We're counting down to the inaugural Dead In Dun Laoghaire event, a one-day festival celebrating the very best in crime fiction, with a guest list that includes the cream of modern crime authors, taking place at Dun Laoghaire's Pavillion Theatre on Saturday 22nd July.

Today, we present the an extract from Into The Water, the new novel from Girl On The Train author (and Dead In Dun Laoghaire guest) Paula Hawkins.


2015
Jules


There was something you wanted to tell me, wasn’t there? What was it you were trying to say? I feel like I drifted out of this conversation a long time ago. I stopped concentrating, I was thinking about something else, getting on with things, I wasn’t listening, and I lost the thread of it. Well, you’ve got my attention now. Only I can’t help thinking I’ve missed out on some of the more salient points.

When they came to tell me, I was angry. Relieved first, because when two police officers turn up on your doorstep just as you’re looking for your train ticket, about to run out of the door to work, you fear the worst. I feared for the people I care about – my friends, my ex, the people I work with. But it wasn’t about them, they said, it was about you. So I was relieved, just for a moment, and then they told me what had happened, what you’d done, they told me that you’d been in the water and then I was furious. Furious and afraid.

I was thinking about what I was going to say to you when I got there, how I knew you’d done this to spite me, to upset me, to frighten me, to disrupt my life. To get my attention, to drag me back to where you wanted me. And there you go, Nel, you’ve succeeded: here I am in the place I never wanted to come back to, to look after your daughter, to sort out your bloody mess.


MONDAY, 10 AUGUST
Josh

Something woke me up. I got out of bed to go to the toilet and I noticed Mum and Dad’s door was open, and when I looked I could see that Mum wasn’t in bed. Dad was snoring as usual. The clock radio said it was 4:08. I thought she must be downstairs. She has trouble sleeping. They both do now, but he takes pills which are so strong you could stand right by the bed and yell into his ear and he wouldn’t wake up.

I went downstairs really quietly because usually what happens is she turns on the TV and watches those really boring adverts about machines that help you lose weight or clean the floor or chop vegetables in lots of different ways and then she falls asleep. But the TV wasn’t on and she wasn’t on the sofa, so I knew she must have gone out.

She’s done it a few times – that I know of, at least. I can’t keep track of where everyone is all the time. The first time, she told me she’d just gone out for a walk to clear her head, but there was another morning when I woke up and she was gone and when I looked out of the window I could see that her car wasn’t parked out front where it usually is.

I think she probably goes to walk by the river or to visit Katie’s grave. I do that sometimes, though not in the middle of the night. I’d be scared to go in the dark, plus it would make me feel weird because it’s what Katie did herself: she got up in the middle of the night and went to the river and didn’t come back. I understand why Mum does it though: it’s the closest she can get to Katie now, other than maybe sitting in her room, which is something else I know she does sometimes. Katie’s room is next to mine and I can hear Mum crying.

I sat down on the sofa to wait for her, but I must have fallen asleep, because when I heard the door go it was light outside and when I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece it was quarter past seven. I heard Mum closing the door behind her and then run straight up the stairs.

I followed her up. I stood outside the bedroom and watched through the crack in the door. She was on her knees next to the bed, over on Dad’s side, and she was red in the face, like she’d been running. She was breathing hard and saying, ‘Alec, wake up. Wake up,’ and she was shaking him. ‘Nel Abbott is dead,’ she said. ‘They found her in the water. She jumped.’

I don’t remember saying anything but I must have made a noise because she looked up at me and scrambled to her feet.

‘Oh, Josh,’ she said, coming towards me, ‘oh, Josh.’ There were tears running down her face and she hugged me hard. When I pulled away from her she was still crying, but she was smiling, too. ‘Oh, darling,’ she said.

Dad sat up in bed. He was rubbing his eyes. It takes him ages to wake up properly.

‘I don’t understand. When . . . do you mean last night? How do you know?’

‘I went out to get milk,’ she said. ‘Everyone was talking about it. . . in the shop. They found her this morning.’

She sat down on the bed and started crying again. Dad gave her a hug but he was watching me and he had an odd look on his face.

‘Where did you go?’ I asked her. ‘Where have you been?’

‘To the shops, Josh. I just said.’

