Interview with Rachel Sargeant, Author of ‘The Roommates’

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Rachel Sargeant’s latest crime novel – The Roommates – has been selected by publishers HarperCollins for their main crime and thriller list this year. The Roommates is set in a university freshers’ week featuring four students with secrets from their pasts. SCAN caught up with Rachel Sargeant for a much-needed interview!

I know you have a book coming out later this month – was there any inspiration?

We’ve been going to a lot of university open days, so I’ve been around that setting frequently. I only write psychological thrillers, so I knew I had to twist the setting. The final scene just popped into my head, and so I decided to start there and work backwards.

Thinking more broadly, what got you into writing?

What got me into writing is quite ridiculous. I was at a party, and a palm reader was going around the room, so I gave her my hand, and she said: “you’re creative, are you a painter?” I said, “No, I don’t know one end of a paintbrush from the other.” At this point, I’d thought she’d drop it, but she asked: “do you play the piano?” I said, no, I’m tone-deaf.” She said, “are you a writer?” And I swanned around the rest of the party thinking “I could be a writer…” I didn’t write anything until six months later when I saw a creative writing workshop advertised, and I thought I’d have a go.

Does writing energise or exhaust you as a rule?

Once I get going, I’m fine but starting a new project is always the hardest bit. I fuss about and find excuses to do anything else – I don’t know if it’s because I’m scared to start something, but once I start, I go with it and write.

Authors get asked a lot about tips, but what are common traps for aspiring writers?

Being afraid to read – I think people feel that they can’t read outside of their genre, but you can learn a lot from reading other people’s work. I think people are scared because they’ll think they’ll copy that author, but if they have a distinctive voice then that shouldn’t matter.

How do you select the names of your characters?

For this book, I tried to use the type of names that students have now, but I also use names to refer to unusual backgrounds – for example, in the book [The Roommates], there’s a girl called Phoenix, and you don’t hear of many girls called Phoenix usually.

How much of your book is based on experience?

The Roommates has quite a lot of my children in it as we’ve been around a lot of universities. I tend to use real-life situations or experiences and put my characters into them – for example, in the book a character is at a lecture, and the lecturer asks for the register back. She realises she hasn’t signed or passed on the register, so everyone has to wait 5/10 extra minutes to sign it, and that’s one thing my children say have happened to them. You can’t put real people into novels as you usually can’t get them to do what you want them to do.

Are there any characters you wish you’d written?

That’s difficult – I like reading other characters, but that’s other people’s work – not mine. I’m trying to think off the top of my head, but I don’t really have any. I suppose I like to try and create my own memorable characters!

I know you’re a stately home fan, so have you been on any literary pilgrimages?

Not really, but I’d love to go to Greenaway – the Agatha Christie house – because it’s a National Trust property and I really want to go. I’ve also heard you can take a ride there on an old-fashioned bus, so maybe next year!

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