Apple Tree Yard author Louise Doughty on her latest thriller
- Credit: Archant
The Kentish Town author’s Platform Seven explores controlling relationships and is nominated for both a crime writing award and a TV adaptation
Louise Doughty likes to write about people and places that aren’t usually written about.
From a married woman’s disastrous middle-aged fling in Apple Tree Yard, to a genocide in Indonesia in Black Water, she has often scoured the dark psychology of human behaviour.
Her latest - being prepped for TV treatment - is a ghostly thriller set in the unlikely environs of Peterborough railway station.
Doughty has connections to the Fenland New Town - her father grew up near the station, and she would visit grandparents and aunts from her home in nearby Rutland.
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“Changing at Peterborough for the line to Oakham used to be a standing joke,” says the Kentish Town author.
“University in Leeds, change at Peterborugh. MA in Norwich, change at Peterborough. Move to London, change at Peterborough.
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“Since my parents died, I don’t change trains there anymore. I am glad I have written about that part of the world and wonder if I did before it all slipped away for good. “It’s weird how novels can come from a deeper level - this is about how we live on in the hearts of people who loved us.”
Thus Platform Seven is set in an oft neglected city that’s forever “too far from London and not close enough”.
“I had a strong image of a ghost trapped on Peterborough Railway station who has no memory of who or what she is. I wrote the first chapter in Lisa’s voice and the central question was did she jump or was she pushed?
“For research I interviewed a retired judge who said: ‘this is Peterborough she was definitely pushed.’ But it’s actually really hard to murder someone on a railway station, it’s CCTV-ed to within an inch of its life.”
It emerges that Lisa’s untimely death is linked to her tryst with the handsome but controlling Matty.
“I wanted her relationship to have caused her death - not as straightforward as murder - but there are ways a toxic relationship can still be fatal.”
Doughty researched “the subtle ways one person can manipulate another” through coercive control and a phenomenon called Charming Man Syndrome.
“It always starts off incredibly romantic. Flowers, turning up on your doorstep to cook you breakfast, notes saying ‘you belong to me,’ but it curdles into something toxic and controlling.
“In many ways Platform Seven is an anti romance about the flip side of ‘love’”.
Exploring Lisa and Matty’s romance in flashback, Doughty shows how a confident woman with family and friends gets swept away by the dashing doctor.
“I made him tall and dark to play with the stereotype of what young women are supposed to aspire to. For a woman of 36 there is still so much pressure from society to be in a romantic relationship. That can trick all of us into ignoring our gut feeling. Lisa ignores those nagging things about Matty being possessive because it’s the sort of thing she’s supposed to want. It’s horribly easy to get sucked in. These men can pretty much get any of us. I don’t think anyone can say that happens to other sorts of women.”
As the omniscient narrator Lisa describes the lives and loves of the people who work at the station before being released to roam the city and track down the man responsible for her death - in the process recovering her memory of who she was.
An indefatigable researcher, Doughty spent nights with station staff and days pounding Peterborough’s streets.
“It’s a strange town, an example of 60s and 70s urban planning that didn’t really work. It’s very unpedestrian-friendly, with so many people living in economically deprived areas, and even something as important as the community hospital hard to reach on foot.
“I deliberately created a character who didn’t drive and lived in those anonymous modern developments, with no character or sense of a community.
She adds: “Some have commented that I write about people who don’t normally get written about and that pleased me because novels should reflect the diversity of lives as they are lived. I’m always looking for people and places that don’t normally appear in novels and believe passionately that people who work on railway stations have the same complexity and depth as people who run art galleries in north London.”
Now locked down in Kentish Town trying to write a novel about a woman who is on the run, she has realised “how much my imagination is fired by concrete reality and trips to hunt the novel down. Like many writers I will have to adapt to a new way of working firing the imagination through reading and online research.”
The same producer who developed Apple Tree Yard for TV is now working on Platform Seven - although “it would be a foolish author who thought it was a done deal”.
But the 2017 hit was a gamechanger for Doughty.
“That can be a hindrance if it’s your first novel and you feel you can’t replicate it, but success of that sort came pretty late for me, I have been doing this for 25 years. “It’s meant not having to do anything else apart from write books, which is such a privilege.”
Platform Seven (Faber&Faber) is out now in paperback and has been longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Award alongside 17 other titles. The public are invited to narrow them down to a shortlist of six by June 8.