When I started writing in 2009, I never thought that one day I would end up as a thriller writer. I rarely read thrillers myself and when I did, I couldn’t understand what attracted people to this genre. For me, blood and any form of slaughter were not exciting, just disgusting I have to admit though, there wasn’t a lot that I knew of the genre and probably lumped all novels together. There were no corpses in my early stories; it was never about physical survival for my main characters. Instead, I wrote about young women trying to find their place in life. Like the story of the sausage seller Lisa, who escapes from her small village to a big city because she believes she will find a better life there – but, of course, she is wrong. I assumed that I had written a coming of age story, full of absurdities and crude humour. Although there was also a bit of suffering as the shadow of her mother’s suicide still lay upon Lisa. I used this element more like a literary tool to show that no place in the world will ever make you happy as long as you don't face your own inner demons. Still, if I had been asked what genre this story fits into, I would have immediately said: It's mostly a comedy.
In fact, this book was released – and it was a big flop. I got four or five rather mixed reviews and that only because I gave the book away in various book groups. Funnily enough, in the end I actually became a thriller writer because of a rather disastrous review. It said: “Dear Romy, next time please write about what you probably understand more of: mass murderers, psychopaths or little boys who drown newborn cats – but don't disguise this psychological nightmare with a cute cover and sell it as a funny novel”.
You could say that I hadn't even noticed what kind of story I had apparently written and how it had affected my handful of readers (poor them!).
Well, I still don't think that I write about mass murderers and I would never let a kitten drown. But eventually I did find my literary home in psychological thriller writing. I believe that it is not only blood or scary creaking stairs that make a thriller captivating for us readers, but the emotions of the main characters that we cannot escape. Deep down, we all long for the same things: security, love, attention. And it is also the same thing that we fear: loss in any form. The loss of a loved one, the loss of the life we know, the loss of control. I did a lot of research on the human psyche, especially anxiety, and found out that in psychology, a distinction is made between fear as a state and fear as a trait. While the fear of a state is a temporary emotion resulting from a real danger (like creaking stairs), the trait anxiety leads to situations being assessed as dangerous even without an acute threat. So, in a figurative sense, I still write about the Lisas of this world, normal people with fears that have consolidated through their personal life experiences and that have developed their character. And then I create an external threat that confronts them with these very fears. But – just like us real people – the characters try to evade this confrontation. Either they try to repress it or eliminate it as quickly as possible and by all means necessary. Both ways are risky, and so the characters become the greatest danger to themselves.
You will see what I mean by this in my debut thriller Dear Child. Yes, there is a crime, there are corpses, a cracking skull and a little blood. But above all, there are main characters who want to protect themselves from loss – the loss of their family, of their view of the world and of their own identity.
And that's exactly what I learned to love about the thriller genre. It's a genre with so many possibilities. It is so much more than superficial horror. There is room for psychological studies and great emotions. It can reflect our society and make us not only bite our nails but also think. Who would have ever thought that a sausage seller made me realise that?
Sleepless by Romy Hausmann (Quercus Publishing) Out Now
It's over, my angel. Today I'm going to die. Just like her. He's won. It's been years since Nadja Kulka was convicted of a cruel crime. After being released from prison, she's wanted nothing more than to live a normal life: nice flat, steady job, even a few friends. But when one of those friends, Laura von Hoven - free-spirited beauty and wife of Nadja's boss - kills her lover and begs Nadja for her help, Nadja can't seem to be able to refuse. The two women make for a remote house in the woods, the perfect place to bury a body. But their plan quickly falls apart and Nadja finds herself outplayed, a pawn in a bizarre game in which she is both the perfect victim and the perfect murderer...