You’re lying, I wanted to say. You’ve been gone hours, you didn’t just go to get milk. I wanted to say that, but I couldn’t, because my parents were sitting on the bed looking at each other, and they looked happy.


TUESDAY, 11 AUGUST
Jules

I remember. On the back seat of the camper van, pillows piled up in the centre to mark the border between your territory and mine, driving to Beckford for the summer, you fidgety and excited – you couldn’t wait to get there – me green with carsickness, trying not to throw up.

It wasn’t just that I remembered, I felt it. I felt that same sickness this afternoon, hunched up over the steering wheel like an old woman, driving fast and badly, swinging into the middle of the road on the corners, hitting the brake too sharply, over-correcting at the sight of oncoming cars. I had that thing, that feeling I get when I see a white van barrelling towards me along one of those narrow lanes and I think, I’m going to swerve, I’m going to do it, I’m going to swing right into its path, not because I want to but because I have to. As though at the last moment I’ll lose all free will. It’s like the feeling you get when you stand on the edge of a cliff, or on the edge of the train platform, and you feel yourself impelled by some invisible hand. And what if? What if I just took a step forward? What if I just turned the wheel? (You and me not so different, after all.)

What struck me is how well I remembered. Too well. Why is it that I can recall so perfectly the things that happened to me when I was eight years old, and yet trying to remember whether or not I spoke to my colleagues about rescheduling a client assessment for next week is impossible? The things I want to remember I can’t, and the things I try so hard to forget just keep coming. The nearer I got to Beckford, the more undeniable it became, the past shooting out at me like sparrows from the hedgerow, startling and inescapable.

All that lushness, that unbelievable green, the bright, acid yellow of the gorse on the hill, it burned into my brain and brought with it a newsreel of memories: Dad carrying me, squealing and squirming with delight, into the water when I was four or five years old; you jumping from the rocks into the river, climbing higher and higher each time. Picnics on the sandy bank by the pool, the taste of sunscreen on my tongue; catching fat brown fish in the sluggish, muddy water downstream from the Mill. You coming home with blood streaming down your leg after you misjudged one of those jumps, biting down on a tea towel while Dad cleaned the cut because you weren’t going to cry. Not in front of me. Mum, wearing a light-blue sundress, barefoot in the kitchen making porridge for breakfast, the soles of her feet a dark, rusty brown. Dad sitting on the river bank, sketching. Later, when we were older, you in denim shorts with a bikini top under your T-shirt, sneaking out late to meet a boy. Not just any boy, the boy. Mum, thinner and frailer, sleeping in the armchair in the living room; Dad disappearing on long walks with the vicar’s plump, pale, sun-hatted wife. I remember a game of football. Hot sun on the water, all eyes on me; blinking back tears, blood on my thigh, laughter ringing in my ears. I can still hear it. And underneath it all, the sound of rushing water.

I was so deep into that water that I didn’t realize I’d arrived. I was there, in the heart of the town; it came on me suddenly as though I’d closed my eyes and been spirited to the place, and before I knew it I was driving slowly through narrow lanes lined with four-by-fours, a blur of rose stone at the edge of my vision, towards the church, towards the old bridge, careful now. I kept my eyes on the tarmac in front of me and tried not to look at the trees, at the river. Tried not to see, but couldn’t help it.

I pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. I looked up. There were the trees and the stone steps, green with moss and treacherous after the rain. My entire body goose-fleshed. I remembered this: freezing rain beating the tarmac, flashing blue lights vying with lightning to illuminate the river and the sky, clouds of breath in front of panicked faces, and a little boy, ghost-white and shaking, led up the steps to the road by a policewoman. She was clutching his hand and her eyes were wide and wild, her head twisting this way and that as she called out to someone. I can still feel what I felt that night, the terror and the fascination. I can still hear your words in my head: What would it be like? Can you imagine? To watch your mother die?

I looked away. I started the car and pulled back on to the road, drove over the bridge where the lane twists around. I watched for the turning – the first on the left? No, not that one, the second one. There it was, that old brown hulk of stone, the Mill House. A prickle over my skin, cold and damp, my heart beating dangerously fast, I steered the car through the open gate and into the driveway.

There was a man standing there, looking at his phone. A policeman in uniform. He stepped smartly towards the car and I wound down the window.

