Back in 2017 I had a conversation with a friend who has been paraplegic ever since a driver somehow managed to knock him off his motorbike into the path of an HGV. That was twenty years ago. He suggested I write a story with a paraplegic character and he wanted him to be a villain not a good guy. It’s taken me some time to find a suitable role but in the controlling Martin Curran I found I could use the positive aspects of my friend – his determination not to let his disability either define him or hold him back and his success in his career, friendships and family – and make him a complete and utter bastard.
The story starts as did the story of another friend of mine, who’ll I’ll call Steven. Steven was renovating his buy-to-let flat when someone rang the doorbell. The first thing the woman said when Steven opened the door was, ‘Hello. I’m your new tenant.’ Steven offered her the tenancy, she turned out to be a nightmare and it was downhill from there. I’ve reversed the sexes. My protagonist, Eliza, opens the door to the charming Dan.
I try to look for two or three ideas that I can weave together so if someone tells me something juicy I file it away until I find another strand that it can work with. In Invite Me In I use the tenant, a story I heard about twins, and my friend’s request for a decent part for a disabled character. Eliza Curran is miserable, trapped in her modernist concrete house with her angry, controlling husband, trying to maintain the lie of happiness for the sake of her two small children. So when their new tenant offers friendship and hints at more, she is vulnerable enough to fall in love. But who is Dan, and what does he really want?
Some early reviewers have said the characters are all unpleasant, but that they’ve enjoyed them and have been gripped in spite of it. I try not to write unpleasant people for the sake of it. Even Isabel Gardin, the manipulative au pair, has her soft side. If you look at behaviour from the standpoint that everyone is at the centre of their own story, able to comfortably justify their actions to themselves, it becomes easier to find a degree of empathy with even the most unpleasant personalities. That’s why I love writing domestic noir. There are no greedy corporations, corrupt lawyers, car chases or serial killers. These are stories of the minutiae of human life, where people act in a certain way, not because they are downright evil, but because they are bad judges of character, or haunted and unhappy, or because they are pushed into making bad decisions by circumstances beyond their control.
Invite Me In by Emma Curtis is published on 2 September by Black Swan (£7.99)