Here To Stay - how it happened

Opinion - Books Thursday, 29 August 2019

Bestselling thriller writer Mark Edwards explains the genesis of his latest book, Here To Stay – The in-laws from hell. When the in-laws come and stay and then refuse to leave...

Do you know how hard it is to get rid of guests who outstay their welcome? Before researching my new novel, Here To Stay, I thought it would be easy. I imagined you would simply have to call the police, who would turn up and escort the unwanted visitors from your home. Then I spoke to a solicitor who specialises in property law and discovered that the police wouldn’t get involved. Instead, you would find yourself embroiled in a complex, expensive and extremely lengthy process.

If all attempts to resolve the situation between yourselves—such as finding your guests somewhere else to live—fail and you are forced to go down the legal route, it can take at least six months to get them out. Almost certainly longer, depending on how clogged-up your local courts are. It could take a year, or more. You would be stuck with them.

This is the situation the unfortunate protagonist of my new psychological thriller, Here To Stay, finds himself in after his in-laws come to visit. Elliot has been living alone with his cat until a whirlwind romance leads to marriage to Gemma, and on the day they return from their honeymoon she asks if her parents and sister can come to stay ‘just for a couple of weeks’. Eager to please, he agrees. But very soon, as his life becomes a waking nightmare and he grows convinced his wife’s parents are evil, Elliot comes to regret it deeply.

The initial idea for the book came from a story I heard about a family friend. He still lived at home with his parents and sister when he got married. He moved his new wife in to the family home — and two months later she moved out and began divorce proceedings. This triggered my imagination. What must it have been like for her in that house? How bad must it have been for her to terminate her marriage so quickly? It seemed like a perfect setting for a domestic thriller.

Initially, I was going to use the same situation, but instead of my hero moving in with his new in-laws I thought it would be more interesting to flip it. An Englishman’s home is his castle, as they say. What would happen if this castle-sweller invited the invaders across the drawbridge and through the gates? It’s much harder to flee your own home than it is to escape from someone else’s (assuming they don’t have you chained up in their basement).

I started writing this book at a writing retreat in southern France, an idyllic place in which to dream up terrible events. With a poor wi-fi connection and no one to disturb me, I spent six days locked away in a small room and was fed and lavished with wine in the evenings. If I got stuck I could walk along the nearby Rhone. By the end of that six days I had written 21,000 words and had a long list of dreadful things my fictional in-laws were going to do during their reign of terror.

I set out to create characters who readers would love to hate. I wanted readers to boil with rage and frustration, to want to reach into the pages and throttle my baddies. I wanted to capture how I felt when I first read Stephen King as a young teenager: tense, scared and unsure if everything was going to turn out all right in the end. King has always been great at breathing life into both ordinary people and ordinary monsters. The cruel, violent, destructive psychopaths who live among us. Those are the people who most interest me as a writer. I like to set them loose among nice, normal folk and see what happens.

Another role model for my writing was Ira Levin. Levin only wrote a handful of novels but what a hit rate. A Kiss Before Dying, The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil and, best of all, Rosemary’s Baby. Like King, Ira Levin excelled at crafting the kind of monsters who live next door—literally, in Rosemary’s Baby. When the Satanists gather at the climax of that book, we see, along with Rosemary, the true nature of these people who seem so banal, so normal.

I wanted Jeff and Lizzy, the in-laws in Here To Stay, to be like that. Slowly, Elliot realises that he has invited evil into his home, his castle. And if the law won’t help him, he is going to have to find other ways to fight back. But, as Nietzsche warned, 'he who fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.'

Here To Stay is published by Thomas & Mercer in hardback on 1 September at £20

Mark Edwards is speaking at Capital Crime on 27 September with Lisa Jewell Tickets at:

Mark Edwards has sold over two million books since his first novel, The Magpies, was published in 2013, and has topped the bestseller lists several times. His other novels include
Follow You Home, The Retreat, In Her Shadow, Because She Loves Me, The Devil’s Work and The Lucky Ones.

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