Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith was the first psychological thriller I ever read. The plot was utterly brilliant. Two men meet on a train, and by the end of their journey they have formed a twisted plan to swap murders. They can’t possibly get caught for their actions, because they are complete strangers to their intended victims. There is only one problem with their plan. Only one of them is a psychopath. This was not a whodunit, but about motivations in the mind of a killer.
It was probably ten years later before I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s take on the story. My dad didn’t read at all, he left school when he was ten and a half, and he wanted me to see this great film. I remember telling him I’d read the book, and him replying, ‘I bet you wish you’d known there was a film.’ Like it was a hardship for me to have read it when I could have just watched it.
Patricia Highsmith put me on the road to reading every other type of thriller story thereafter. My interest never waned. I think it’s the satisfaction of seeing all the clues comes together that keeps me glued this genre. After the thrill of chasing for the conclusion in my mind. I think I would have enjoyed being a detective. And in fact wanted to join the police when I was 18. My mum said I was too short. That I had to be five foot four. But even if I were half an inch taller, becoming a police officer was never on the cards. My mum had other plans for me. I was to be a nurse.
She was right, of course. I was a natural from day one. I found it easy to communicate with patients and put them at their ease. Nursing is a very hands on job and the last thing a patient needs is to feel self-conscious. As one minute you’re looking at their face, the next you’re inspecting their bottom. As that then causes problems. You don’t want someone with a broken hip, or worse, trying to cover up their privates or refusing to use a bedpan.
So nursing was then my career and for many years it’s what I did.
Until one day after working a night shift, I came home intending only to take the children to school and myself then to bed, I picked up a pen and notebook and began writing a story. I don’t know what triggered it. Nothing in particular stands out from that night. It was a normal night for accident and emergency. I just remember feeling edgy, and having this need to write. Once started it then became impossible to stop. I was drawn in by characters I was creating and feeling an excitement building from where this plot was going. Weeks passed and every notepad I possessed had been filled in. Until one day it was finally finished. When I knew there was nothing more to be said. There was only one thing then left to do, and that was to read it.
It was after doing this when writing truly began for me. I enjoyed the story. It was bizarre, because even knowing what was to happen, I was feeling a tension and was wanting to get to the end to see everything turn out all right.
So I look back and ask myself how did it ever begin? Was it my love of reading that started it? Or was it something deeper that scratched at the surface? Repressed feelings? Or from a study of human nature? Nursing exposes you to traumatic events. Severe injuries, death, suicide and suffering. To characters with psychological complexities. Why does that woman stay with him? Why keep letting him beat her up? Why is that teenager self-harming? Why won’t that child sit with her mummy? Why did that lad kick another lad’s head?
With every patient you end up taking a little bit of their story away with you. Because you care and you feel and because what happened is real. I think one possibility, is that having stored away lots of memories, my mind decided to have a sort out. To free up some space in the hard drive. To save it from a crash.
The Silent Mother by Liz Lawler (Bookoutre) Out Now
‘I’m so very sorry. But your son is dead.’ As I hear the words every mother dreads my pulse races and I go cold. But even as my world turns upside down I know the things I’m being told just don’t add up. I have to find out what really happened the night my beautiful boy died… The police tell me it was a tragedy no one could have prevented. But then they reveal the terrible things Tom was keeping from me. The person they describe is nothing like the decent, honest man I raised. Newly qualified as a doctor, Tom had such a bright future ahead of him. A mother knows her own child. And I’m determined to prove my son’s innocence. It’s the last thing I will ever be able to do for him. So I have come to the city where he lived and moved into his empty flat under a different name. When I discover his diary, it becomes clear his death wasn’t an accident. And as I get to know Tom’s friends and neighbours I realise they’re all keeping secrets. But as I get closer to the truth, I realise my life is in danger too…
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Liz Lawler grew up sharing pants, socks, occasionally a toothbrush, sleeping four to a bed. Born in Chatham and partly raised in Dublin, she is one of fourteen children. She spent over twenty years as a nurse and has since fitted in working as a flight attendant, a general manager of a five star hotel, and is now working with trains. She became an author in 2017 when her debut novel Don’t Wake Up was published by Twenty7.