Paula Hawkins: ‘The Secret History Inspired Me To Write Crime Fiction’

The book I am currently reading

I’ve just started The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal, a historical novel set against the backdrop of the Great Exhibition in 1851 (to be published next year). I’ve also been dipping into Talking to Women, a 1964 collection of conversations between the writer Nell Dunn and her friends – including Edna O’Brien and Pauline Boty – about work, money, sex and motherhood.

The book that changed my life

I think this is one of the questions for which I’d give a different answer to depending on which day of the week you asked me, but The Secret History by Donna Tartt was very important to me in my 20s, it inspired in me a desire to write a certain sort of crime fiction.

The book I wish I’d written

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. I love it for the sparse beauty of its prose, the unsolvable mystery at its heart, the cleverly constructed non-linear narrative and its preoccupations – tragedy, redemption, the fallibility of memory – which so closely match my own.


I’ve never read James Joyce’s Ulysses. Or Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Is that shameful?

The book that most influenced my writing

Recently I’ve been more influenced by non-fiction than fiction; by the precise, taut, restrained tone of books like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote or The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson.

The book

that is most overrated

I’m afraid I never liked Jane Eyre, not when I read it at school and not when I returned to it later – I found Mr Rochester insufferable. I did enjoy returning to the characters in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, though.

The book that changed my mind

Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, which I read when I was about 13 or 14, was quite the eye-opener for a white child growing up in southern Africa.

The last book that made me cry

Making me cry is not difficult – I weep watching adverts for the Dogs Trust – but there are two novels of the past few years that I found especially moving: Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins.

The last book that made me laugh

I’m a miserabilist, so I don’t read a great deal of comedy, but when I need cheering up I turn to Armistead Maupin, Lissa Evans and the great Nora Ephron.

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The book I couldn’t finish

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read

I’ve never read James Joyce’s Ulysses. Or Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Is that shameful?

My earliest reading memory

The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a great favourite. I was fond of Beatrix Potter, too.

My reading guilty pleasure

I feel guilty about rereading books because there are so many unread ones to get to. But that doesn’t stop me doing it – I return to the novels of Pat Barker and Atkinson time and time again.

The book I most often give as a gift

The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński.

Paula Hawkins is the author of The Girl on the Train and speaks at the Noirwich Crime Writing festival on 15 September. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Black Swan, £7.99). To order a copy for £6.87, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

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