Elisabeth Carpenter talks about her exciting new thriller “The Vacancy” – Entertainment Focus
Preston-based writer Elisabeth Carpenter is releasing her new thriller “The Vacancy” today via Orion Books.
Telling the story of Rachel, a young woman who accepts a home job as an assistant to eccentric author Dorothy Winters, “The Vacancy” is one of those books you can’t let go once you started reading it. You can find out my verdict by reading my review.
I spoke to Elisabeth earlier this week to discuss the inspiration for ‘The Vacancy’, dig into the characters and find out what she’s going to do next…
Your new book ‘The Vacancy’ is out today. How do you feel about this?
Nervous, I’m always nervous when a book comes out (laughs). I try to avoid Amazon reviews for about half an hour. It’s always the worst that come out first (laughs). People have been so nice online on Instagram and Twitter that they can’t wait to read it.
I took ‘The Vacancy’ to read for half an hour while drinking a cup of tea and before I knew it I was absolutely addicted and read half of it. Where does the inspiration for the story come from?
I was with a group of friends in an Airbnb a few years ago, it was this beautiful big house. It came from being spied on because Rachel feels like that all the time. She walks into this strange house and thinks she is being watched, and she is. I just wanted to have that claustrophobic feeling, in a beautiful house that has secrets. The characters came to me fully formed, especially Gordon and Dorothy.
I think everyone knows a Gordon, don’t they?
As I read it, I said to myself: “I know some Gordon’s” …
He has this outwardly busy body (personality), but inwardly he has a soft center that cares what people think of him. I didn’t want to make it two-dimensional so it’s just a busy body.
I really like the way the book goes from Rachel’s story to Kathryn’s story. It upset me a bit at first, but I love how these two narratives played out in parallel and how they come together. Did he always intend to have two accounts?
Yes, a story within a story, but all of that is also linked. It was so much fun writing from Kathryn’s perspective because the world was completely revolving around her and she couldn’t see how her actions would affect others. Rachel is the opposite, she is like a sponge capturing everyone’s emotions but quite closed to everyone. Their parallel backgrounds were somehow intertwined in their separate narratives.
I love the way you brought out Rachel and Kathryn’s humor by giving the reader access to their thoughts. They were often so blunt and funny, and that’s the kind of thing we all think of when we meet people but rarely say …
I think even in the dark Yeah, especially with the Brits, they find the humor in every dark situation. My friend worked in a prison and they have the same thing, sometimes you have to go through bad situations to see the light. It makes the terrible moments a bit more contrasting. Everyone is critical on the inside, aren’t they? They give their honest opinion of people, but that changes when they know someone.
I found it helped me get to know Rachel. Outwardly, she’s pretty sweet and gentle when she meets Dorothy, but being able to get inside her head suggested that there was more to her than we know. This hooked me because I wanted to find out who the real Rachel is rather than the sanitized version we encountered at the start …
I didn’t mean to be too boring, but I think you are quite reasonable when starting a job. You put that, like you said, in front of sanitized but inside all the emotions are swirling and (for Rachel herself) real feelings about her boss who is a little weird, giving her a gin and tonic on the first day . It was fun to write.
Dorothy is so wonderfully eccentric. I really hope someone turns your book into a TV series because I would love to see Dorothy come to life on screen. What was she inspired by someone you met?
No, I’ve never known someone like her. Although one of my former bosses, he was a lawyer, and he was quite eccentric. There are bits and pieces of everyone I have met who have ever been eccentric. I had in my head someone like Sharon Stone who was glamorous but you can’t tell what’s going on. It was so much fun to write. Also, if I ever lived in a big house as an author, had no responsibility and laughed – (I wouldn’t) drink as much maybe – at an assistant … it’s a caricature what some think of writers.
Gordon really forms a stereotype of Dorothy by spying on her and watching her boisterous parties. He’s such an intriguing character …
Yes, it’s true. You have the reader’s point of view and Gordon’s point of view on Dorothy, but you don’t really have Dorothy’s point of view in the book. He is a character that we watch a lot. Everyone has an opinion on her. It was really fun writing to him.
I don’t want to reveal anything about the end of the book, but I want to ask if you would consider exploring any of the characters that we will meet in other books?
I can’t say (a lot) but a path of destruction maybe? (laughs) That would be interesting. I haven’t written any of my books yet.
When did you decide to start writing books and pursue a more serious career?
In 2008, I completed an English degree. It was back when I had my oldest son, so I was working part time and studying too. When I had my second son, it was this maternity leave where everything is calm and you are far from the world. I started writing my very first novel in 2012. I really enjoyed it. It was a little tedious but just to finish something was amazing. I worked on it for two years and sent it to agents, around 70 and had complete refusals (laughs). Then I wrote three more before I wrote ’99 Red Balloons’ and it got me five offers of representation. It was a chore but with every book I learned. You learn on the go. I got there at the end!
“The Vacancy” is a good mix of drama, thriller and I would say a little bit of horror. Have these genres always appealed to you?
Yes, in fact, I also started to dabble in horror movies. Horror movies were pretty slasher in the ’80s, but now they’re more psychological. There is a fine line between horror and thrillers. I wanted to have some supernatural elements suggested to add a bit of goosebumps, because I love things. I love ghost stories and horrors. I think that makes it a little more interesting and you’re like, ‘where is he going next? I don’t think thrillers are as prescriptive as they used to be, especially when you take a psychological route. You can have a lot more elements and pinch different things from different genres to include in the story.
What do you have to come?
I’m working on a few opening chapters right now. It has more of a serial killer vibe. Another project from the side is based in the 1980s in a small town in the north. It’s a bit of a supernatural story, where a group of villagers see a glowing light in a field and some people think it’s religious, others think it’s aliens. Of course, in the 80’s you didn’t have the internet. It causes a sensation. I work on this outside of thrillers.
‘The Vacancy’ by Elisabeth Carpenter is available now through Orion Books. You can pick up a copy at Amazon.co.uk.