The perfect premise for a thriller? Michelle Frances on how she came up with The Girlfriend

The Girlfriend is a gripping and chilling debut psychological thriller – the story of a mother, a son, his girlfriend and an unforgivable lie.

Michelle Frances, author of The Girlfriend, on why the potentially fraught and competitive relationship between a mother and daughter-in-law is the perfect basis for a thriller.

Looking for more inspiration for you next read? Discover our edit of the best psychological thriller, here.

It’s an interesting thing, meeting your mother-in-law for the first time. 

Usually, she’s not yet earned that title – she’s your boyfriend’s mum but if fate takes a certain turn, she could become one of the most prominent women in your life for the rest of your life.

A stranger!  Who probably knows your boyfriend even better than you do.  Will likely want to advise you on him.  Will babysit your yet unborn children, have an input into how they grow up.  She will be round your house regularly.

Because they come together, boyfriend and his mother.

God, you hope you chose well.

It’s an interesting thing, meeting your daughter-in-law for the first time.

Of course she’s still just his girlfriend and you hope, hope with your heart lodged in your mouth that she’s nice, decent.  That she’s someone you can see yourself getting on with for years to come, someone who will treat your little boy well (because deep down he will always be your little boy). 

But right now, she’s a stranger!  Who may end up being the mother of your grandchildren!  Many of the dreams you have for your future rest in her hands.

God, you hope he chose well.

I find it utterly fascinating how two women who have never met before are required to form a lifelong, intimate relationship when bound together by one man, who is simultaneously son to one and boyfriend to the other. 

Both women are likely nervous and both have high expectations of the other.  The potential for disaster is huge!  And because each really wants it to work but is deeply apprehensive, misunderstanding and paranoia can very easily take hold.

They both have one big thing in common – they both love the same man.  But there’s an underlying power struggle for his affections.  Passions run high in any relationships but none more than for your child or your lover.  Both are dynamics where you would fight until the end to protect whom you love.  It’s this almost animalistic passion to safeguard the person you love most that inspired me to write The Girlfriend and once I started thinking about how tense and explosive the mother / daughter-in-law relationship can be and how words and actions can very easily be misinterpreted, it become very clear to me that a damaged situation can soon become irreparable and spiral out of control.

In writing The Girlfriend, I surprised myself in how much I would sway between being on the side of the mother (Laura), then the girlfriend (Cherry).  I felt I could see both sides of the argument; each had valid grievances, reasons to feel possessive and jealous.  But these are dangerous emotions and can cause people to act in desperate ways.  In the power struggle between mother and daughter-in-law competing for the same man’s affections, there can only be one victor. 

Certainly in Laura and Cherry’s case, neither is prepared to give up the person they love most for someone they thoroughly dislike!

I would speak to girlfriends in the course of writing this book and without exception each had a story to tell of their own relationship with their mother-in-law.  A tale they would relate with a grimace, occasionally salvaged with humour.  How they’d been ‘advised’ on their toddler’s behaviour, how they might ‘prefer’ to decorate their Christmas tree.  Equally, older friends would relay how they felt shut out of their sons’ lives by the ‘new woman’.  It’s an almost universal predicament.  Perhaps one of the most poignant stories I heard was on the radio.  A heart-broken woman had phoned in and was in tears speaking of how she was excluded to the extent she hadn’t even known her son and his new wife had had not one, but two children.  She had discovered that her grandchildren existed by accident. 

In The Girlfriend, I always thought that if Cherry hadn’t been quite so desperately nervous at the start, she would have got on with Laura and things might have taken a very different turn.  But then there wouldn’t have been a book…

The Girlfriend

by Michelle Frances

Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but she hasn't had the same opportunities as Daniel. And she wants Laura's life.

Cherry comes to the family wide-eyed and wants to be welcomed with open arms, but Laura suspects she's not all that she seems.