Lexie Elliott’s newest psychological thriller, Bright And Deadly Things, kills it. And no, we’re not sorry for the bad pun. Recently widowed, Dr. Emily Rivers visits a prestigious reading retreat at Chalet des Anglais, hoping it will be a healing experience. She knows recovery will take time, but having her close friends with her and unplugging completely is sure to be beneficial. But even before she leaves home, disquieting events begin to shake her confidence. Someone breaks into her house, then at the Chalet, her husband’s laptop – which she brought with her – is destroyed after a hack attempt fails. And those aren’t the only suspicious events. Add to the mix a creepy antique grandfather clock that seems to infiltrate people’s moods and dreams, and Emily’s visit to the Chalet is anything but restorative. We’re so delighted the author could join us today to talk about her delightfully twisty tale.
Amy Wilhelm: Can you tell us about the inspiration for including the suspiciously supernatural grandfather clock as a “character”? I loved this aspect of the story.
Lexie Elliott: Thank you, I’m glad you liked it! Whilst there really is a Chalet des Anglais — I visited the real thing in the year 2000, though my poor memory coupled with artistic license have ensured that the chalet in the novel is not an exact replica — the grandfather clock is entirely fictional. I don’t remember there being any significant clocks, grandfather or otherwise, in the real chalet, and there wasn’t anything else that specifically gave me inspiration for that. The clock didn’t even appear at all in my outline, but it very quickly presented itself to me when I started to write the first draft. At first, I viewed it as a physical manifestation of Emily’s awareness that her grief stops her from embracing whatever time she has been allotted on this earth, but it soon became apparent that the clock was determined to represent much more than that!
AW: Chalet des Anglais is remote and has no modern conveniences, not even electricity. Do you think the isolated environment contributes to the group’s suspicions of one another? Would any other isolated location have worked for the story, such as a tropical island? Why or why not?
LE: The isolated environment absolutely contributes to the group’s suspicions of one another. Bright and Deadly Things is what I would call a “closed environment” thriller, wherein the cast of characters cannot easily escape, and it’s clear to the reader that the antagonist must be one of them—and I love that kind of set-up! It’s really effective in building tension and contributing to a claustrophobic atmosphere. As to whether any other isolated location would have worked so well, I genuinely don’t think so. Of course, the nuts and bolts of the story—of any story—could be transplanted to a different location, but a good thriller is so much more than just the mechanics. Atmosphere and setting are very important to me, and in fact, it’s usually the first thing that comes to me when I’m mulling over a new project; the characters don’t appear until it’s clear what landscape they’ll be inhabiting. Academics on a beach with palm trees and piña coladas would be a very different tale to this one!
AW: Emily faces multiple traumatic experiences throughout the course of the novel. Yet it seems, as a whole, they help her move more quickly through the trauma of her husband’s death. Was that an intended consequence?
LE: That’s a tricky one. I suppose it was partly intended, but I wouldn’t be any more definitive than that. I had a general plan for Emily’s character arc throughout the novel, but the specifics were fuzzier, and I suppose what you’re describing arose from writing what felt like an authentic account of her reaction to each of those traumatic events that she experienced. What was really important to me, though, was to be honest about her grief. My mother died shortly before I began this project, and I’m sure that had a big influence on the story I wanted to tell.
AW: Was there any plot line that shifted dramatically from start to finish when you were writing Bright and Deadly Things?
LE: I think if I were to go back and check against my original outline, I’d find that all the important beats from that document did, in fact, make it into the final manuscript, but something really quite major happens in the last third of the book which was definitely not in the outline! I’m being purposefully vague here to avoid spoilers, but this “happening” arose organically as I was writing, and I went with it—and it’s a better book for it. I love it when the story I’m telling takes on its own life; it’s like witnessing a little bit of magic. (AW: We agree!)
AW: I’m so curious about your background in theoretical physics. If I had the math, that would’ve been my chosen path. Can you talk briefly about how you became interested in such a subject? And are there ways you incorporate your knowledge of the subject matter in your storytelling?
LE: At school, I was strong in both English and maths/physics and therefore had to decide which path to take at university (there’s no such thing as an “undeclared major” at universities in the UK). I had always wanted to be a writer, but I was also fairly pragmatic; I reasoned that studying physics was more likely to result in a job that would actually pay the bills! That’s how I came to read physics at Oxford University, and when I got there, I discovered that whilst I really enjoyed the more mathematical side of physics, I hated labs with an intense passion. It was possible to take theory papers in lieu of some of the labs, and as a result, I took absolutely every theory paper that I could—which is how I ended up with an academic resumé that got me a Ph.D. spot in theoretical physics!
In terms of incorporating the knowledge into my writing, I would say that it creeps in if it’s appropriate for a character to have that kind of scientific approach or understanding. In Bright and Deadly Things, Emily certainly analyses the strange things that happen around her in a logical manner. She’s not at all closed off to intuition or emotion—in fact, she’s very much aware of the impact grief has on her psyche—but she’s wary of jumping to conclusions and instead falls back on her scientific training.
There is another way in which my scientific background creeps into my writing: I’m highly intrigued by the concept of time. The theory of relativity teaches us that time is not quite the constant you might think, and our own experiences teach us something of the same (boring events drag, fun events are over far too soon); the idea that something so important in our lives can be so mercurial is fascinating to me. Perhaps the grandfather clock was, in part, born out of that fascination!
Thank you, Lexie! To find out more about the author, click here.