Nicci Gerrard and Sean French are the Suffolk based husband-and-wife writing team Nicci French, authors of 17 psychological thrillers, many of them set in the county. They’ll be introducing their latest at Slaughter in Southwold.

Reading bedtime stories to their young granddaughter has been a recently discovered joy for Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the husband-and-wife team behind the bestselling psychological thrillers of Nicci French.

It’s been a delight to introduce a young child to the wonder and magic of stories – and a realisation that, whatever age, we all seem to enjoy being frightened.

'Children love stories about witches or skeletons, things that scare them,' says Sean. For the rest of us, even when the world seems particularly precarious, worrying and unsettling, murder mysteries and thrillers have never been so popular.

'I think it’s because it is a safe fear,' says Nicci. 'It's a way of thinking about things we otherwise wouldn’t want to think about. We are taking terror and giving it some kind of resolution at the end, which most terrors don’t have, after all.

'Everybody has things they are anxious about. This is a way of going into the cave or dark space in order to confront the fear. For me, writing is a way of exploring it; writing about things makes them less scary.'

Missing children, stalkers, false memories, wrongful convictions, botched police investigations and murders – lots of murders – have featured in the 17 standalone novels, and one series of eight books, written by Nicci and Sean. Many have been set in the Suffolk countryside that has been their home for the past 25 years.

'Some of our books have to happen in a city, but many need the empty landscape of East Anglia,' says Nicci. 'There’s the melancholy sky, the hard wind from the east, the mud flats. We find it an extremely compelling and beautiful landscape. And it’s a good place for bodies to disappear.'

Nicci and Sean write together. Their latest book, Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?, is about a woman, a mother of three children, who goes missing from her husband’s birthday celebration. She is never found. The story skips forward to 30 years later – how has the family has fared since her disappearance? Will there finally be a resolution?

'We always want to do something that feels different,' says Nicci. 'We want to write something that challenges us.' The events in one of their early books took place in real time over a period of a few hours; this novel spans half a lifetime. It’s set in two time periods, the 1990s and the present day.

'In a way, 1990 felt like writing a historical novel,' says Sean. 'There were no mobile phones and communications were really bad. Contrast that with the 2020s when our characters start a podcast. So many people listen to true crime podcasts, forgetting that real people are involved.'

'And this book is about mothers and time passing,' says Nicci. 'There are many novels about children who go missing – that particular kind of terror, and the impact that has on a family and a community – but we wanted to turn that on its head and think about children missing their mother. They can’t mourn her because they’re suspended in uncertainty; they’re waiting for their life to be alright again. It’s a horrible, corrosive thing.'

Great British Life: Suffolk provides an ideal setting for the psychological thrillers of Nicci French.Suffolk provides an ideal setting for the psychological thrillers of Nicci French. (Image: Getty)

When the children have grown up and return home to confront their past, they have to look after their elderly father, who has dementia. Nicci has written and campaigned about dementia after her father died with the illness during the pandemic, so how did she feel about including it within the novel?

'Partly, it’s a plot device,' she says. 'The whole book is about memory and different people’s conflicting memories. And we needed a reason for the family which had been blown apart, to return and confront what had happened.'

But with all the Nicci French books, Sean and Nicci draw on their own life experiences, the dilemmas they face and the issues they ponder in the plotlines.

'Each book has been a product of a time in our life,' says Sean. 'If someone reads our books all the way through in order, the children who feature in it happen to be the age our children were at the time because that is the world we were living in.'

'There are hidden currents that go through the books which are about our obsessions or troubles at the time,’ says Nicci. 'Writing together has been our way of thinking through things that bother us, or scare or unsettle us. It’s a way of exploring it together.'

The couple met as journalists in London in 1990 and married shortly afterwards. Their first book, The Memory Game, was published in 1997 and two more novels followed before they decided to move to Suffolk in 1999 with their four young children.

They maintain a rhythm of writing a book a year, having quickly developed clear rules about working together. They spend hours discussing ideas for the story, taking walking holidays to develop the idea for a book, and then spending more time, while walking the dog or sitting at the kitchen table, talking and planning.

When it comes to writing, they take it in turns. Sean works in his shed in the garden and when a chapter is complete he emails it to Nic. She can then edit it and send it back before working on the next chapter from her desk in a room at the top of the beautiful Georgian house they own in the south of the county.

'It’s really strange that we’ve done this for so long,' says Sean. 'It’s been such a large part of our relationship that it’s like a vine around a tree and you can’t separate it. The fact that we have written as a collaboration feels as weird to us as it does to everyone else. But it’s fun, to go on this adventure together. It’s amazing.'

Nicci Gerrard and Sean French will be talking about their new book Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? at Slaughter in Southwold on 16 June. Details

Great British Life: Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? by Nicci FrenchHas Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? by Nicci French (Image: Nicci French)