Flora Collins has been writing dark stories for a long time. In an interview with Alex Hawgood, Flora said, “I’ve been babbling little stories to whoever would listen to me since the age of three.” She put that talent to good use in high school, where she was named runner up for the Adroit Prize for Prose, crafting a memorable tale people still talk about today. Her more recent work is her debut novel, Nanny Dearest, which Julia Heaberlin calls “Unsettling, compelling, elegantly paced . . . A slick, contemporary novel that explores the wispy, nagging memories of childhood.” And readers agree, with one Goodreads reviewer stating, “Read this in the daylight or the characters will haunt your dreams!” and another saying, “What a wonderfully, dark, and twisty one this is!” The book releases tomorrow (!!), and I know how rushed launch week can be, so I’m thankul Flora had the time to answer a few of my questions.
Christina: Your debut, Nanny Dearest, is a psychological thriller that Hannah Mary Mackinnon says is “off the charts twisted.” What drew you to write a psychological thriller? The thriller genre (and nannies too) is so hot right now—what makes your book unique?
Flora: I’ve always been interested in the macabre! Even as a seven year old, I watched films like The Bad Seed with my parents and when I got a little older, I devoured everything from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books to Stephen King’s oeuvre. When I began to take my own writing seriously, almost every tale I crafted had a psychological thriller element to it; in high school, I even wrote a creepy collection of short stories called Kids Killing Kids.
As for what makes my book unique among other nanny-centric thrillers, that’s for readers to decide! But I’ve been told that including both points of view (the nanny and the charge) differentiates the book. Also, the narrative hinges on a reunion between a nanny and her charge twenty years later, which I think is another distinction.
Christina: HarperCollins says that Nanny Dearest “draws upon personal experiences from her own family history.” Can you expand upon that statement? When did you decide you wanted to write about those experiences?
Flora: As a young girl, I had a babysitter who was a pathological liar, though she was nowhere near as diabolical as Annie; that experience very loosely informed the novel.
When I first started thinking about writing this novel, I wanted to use a relationship from my own life as inspiration. That strange babysitter experience seemed like a good place to start!
Christina: The story is told in alternating points of view—Annie, the nanny, in the mid-1990s and Sue, one of Annie’s former charges, in the present day. Did you set out to write a book with dual timelines, or did that form arise organically? Did you face any obstacles, and what did you learn from them?
Flora: The dual timeline idea came to me organically as I began to write. I made Sue the exact same age as I am, so I didn’t face too many obstacles when presenting the nineties. I will say, though, that I was very obsessed with making sure the pop culture references were accurate (what Tupac song Annie would be listening to in mid-1996, what Happy Meal toys McDonald’s gave out in 1997, etc.). It helped to have older people around, like my mother, to ask about certain details.
Christina: Vogue called the book “a domestic thriller in which the domestic elements are cannily veiled as the book unfolds.” As a writer, how do you decide when to reveal something and when to hold it back? Do you ever second guess yourself?
Flora: This is such an art! I second guess myself all the time. The only way I’ve gotten better at reveals and twists is by reading, reading, and more reading, especially other novels that fall into the psychological thriller category. Once I review an entire draft of my work, I can usually figure out the timing and pacing of reveals, but it certainly takes practice!
Christina: Debut author publishing journeys are fun stories to hear about. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
Flora: My dream was always to be a published novelist, since I learned what that meant. I wrote a lot of short stories in high school and college, taking every class offered on the subject or enrolling in any summer program I could (I am extremely lucky to have very supportive, artistic parents). In the spring of 2017, I finally took the plunge and wrote my first full-length manuscript. That one didn’t sell to publishers, but I persevered, wrote an entirely new manuscript (Nanny Dearest), and eventually landed a book deal in August 2020!
Christina: Your Amazon bio states that when you’re not writing you can be found “attempting to eat soft-serve ice cream in bed.” What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Is there ever a time you won’t eat ice cream? Does ice cream inform your writing at all?
Flora: I do love ice cream, especially soft serve. I’d say my favorite flavor would be chocolate, with lots of toppings (hot fudge? M&Ms?), and I never back down from the chance to get some, except if I’m overly stuffed from dinner! I am known to Google map the nearest ice cream place after a meal and drag my dining partner along with me in my quest for dessert.
I don’t think ice cream informs my writing at all, but I am a big believer in indulging in one’s pleasures (unless they’re hurting someone else!). Being well-fed certainly fuels my brain for writing time!
Christina: What’s next for you?
Flora: Another psychological thriller out in 2022 with MIRA! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it.
Flora can be found over on Instagram at @floracollins_
Thanks to Flora for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.