Arts & Culture

2nd March 2020

A Conversation With Rachel Sargeant

University can be a scary time. And nobody knows this more than up-and-coming thriller author Rachel Sargeant, who’s latest novel, ‘The Roommates’ is inspired by her recent experiences travelling with her daughters around various university open days and being reminded of those familiar daunting experiences of setting off to uni for the first time.

I sat down recently to chat to Rachel about university experiences, how to write the perfect crime novel and the dreadful thrill that procrastination provides to writers.

The Perfect Strangers is the product of two years’ worth of inspiration for Rachel, who was first struck by the chillingly familiar atmosphere at Freshers week of, “meeting all these new people that are ridiculously outgoing – and then you never see them again”. We’ve all been there – your new bestie at Freshers Fair that you’ll be besotted with for a week then never clap eyes upon again in your life. It’s a natural process as people try their best to make a fantastic first impression on EVERYONE they meet…and for Rachel, “some things just don’t change from school to university really: you’re still trying to present the best version of yourself to everyone”.

“Once you have the opportunity to go somewhere else where nobody knows you, there’s a certain chance for reinvention. People at home might know you a certain way but now you’ve got a blank slate. That’s something the novel takes to dark extremes…hopefully it’s relatable!”

Rachel laughs. The Perfect Strangers follows a group of freshers navigating these new ‘friendships’ we all so hastily make.

“They’re trying to work out who to trust and who’s holding back. It’s a lot like real life.”

I ask Rachel if the novel’s gripping events are perhaps inspired by personal experience? “Perhaps the seriously grotty digs” she muses. We chat about the joys of writing in a setting that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen (or possibly owned?) a “trophy cabinet” of liquor bottles left as the sole decoration of ones’ room – home décor to die for. It’s certainly difficult sometimes to live with five brand-new people: “your flatmates certainly aren’t your friends – you’ve got to learn to live together.”

Rachel’s Career

It’s certainly a prospect that ties in well with the thriller genre, something Rachel is familiar with having already written two best-selling crime novels and winning Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story Competition – a short story she then developed into one of her early novels first published in 2010, The Good Teacher. