B&N Reads, Guest Post, Mystery, Our Monthly Picks

Horror and Humour: A Guest Post by Joanna Wallace

Our Monthly Pick author Joanna Wallace didn’t plan to write about a serial killer. Read the exclusive essay below to discover how Joanna created our favorite unhinged character, how You’d Look Better as a Ghost came to be, and what inspired her to write her debut novel.

Perfect for fans of darkly hilarious thrillers featuring slightly demented protagonists. You won’t be able to stop yourself from rooting for the murderer.

Perfect for fans of darkly hilarious thrillers featuring slightly demented protagonists. You won’t be able to stop yourself from rooting for the murderer.

When I started writing You’d Look Better as A Ghost, my debut, I never intended it to become a story about a serial killer. It was just a journal entry I wrote one evening after visiting my dad in hospital. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of early onset dementia and on that particular evening, I remember getting into my car, driving home alone from the hospital and at some point, I realized I was shouting. At dementia. At the cruelty of such a brutal, merciless disease. My dad was one of the kindest, cleverest, funniest people I’ve ever known but dementia doesn’t care about who a person used to be. It ruthlessly dismantles everything that matters most—memory, sanity, dignity—and as I slammed my hand against the steering wheel and shouted into the darkness that night, I realized I’d never before been quite so consumed with rage.  

When I got home, I opened my laptop and started to write about my loathing of dementia and fears for my dad. Was he OK in the hospital when we weren’t there? The sudden vulnerability in someone who had always been so strong was shocking—almost overwhelming—and as I let my emotion settle into the words on the screen, slowly a character started to emerge. Her name was Claire. She was born entirely out of my rage at dementia. She was a serial killer. And, strangely enough, she would help me through an incredibly difficult time.  

You’d Look Better as a Ghost is a darkly comic thriller, told through the eyes of my protagonist, Claire—a murderer who sees her victims as ghosts before they die. I balance horror and humour throughout the book and include flashback scenes to provide some understanding of how Claire the child developed into Claire the killer. When Dad died, I continued to write through my grief, using it to twist the story into unexpected places. I gave my serial killer a seat in a bereavement counseling group and put her under pressure when somebody witnesses her crimes. Who is the mysterious blackmailer threatening to expose Claire’s murderous secrets?  

Whilst there are a couple of serious issues running through the book, namely the treatment of elderly people with dementia and the emotional neglect of children, my overall hope is that this story will surprise and entertain. I want readers to enjoy meeting Claire, and on a personal note, I’m grateful to her. At a time when I was utterly powerless to save my beloved dad, there was strange comfort in her strength and dark humour. In a way, writing this book is my attempt at taking a stand against dementia. It may be unstoppable when it decides to take our loved ones away, but it can never take away what they mean to us. In our words and our memories, they live on.