Read like a writer: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy

1024 683 Writer and the Wolf Editorial
Title: Last One to Die
Author: Cynthia Murphy (she/her)
Published: Scholastic 2021
Agent: Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown
Author’s other titles include: Win Lose Kill Die
Genre: Horror
Audience: YA
Word count: Approx 66,000
Main character: Niamh, 16
POV & tense: First person present tense
Structure/format: Regular linear structure although it opens with an interview transcript
Comp titles: The Mary Shelley Club by Goldie Moldavsky, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, One of Us Is Next by Karen McManus
Tags: slasher, paranormal, romance, final girl, Victoriana, urban legends
Read this if you’re writing: a slasher with a supernatural twist or a contemporary horror, a mystery with red herrings
From the publisher:
Young, brunette women are being attacked in London. 16-year-old, Irish-born Niamh has just arrived for a summer of freedom, and quickly discovers that the girls being attacked look frighteningly similar to her. But Niamh is determined not to let her fear destroy her Summer. But can her new friends be trusted? Will she be able to stay ahead of the attacker? Or will she be next? Packed with voice-driven whodunit storytelling, and a retro slasher-movie feel reminiscent of cult classics Scream and Urban Legend, this dark, pacy, and irresistibly-creepy debut really has something for everybody!

This was a really fun, pacey YA horror with grown-up Point Horror vibes as Kathryn Foxfield pointed out in her quote on the back of the book. What I found particularly interesting about Last One to Die is that it reads as a realistic slasher up right until the last couple of chapters and then – SPOILER ALERT! – it turns a corner into supernatural horror for the big reveal. I say spoiler alert but actually Kat Ellis’ quote on the back, ‘a supernatural horror-fest’, sort of gives away that twist. This is what sets it apart from Point Horror stories, for me, as those are always based in reality.


Niamh has a strong voice and I warmed to her immediately, maybe because she’s Irish and I felt one step closer to getting a protagonist called Siobhán next. The story is packed with creepy, atmospheric settings like an empty library archive room, a Victorian museum with recreated gas-lit streets and a London graveyard at night, so if you’re writing horror you might find some inspiration in Murphy’s locations. I loved seeing my home town through the eyes of a newcomer – it made me imagine how my mum must have felt when she moved to London from Ireland in her early twenties – and it served the plot well because Niamh’s disorientation and excitement at being in a big city helped justify how she ended up in so many terrifying situations and ill-advised trysts without sensing a threat before it was too late. It also helped to create that sense of terror throughout the story as Niamh explored an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar country.

Tips from Cynthia Murphy

In an interview with United Pop about her book Cynthia gives some really interesting insights into her inspirations and writing process and includes some advice for aspiring writers, too:

Do you have advice for aspiring authors wanting to try their hand at YA horror?

Read around the genre and watch loads of movies – I can spot a trope from a mile off now! Find something that interests you and see how you can twist it. For some scenes in Last One to Die, I thought – okay, what’s the worst that could happen here? So I did that and then went back and made it even more horrible in the edit…

Questions for your notebook

On top of the standard questions to ask when analysing a novel, here are some specific things to look out for while reading this book. Warning: this list may contain spoilers so don’t read the questions until you’ve read the novel!

  • Do you think Niamh is a relatable protagonist YA readers will be able to connect easily with?
  • How did you feel about the supernatural twist on a slasher horror? Did it bring a fresh take to the genre?
  • Would you call this a horror or a thriller? Were the scary parts really scary or more chilling and atmospheric?
  • How does Murphy present London from a tourist’s POV? Would the story have worked just as well if Niamh wasn’t in a strange city?

* The images in this blog are from the gorgeous The Beauty of Horror: A GOREgeous Coloring Book by Alan Robert, coloured in by my fair hand. 

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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes