The original idea for my newest novel The Devil’s Work came from me wanting to expand on my method of taking a familiar setting and making it scary. I had done this with awful neighbours, a terrible relationship, a horrible holiday… what next? As so many of us spend more time at the office than at home, the workplace seemed an obvious choice.
My protagonist Sophie secures her dream job working at children’s publisher after having her first child, only to find that she has entered the office from hell. Strangers following her home, conniving colleagues and creepy whispers around the office, Sophie soon finds herself fighting for her very life. I wanted to put my characters in a familiar setting with a twist, and make readers feel fearful/paranoid about their own colleagues. And I’m not the only one fascinated with the office as the stage for a thriller: Tammy Cohen’s When She Was Bad which came out earlier this year looks at a toxic work environment. We’re calling it office noir and hoping it’s the next big thing!
I had a great source of inspiration to draw from. At the start of my career, I spent eight years working my way up from Marketing Assistant to Marketing Director in your typical office. During that time, I witnessed everything office life can throw at you: colleagues determined to make my life hell, petty squabbling and rivalry between team members, bullying, gossip, backstabbing etc. I also had a colleague who started to behave very erratically: running around the building, talking nonsense, slurring his words, acting like he was on something…one day I looked up from my desk to find him staring down at me, a crazy look in his eyes, holding a hammer.
At my next job, I suspected my boss had been interviewing my team, asking them loads of questions about me, while I was on holiday. He would keep me in meetings that went on for hours and hours and I lived in constant fear of being fired. I quit to become a full-time writer just before he could do so.
I also had the advantage of seeing a publishing house from the inside, both in my professional life and as a writer. It inspired me to set The Devil’s Work in a prestigious publishing house called Jackdaw Books – although goings-on at Jackdaw are far worse than anything that happened where I worked.
I am very passionate about books and read a couple of novels a week, mostly current crime/psychological thrillers. I find that reading great books makes me want to raise my game. For example, reading Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go made me become obsessed with coming up with a great twist. I also love the work of Ira Levin, Thomas Harris, Bret Easton Ellis and of course Stephen King. I originally thought of The Devil’s Work as something akin to The Devil Wears Prada if it had been written by King.
Mark Edwards is the author of The Devil’s Work (Thomas & Mercer, paperback original £8.99, out now).