My new gothic nail-biter Phantom Audition is out now, and so far readers are leaving rave reviews, which is all very pleasing. The final novel in my “Spooky Quintet”, Phantom Audition is about a widowed actress investigating her late husband’s mysterious suicide, but what books, plays and films influenced this story? Here are six key texts:
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters’s sublime gothic mystery was a key tonal influence. Throughout the promotion of Phantom Audition, I’ve been very keen to emphasise that this isn’t a story that’s interested in terrifying the living daylights out of readers like some of my more overt horror stories. It that respect, it is akin to the psychological drama of this very clever ghost story, which whilst being page-turningly gripping, isn’t necessarily going to cause nightmares. The ghost story here belongs to a more old-school tradition, wherein the protagonist entering the haunted house ultimately discovers themselves within, in a manner of speaking.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece is a clear inspiration in many areas, most tellingly in the way Thornfield Hall intimidates Jane, and has hidden secrets. In my novel, the dark secrets of Steven Yardley (a sort-of Rochester figure) haunt the protagonist Mia from beyond his grave. His Jacobean family mansion also intimidates Mia, and holds a few hidden secrets of its own.
Don’t Look Now – Daphne Du Maurier’s stunning short story (and Nic Roeg’s equally stunning film adaptation) were definite thematic inspirations. Don’t Look Now’s themes of grief and obsession are mirrored in my novel, along with certain plot themes (including the mediums). Incidentally, Du Maurier’s Rebecca was also an influence, but then again, that novel has influenced so many of my works that it’s getting a bit tedious to keep listing it.
Sleeping Murder – Act one of this Agatha Christie mystery remains a superbly unsettling opener, as a young married woman finds her dream home was once laid out with the exact refurbishments she wants to undertake. Every detail – from garden landscaping, to where she would put a door, to her chosen wallpaper – are already there, beneath the surface. This mess-with-your-head mystery is tonally something I adopted in my novel.
A Fantastic Woman – This Chilean film, which won Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Oscars, might at first appear an odd choice as an influence on Phantom Audition. Nonetheless, it actually provided the initial inspiration. The story concerns a transgender woman dealing with the death of her partner, and finding herself isolated and ostracised by his family. The film has a dreamlike, magical realist quality to it, and even at times becomes a bit like a thriller (there’s a mysterious key which her partner left, for example). Moreover, there is something of a descent into the underworld/death and rebirth metaphor in the film, a story arc which is very much echoed in my novel. One image particularly leapt out at me – that of a ghostly vision of the dead partner staring out at her from a crowded nightclub dance floor amid strobe lights. It’s an image I actually nicked, sorry, “paid homage” to.
Death and the Maiden – Another Chilean influence of sorts, in that Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman wrote this blinder of a stage play (later adapted into a film by Roman Polanski). The plot concerns a woman called Paulina Escobar who becomes convinced her husband’s house guest is actually the man who kidnapped, tortured, and raped her several years previously. Paulina’s lawyer husband isn’t convinced, but she is determined to torture a confession out of the man who might be her former tormentor. However if he confesses, is his confession true, or simply a desperate attempt at escaping his predicament by telling her what she wants to hear? How this play influenced my novel, I will not explain, but it will become apparent when you read it.
Phantom Audition is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is available now in paperback or on Kindle. Click here to get your copy.