1970 and present-day. How is this an effective device for the development of the plot and its characters?
A: The time zone was used to illustrate the difference in women’s lives. In the 1970s, especially in working-class backgrounds, the primary aim for every woman was marriage—also encouraged by their families and society. The Equal Pay Act came into effect in 1970 but we didn’t see a great change in pay straight away. Many women couldn’t afford to leave home without marriage, even if they had a reasonable job. That spurred many women to marry too young and be trapped in a life of domesticity before they had developed a sense of who they were as people.
Q: How did you come up with the title?
A: The title was originally, ‘Wicked’, but one day, as I was re-writing part two, it just announced itself. She had to ‘kill’ the girl she was and grow to accept her part in what had happened.
Q: Why have you chosen to write about women and why they kill?
A: The market is full of men who kill women and I wanted to be different. It’s easier for me to write from a woman’s perspective as that can be based on what I’ve experienced in general, or seen happen to others – not that my friends and I have killed any boyfriends! The premise is much more interesting as this type of killer is not as prolific and therefore more original.
Q: Would women make good serial killers of random victims, or are they psychologically attuned to only kill those who personally harm them?
A: There are very few women serial killers (that we know about) compared to men so maybe they are good, as they have escaped justice and kept under the radar. To me, women kill for different reasons and often because they are pushed to the limits of endurance, rather than killing being a main option.
Q: Tell us about your writing process (i.e., how many drafts do you write, do you re-write/edit early drafts, do you allow anyone to read your work in progress?).
A: I write many drafts, and many fresh drafts, deleting thousands of words, until I’m happy. Then I send it to beta readers and pay attention to all feedback before implementing all relevant changes. I also use a story editor and a proof-reader/line editor.
Q: What’s the takeaway for your readers after they finish the book?
A: I hope that they are surprised at the ending in a way that makes them reflect on life and that the story stays with them a while after reading the last page. That the novel makes them think about how someone can focus on their own life so much that they miss something surprising right under their nose. That the story illustrates how entwined our lives can be and what friendship means to them.
Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?
A: Accept that your first draft will be terrible but contain everything you want to say. Never correct it or re-write that awful first draft. Open a new document and have the original beside it, then go through each scene and chapter writing the new draft, bearing in mind that you now know what will happen and the path each character takes. This will produce a fresh, generic draft that will save you time in the long run and will be more original.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: To finish Killing The Shadowman.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: My new world of writers and readers is a lovely place and I’m grateful to all my new writer friends for their assistance, the giving of their time, and sharing their experience with me. Although writing is at times stressful, and a solitary pursuit, there is always another writer who has ‘been there, done that’ to listen, or to point in the right direction for help and resources. For that I am truly thankful.