‘I’m Jules,‘ I said. ‘Jules Abbott? I’m . . . her sister.’

‘Oh.’ He looked embarrassed. ‘Yes. Right. Of course. Look,’ he glanced back at the house, ‘there’s no one here at the moment. The girl . . . your niece . . . she’s out. I’m not exactly sure where . . .’ He pulled the radio from his belt.

I opened the door and stepped out. ‘All right if I go into the house?’ I asked. I was looking up at the open window, what used to be your old room. I could see you there still, sitting on the window sill, feet dangling out. Dizzying.

The policeman looked uncertain. He turned away from me and said something quietly into his radio before turning back. ‘Yes, it’s all right. You can go in.’

I was blind walking up the steps, but I heard the water and I smelled the earth, the earth in the shadow of the house, underneath the trees, in the places untouched by sunlight, the acrid stink of rotting leaves, and the smell transported me back in time.

I pushed the front door open, half expecting to hear my mother’s voice calling out from the kitchen. Without thinking, I knew that I’d have to shift the door with my hip, at the point where it sticks against the floor. I stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind me, my eyes struggling to focus in the gloom; I shivered at the sudden cold.

In the kitchen, an oak table was pushed up under the window. The same one? It looked similar, but it couldn’t be, the place had changed hands too many times between then and now. I could find out for sure if I crawled underneath to search for the marks you and I left there, but just the thought of that made my pulse quicken.

I remember the way it got the sun in the morning, and how if you sat on the left-hand side, facing the Aga, you got a view of the old bridge, perfectly framed. So beautiful, everyone remarked upon the view, but they didn’t really see. They never opened the window and leaned out, they never looked down at the wheel, rotting where it stood, they never looked past the sunlight playing on the water’s surface, they never saw what the water really was, greenish-black and filled with living things and dying things.

Out of the kitchen, into the hall, past the stairs, deeper into the house. I came across it so suddenly it threw me, beside the enormous windows giving out on to the river – into the river, almost, as though if you opened them, water would pour in over the wide wooden window seat running along beneath.

I remember. All those summers, Mum and I sitting on that window seat propped up on pillows, feet up, toes almost touching, books on our knees. A plate of snacks somewhere, although she never touched them.

I couldn’t look at it; it made me heartsick and desperate, seeing it again like that.

The plasterwork had been stripped back, exposing bare brick beneath, and the decor was all you: oriental carpets on the floor, heavy ebony furniture, big sofas and leather armchairs, and too many candles. And everywhere, the evidence of your obsessions: huge framed prints, Millais’s Ophelia, beautiful and serene, eyes and mouth open, flowers clutched in her hand. Blake’s Triple Hecate, Goya’s Witches‘ Sabbath, his Drowning Dog. I hate that one most of all, the poor beast fighting to keep his head above a rising tide.

I could hear a phone ringing, and it seemed to come from beneath the house. I followed the sound through the living room and down some steps – I think there used to be a store room there, filled with junk. It flooded one year and everything was left coated in silt, as though the house were becoming part of the riverbed.

I stepped into what had become your studio. It was filled with camera equipment, screens, standard lamps and light boxes, a printer, papers and books and files piled up on the floor, filing cabinets ranged against the wall. And pictures, of course. Your photographs, covering every inch of the plaster. To the untrained eye, it might seem you were a fan of bridges: the Golden Gate, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct. But look again. It’s not about the bridges, it’s not some love of these masterworks of engineering. Look again and you see it’s not just bridges, it’s Beachy Head, Aokigahara Forest, Preikestolen. The places where hopeless people go to end it all, cathedrals of despair.

Opposite the entrance, images of the Drowning Pool. Over and over and over, from every conceivable angle, every vantage point: pale and icy in winter, the cliff black and stark, or sparkling in the summer, an oasis, lush and green, or dull flinty-grey with storm clouds overhead, over and over and over. The images blurred into one; a dizzying assault on the eye. I felt as though I were there, in that place, as though I were standing at the top of the cliff looking down into the water, feeling that terrible thrill, the temptation of oblivion.

Paula Hawkins will be speaking at the Dead in Dun Laoghaire crime writing Festival on Saturday 22nd July at the Pavilion Theatre. Tickets available from www.paviliontheatre.ie

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins cover