With 10 days to go until the release of New Year’s Eve, I decided to post every day about an influence on the novel.
It is only appropriate, for my last post on the key influences on my novel, for things to end here. Anyone who has seen the cover of New Year’s Eve could have guessed where this might end: with the towering influence of Rear Window.
If my novel is a success, let’s be honest, it’s only because Hitchcock did first. That’s how much of an inspiration it has been.
I first saw the film in English class at school. Out of all the Hitchcock films, this was the one that just worked for me in a way that others didn’t. It took me a few years to get on board with North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train. But Rear Window grabbed me instantly.
It is the kind of text which you can break down into individual elements, and appreciate the impeccable craft of each one; and yet it is also more than the sum of its parts. There’s the delicious combination of James Stewart’s charm and Grace Kelly’s poise, selling us on the most unlikely of relationships. There is the iconic set and imagery; the film’s meta-treatise on voyeurism; the way it invites the audience into becoming detectives alongside the protagonist. Everything about this film works for me.
But in order to stop me waffling, I will zero in on just two elements of the film which served as my chief inspirations.
There are many elements of Rear Window which are present in my book; the spying on the neighbours, the suspicion of murder, the cast of side-characters. But probably the most impactful thing for me was not in the story, but in the storytelling. Rear Window, with the exception of a few scant shots, is filmed completely from the vantage point of the apartment where Stewart’s character is trapped. In an age where films were arguably still filmed through a prism of objectivity, with Rear Window Hitchcock made subjectivity king. The only thing we are allowed to see is what Stewart’s character sees. We learn what he learns. We detect what he detects.
This is not uncommon in novels, of course. But I wanted to lean into this even more than usual. I used a similarly restricted narrative point of view in order to create intrigue: I encouraged the reader to piece together the mystery based on what Hayley overhears while listening at doors, what she thinks she sees peeking through windows. I wanted the story to be like a collage of small hints and clues adding up to the final solution.
And, just like in Rear Window, I wanted to hint at how dangerous it is to lose yourself in other people’s lives. For both Hayley and Stewart’s character, the more caught up they are in their neighbour’s affairs, the worse their own private lives become. It takes a toll on their relationships.
The nature of romantic relationships is a significant element of Rear Window, of course. For all Hitchcock is celebrated for his auteurist flair- and for all he is rightly lambasted for his treatment of female actors- he is not always known for his thematic richness. Rear Window is perhaps one of his most meaningful films, in that it is a treatise on marriage. Every character, even the smallest and most insignificant of them, adds to Hitchcock’s exploration of relationships and how they affect us.
I was keen to make sure that, in all the fun of plotting a murder mystery, I kept my focus on the main character and her relationships. I wanted the novel to be the story of her, and her partner Ethan, as much as a thriller. In Rear Window, we may be gripped by the mystery, but what lingers is the love story.
I hope my story lingers too.
And that’s it: my ten influences on New Year’s Eve. The book will be out on ebook tomorrow.
Thank you for reading through my ten key influences; I hope that they were half as enjoyable to read as they were to write. For me, it was an opportunity to shout out about my geeky writing, reading and viewing habits, Honestly, I could have kept going forever.
But it’s probably more important for me to work on the next book instead.
I hope you enjoy New Year’s Eve: both the book and the event. Here’s to a vaccinated, safe, murder-free 2021.
Here’s to a better year.