Erin Kelly on Obsession
Obsessive love, that place where infatuation tips into pathology, is the most exciting madness of them all. It’s catnip to a writer of psychological thrillers, and has been at the heart of all my novels.
Posted on February 4, 2015 in Guest Author
Tags: Erin Kelly, infatuation, love, obsession, writing
Obsessive love, that place where infatuation tips into pathology, is the most exciting madness of them all. It’s catnip to a writer of psychological thrillers, and has been at the heart of all my novels. The Sick Rose deals with obsession in its most obvious sense; a love affair out of control. In it, Louisa transfers obsession with her dead lover onto his young doppelganger, with fatal results. The Poison Tree was about a claustrophobic friendship between two young women that starts in a university corridor and ends with a double murder. The Burning Air was about an intense, co-dependent mother-and-child relationship, the shockwaves of which devastate another generation.
I’m fascinated as a writer by obsession, and the stranger the better. Some people’s primary relationship is with the house they live in, for example. I’m interested in how far they would go to protect it. For others, the love of money, or the fear of its lack, motivates everything they do. Obsession is part of life. Eating disorders, compulsive cleaning, playing online poker till the sun’s coming up and the money’s all gone… It is the symptom of every addiction.
On the surface of it, my latest book The Ties That Bind is about sexual obsession…. or at least that is how I began it. All my books start as a kind of scene, a short film that replays itself in my head over and over, and the one that kicked off Ties was this: two strangers sleep together. One of these people thinks this is probably a fling; in the morning, the other goes out to get breakfast, and comes back with their new lover’s name tattooed on their skin. Please let’s not delve into the murk of my subconscious and think too hard about why this particular daydream was so persistent. But persist it did, and over time those two faceless figures became Luke, a young, penniless but ambitious writer, and Jem, an older, better-looking, ostensibly more sophisticated man with all the emotional restraint of a randy teenager on his first date. What interested me was Luke’s reaction to Jem’s infatuation. If someone did that to you the morning after a one-night stand, would you think it was romantic, or would you gather up your clothes and flee for your life? I knew that Luke would stay, and I had to find out why. As soon as I realised that Jem’s obsession was countered by something even stronger in Luke – ambition so fierce he would that he would stay in an unhealthy relationship to finance his career – I had unlocked my story.
When Jem gets too much even for Luke, he runs away to the backstreets of Brighton, where he finds the story that he thinks will make his career; an unsolved gangland murder from the 1960s. As his interest quickens, his blinkers go up, and he’s blind to the danger he’s putting himself in. By the end of the book, Luke will put his life on the line to get the story he thinks will make his career. His new friend Sandy, whose magnificent seafront house is falling down around her ears, considers herself ‘married to her career’ and when this relationship breaks down, the effects are as devastating as a bitter divorce. That’s the thing about obsession; grounded in fantasy, it is immature and unrealisable and there must always come a moment when the obsessed realises they’ve poured their soul into nothing. These are the moments my books chase towards.
Luke, Jem and Sandy all dealt with reality’s intrusion in different ways. The fun for me as a writer was finding out whether any, or all, of them would survive.
I’m drawn to obsession again in the book I’m writing now, which is about a young couple who are stalked by someone they tried to help. It is the one subject that keeps firing me. In fact, you could say I’m obsessed with it.