Gillian Flynn, author of Sharp Objects, answers our questions.
Who's your favourite author?
I could never name a single author, but whenever I want to be inspired (and perhaps a bit daunted), I read Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, Joy Williams, Lorrie Moore, Martin Amis, and of course Jane Austen.
What's the first book you remember reading?
My first grown-up book I distinctly remember checking out of the library was Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I've been hooked on her since. My favorites are The Hollow, And Then There Were None and Halloween Party.
Where do you live? And why?
I live in Chicago, because, after years in Manhattan and Los Angeles, I realized I missed the Midwest terribly. Chicago has all the culture and energy of a big East Coast city, but it's also a decidedly laid-back, unassuming Midwest sort of town.
What's the greatest influence on your writing?
Reading. Whenever I'm feeling out of sorts and uninterested in putting down a single word, I pick up a good book. I also love matching art to what I'm writing: there's a completely mesmerizing, slightly unsettling photo called 'Livia' by Frederick Sommer that reminds me of Sharp Objects (read it and you'll see why).
Where do you write?
On my laptop, in either my bed or my big old bathtub.
Typewriter, word processor or pen?
Name your favourite literary hero and villain.
My first hero was Alice of Alice in Wonderland. I loved the idea of this fairly unruffled, extremely curious little girl having all sorts of odd adventures. As for villains, I always adored the nasty, murderous women in the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
Where were you born and raised?
Kansas City, Missouri, a midsized, Midwest town, right on the border of Kansas.
What is your philosophy for life?
Mark Twain has a quote that's stuck with me: "Humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all".
How many brothers and sisters do you have? Is anyone else in your family a writer?
I have a brother who's seven years older than me (his first comment on Sharp Objects: "I didn't know Gillian even knew those kinds of words!"). My mom is a hell of a reader, which I think is important for any writer to grow up with; but it's my father who's the creative soul of the family. I grew up on his weird, funny, scary bedtime stories, and he's a lovely writer and photographer.
What educational qualifications do you have? Have you had any formal tuition in creative writing? If so, where and what? Did you find it useful?
I studied Journalism and English at the University of Kansas, and I have a master's degree in Journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. I've taken creative-writing classes – filled with good writers who offer smart feedback – and it's a wonderful help.
Did you always want to be an author? If not, what did you originally want to be and when and why did you change your mind?
In grade school, I always said I wanted to be an author or a farmer. Writing's easier, so I guess I went with that.
Who do you most admire and why?
My parents. They're smart, warm, and funny. They filled my childhood with books and movies and art . . . and a lot of time to work my imagination. American kids are so overscheduled and overmanaged these days; I love that my parents knew how to let me just have time to myself. I truly believe kids need the freedom to see where the day takes them.
What jobs did you have before you started writing?
I've been incredibly lucky to have always made my living writing, first in trade magazines, then as a writer at Entertainment Weekly (where I'm still the TV critic – a great gig I can do in my pajamas), and now with an actual novel. It's a pretty wonderful way to earn a buck.
If your house were burning down, what would you save?
My faithful cat, Roy, and my autographed copy of Lorrie Moore's Birds of America.
What single thing might people be surprised to learn about you?
That I'm not nearly as dark as my book.