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Laure Van Rensburg: On Fresh Takes on Old Tropes in Thriller Novels

Author Laure Van Rensburg discusses the inspiration behind her new mystery novel, Nobody But Us.

Laure Van Rensburg is a French writer living in the U.K. and an Ink Academy alumna. Her stories have appeared in online magazines and anthologies such as Litro Magazine, Storgy Magazine, The Real Jazz Baby (2020 Best Anthology, Saboteur Awards 2020), and FIVE:2:ONE. She has also placed in competitions including 2018 & 2019 Bath Short Story Award. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Laure Van Rensburg: On Fresh Takes on Old Tropes in Thriller Novels

Laure Van Rensburg

In this post, Laure discusses the inspiration behind her new mystery novel, Nobody But Us, what she hopes readers get from the experience, and more!

Name: Laure Van Rensburg
Literary agent: Juliet Mushens and Jenny Bent
Book title: Nobody But Us
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release date: April 12, 2022
Genre/category: Fiction; Mystery/Thriller
Elevator pitch for the book: In this high‑concept thriller that's part The Guest List, part The Girl Before, a couple's romantic weekend‑getaway is not what it seems.

Laure Van Rensburg: On Fresh Takes on Old Tropes in Thriller Novels

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What prompted you to write this book?

Nobody But Us stemmed for the known trope of older man/younger woman relationship and wanting to turn it on its head along with the prey/predator stereotypes, shifting those power dynamics. In addition, I’ve always been fascinated by the question “How can you justify doing the wrong thing for the right reasons?” and wanted to explore that subject.

Telling stories that deal with women’s issues is very important for me, and it has always been a recurring theme in my work (in addition to my debut novel, I’ve also written and published over a dozen short stories and flash fiction). It’s hard to talk about specific prompts for this story because they would give away spoilers, but there are some elements from my personal experience; I talk about that in an author’s note, but a lot of it is also inspired by situations I believe all women have experienced in one shape or another, and the anger of feeling powerless against it. That was another big motivator to write this book—how women’s rage and anger is often dismissed and brushed aside as being emotional. I wanted to create a story where I could legitimize those feelings in a way and break that stereotype.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

Once I had a firm grasp on the idea and I knew enough about the story it took 18 months from first draft to submitting to agents (from mid-2018 to late 2020), and a lot of different drafts.

During what I call my mulling over period (before I start writing) the idea changed a lot; it was a case of turning things over in my head until I found the best way and the right characters to tell the story. Characters always come to me first. Once I started writing, the core of the idea and the story didn’t change much. I’m an underwriter so my first draft was very lean (about 55,000 words).

Once I had the bones of the story, I added flesh to the bones, delved deeper into scenes, Ellie and Steven’s psyche and backstories. I love the editing process and working with my editor, she really helped me fine-tune the story and the characters, and I’ve learned a lot which I’m hoping to apply to my next book, which I’m currently editing.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I had read a lot about publishing and especially about how to get a literary agent, and what they do, but I didn’t realize how invaluable an agent is until I started working with my agent, Juliet Mushens. She has kept me sane and she’s been a tremendous support throughout the process.

I also learned that publishing is very much a stop and start process in the sense that something exciting or important happens, followed by weeks or months of nothing happening, so there was a moment of adjustment to that rhythm of doing things. I’ve also discovered that it takes a village to bring a book into existence.

Finally, my publishing experience so far has confirmed my suspicions that I very much would like to become a full-time author and make writing my main career. It’s the goal I’m working toward (I currently have a day job which has nothing to do with writing).

Laure Van Rensburg: On Fresh Takes on Old Tropes in Thriller Novels

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I wasn’t ready for the amount of cutting and pasting involved in the editing process. Being my first attempt at a psychological thriller I had to get the pacing right, which involved moving a lot of scenes around and the sequence of events, especially after Ellie and Steven arrive at destination.

I also discovered that I had to become a little bit of a planner. Before Nobody But Us I never planned my story. I was what is often referred to as a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), because I had to ensure the structure and the plot were tight, I created a spreadsheet where I kept track of my three-act structure, color-coded my chapters depending on POV, listed my scenes, the purpose for each scene, where the main revelations and twists were, etc…

Still, I can’t plan for everything. There are some elements I can’t figure out until after I start writing. This makes me some kind of hybrid writer—a planster, if you want. Writing this book taught me there isn’t one right way to write a book or a short story, just the way that works for you. You just need to figure out what that is.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope Nobody But Us will provoke big emotions in readers—positive and/or negative. I would rather have someone say they hated it than someone shrugging it off with an “It’s ok, I guess.”

I really hope that readers will want to discuss it afterwards—what would they do in a similar situation, who they felt was right or wrong, were Ellie and Steven justified in their actions, how do the themes in the book relate with today’s society, etc…

The books I love most are the ones I keep thinking about well after I’ve read the last page, such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Ashley Audrain’s The Push, or John Fowles’s The Collector. Books that keep tugging at your mind, where the characters stay with you, and I would love for Nobody But Us to stay with readers that way, I think that would be one of the best compliments I could receive—"I couldn’t stop thinking about your book after I finished it.”

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

It might sound basic or even obvious, but read, read, read, and then read some more. Read books in your genre to know what the market is like and what’s successful. I’ve seen writers in the past who want to write young adult fantasy and all they’ve read is The Hunger Games which a) was published 14 years ago and b) only represents one aspect of young adult fantasy. You shouldn’t write to market, but you should be aware of what’s being currently published. Writing is a passion, but once you want to get published, it becomes a business, I don’t think writers are always ready for that transition, and like any other career you need to know your industry.

You should also read widely and critically. Don’t limit yourself to the genre you write in. There is a lot to learn from reading different genres to the ones you write in. You can learn so much about writing from reading fiction: What makes a compelling opening, how to create tension, how to craft natural sounding dialogue.

Also read for inspiration—there are some authors whose writing inspires me and stimulate me, and I often reread them when I feel I’m stuck creatively.

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