When I set out to write my second novel, my main aim was to write the kind of book I like to read: a fast-paced, twisty thriller with deeply buried secrets and complex female characters. I wanted to write about an intense, intoxicating friendship where the emotional stakes are high and the consequences of any fallout catastrophic. And as any woman will tell you, there are few periods in a woman’s life as emotionally charged as adolescence and few relationships as intense and pivotal as the friendships we forge in those heady teenage years. There is a kind of energy, a rawness of emotion that comes with being at an age when you’re full of hormones that makes every snide comment, every small betrayal feel colossal and life altering.
I’m not the only author to be seduced by the mercurial highs and lows of early friendships. The volatility of teenage friendship, particularly teenage female friendship is often explored in psychological thrillers. Why? At its best, a teenage friendship can be enlightening and supportive, intense and joyful, the experience of finding a new best friend a lot like that of falling in love. But underneath the strawberry-flavoured lip-gloss and heartfelt promises to stay friends forever, there are often layers of anger, insecurity, guilt and conflicting loyalties to be found. When a friendship turns sour, with hormones and insecurities running high, the results are often catastrophic.
A group of close girlfriends is fertile breeding ground for deep-seated resentments, bitter competition and simmering jealousies, particularly when a new girl enters an established group and upsets the existing hierarchy. Everyone has a tipping point. The question is who will reach that tipping point first? And when they do, who will they unleash their rage on and to what effect? Boys might fight but girls engage in far subtler and infinitely more damaging forms of torment. Subtle comments, misinterpreted actions, and petty arguments can lead to dangerous, even fatal consequences that reverberate far into the future.
All of which makes for great drama and serves up the two crucial elements of a taut psychological thriller: high stakes and a sense of urgency and inevitability.
As adults we’re all haunted by our adolescence. We look for ways to go back and make sense of the moments that dictated our futures. In Can You See Me Now?, my protagonist Alia finds herself continually drawn back to her adolescence and to the intense, claustrophobic friendship she shared with Sabah, the strait-laced queen bee who repelled and dazzled in equal measure and Noor, the mercurial force who unleashed in Alia a hunger that still drives her years later. She is haunted by a secret so dark, it has the power to destroy everything she’s worked for and so alluring, she can’t bear to leave it alone.
The result, I hope, is a psychological thriller so compelling that it keeps you up long past your bedtime as well as a story that investigates what happens when teenage restlessness and ambition collide and when friends who once loved each other find themselves capable of dark and devastating deceit.
Trisha Sakhlecha is the author of Can You See Me Now? Published in February 2021 by Pan Macmillan
Can You See Me Now is a gripping psychological suspense thriller about a young Indian woman, now a government minister, whose past secrets are about to reverberate into the present and shatter her life. Fifteen years ago, three sixteen-year-old girls meet at Wescott, an exclusive private school in India. Two, Sabah and Noor, are the most popular girls in their year. One, Alia, is a new arrival from England, who feels her happiness depends on their acceptance. Before she knows it, Sabah and Noor's intoxicating world of privilege and intimacy opens up to Alia and, for the first time, after years of neglect from her parents, she feels she is exactly where, and with whom, she belongs. But with intimacy comes jealousy, and with privilege, resentment, and Alia finds that it only takes one night for her bright new world to shatter around her. Now Alia, a cabinet minister in the Indian government, is about to find her secrets have no intention of staying buried ...