I was once standing on a crowded station concourse in London and thought I saw a former girlfriend moving through the press of commuters. It was a heart-stopping moment. She had died more than twenty years earlier, 18 months after we had been at Cambridge University together. I looked again and realized that it wasn’t her, but it got me thinking: what if?
The opening scene of Find Me, my new psychological thriller, owes a lot to that strange sighting. Jar, a young Irish writer, is at Paddington station in West London. He takes the escalator down to the Underground and sees Rosa, his old girlfriend from university, passing him on the up escalator. Except that Rosa died five years earlier and Find Me isn’t a ghost story.
I had written five spy thrillers prior to this book. A trilogy that began with Dead Spy Running was optioned by Warner Bros, who hired Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan to write the script. The film is still in development, but I have every confidence that, when it is finally made, it will reflect my lifelong love of James Bond, John Le Carre and, more recently, Jason Bourne. I knew with Find Me, however, that I wanted to try something different, navigate away from the espionage landscape that I’m so familiar with, and venture into the darker territory of psychological thrillers.
In many ways, the novel is me weaning myself off the spy genre, although espionage does play a (duplicitous) role in the book. I wanted to capture the often obsessive nature of grief – I lost my mother when I was 17, a death that left me devastated – and indulge my interest in unreliable narration. It transpires that Jar suffers from “post bereavement hallucinations” and has been seeing Rosa everywhere, on buses, trains, clifftops, but there is something about the Paddington sighting that feels more real. Should we believe him? I also wanted to write a love story. Someone once told me that there is a lot of grief in lust – and a lot of lust in grief.
As this was a new departure for me, I decided to use a pen name, which would help to delineate the book from my spy thrillers. There’s nothing worse than a disappointed or misled reader, and I didn’t want fans of my spy thrillers to expect Find Me to continue the story of Daniel Marchant, my MI6 protagonist.
So why J.S. Monroe? Well, J.S. is a none too subtle link to my real name, Jon Stock, but it’s also, happily, a nod to the trend for the letter ‘J’ in author’s names. Think J.K.Rowling (Harry Potter) J.P.Delaney (The Girl Before), J.D.Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), S.J.Watson (Before I Go To Sleep), M.J.Arlidge (Eeny Meeny), … the list goes on. As for Monroe, that’s a variation of my wife’s mother’s name – always good to keep the mother-in-law onside.
I have only ever had one recurring dream in my life. It involved my mother returning to the family home five years after she had died, wondering where she was going to sleep that night. In real life, my father happily remarried after he lost my mother, to a wonderful woman whom I love dearly. But clearly the arrival of my mom on the doorstep would have been interesting, to say the least. That dream, mixed with the sighting of my old girlfriend on the station concourse, lies at the psychological heart of Find Me. As I often still think today, what if…
Find Me by J.S. Monroe was published by Mira on March 21, 2017