Writing Night Driver — an interview with marcelle

“In Night Driver I made an everyday experience – driving – seem terrifying. At the same time the taboo activity of killing is normalised.”

Tell us about the core of Night Driver? Even the title suggests darkness and night and you’ve suggested that you are that terrified night driver. What led you to make this part of yourself into a fictional character in a book?

Ever since I was a child I used to gaze out of the window at night and imagine galloping on a horse under a moonlit sky. Being alone at night in the countryside inspires awe, but also a sense of dread. It’s this clash between romantic and dangerous that I wanted to explore in Night Driver. Imagine Tom’s Midnight Garden with a serial killer thrown in.

Like Frannie, I’m also a nervous driver and passed my driving test at the age of thirty-six when I was eight months pregnant. However, in almost every other respect Frannie is not like me. I’m brunette and sporty, she’s blonde and plump. I based her on a girl who stole my fiancé  years ago; she was very solid and sure of herself, definitely not afraid of the dark. Part of me therefore disliked Frannie, and I am envious that she is braver than me. I never had the courage to night-drive like she does! When I first started writing the novel I had a six month old baby so I was close enough to my pregnancy to still be able to remember what it felt like to be heavily pregnant and taking driving lessons.

 

You based the book on a real life serial killer. How did you find out about him and what led you to use him in Frannie’s story?
When I moved to Hanover, North Germany in 2001 I discovered the local legend was Fritz Haarmann, Germany’s most notorious serial killer. He was executed in 1925 for the murders of at least twenty-four men in an insanely tiny room with no running water and many flights of stairs. The clean-up after the killings must have been a logistical nightmare. There was a reconstruction of Haarmann’s tiny room in the police museum in Hannover and I used to go and stare at it. The official version of events just didn’t seem right and the iconic photos of his handsome lover Hans Grans sent shivers down my spine. I thought “there’s more to this story than has been told…”
You’ve said that the open road is a metaphor – for escape for Frannie and for Lars in different ways – can you say more about this?  What are they escaping from? And what does the road offer that nothing else could do?
For the main characters in Night Driver the open road is a metaphor for escape. Frannie is nearing the end of her pregnancy, and is powerless to prevent the impending birth. Part of her pregnancy induced insomnia is offset by her newfound freedom night-driving. It also forces the necessary separation from her husband. For murderer Lars the open road is his way of getting ‘into the zone’ to kill and offers potential victims. He indulges in it more after his falling out with Lars. In the final scene it’s the solution to his problems. Even just a picture of an open road suggests possibilities, movement.
“There’s more to this story than has been told…”

The Two Faces of Evil: first aired on ITV in 1980

You’re a great fan of horror thrillers and while Frannie obviously takes a great deal from your own life, she must also gather echoes from some of the great movies of our time.  Can you say which ones influenced you?
Road movies like Duel (1971), The Hitcher (1986) and Race with the Devil (1975) provided inspiration by showing masterfully how to set up the chase element. Then there are the films inspired by Haarmann’s life The Tenderness of Wolves (1973), The Deathmaker (1995) and M (1931). There’s an episode of the TV series The Hammer House of Horror called ‘The Two Faces of Evil’ about an evil hitchhiker who attacks the driver when he is offered a lift. It’s a terrifying opening in a country road. I think about this scene every time I see the cover photo of the book.
What other influences pushed the arc of the book?  Did you know from the start how it would end? Or did Frannie carve her own ending?

I use the ‘headlight’ method when writing a book, I know roughly the next few scenes ahead (like the way a car’s headlights will illuminate the strip of road ahead you are currently driving on). Frannie was surprisingly tough, I didn’t know whether she could keep on doing ‘one last drive’, but she does. The character Dorcas became much bigger than I anticipated, and she came incredibly intricate, there was only so much running that Frannie could do on her own. For a long time I wasn’t sure whether she would have her baby in the novel or not… It was also terrifying to think of how a murderer in the modern day would make a profit from killing. Today crime is a big business. Human trafficking is horrifying, but I didn’t invent it, actually  it’s globally the fastest growing crime today. It’s an unfortunate reflection of contemporary life.

What feelings would you most like readers to take away from Night Driver?

In Night Driver I made an everyday experience – driving – seem terrifying. At the same time the taboo activity of killing is normalised. I wanted the reader to tap into how the characters feel, to know intimately how it is to be a killer and experience intensely Frannie’s fear.

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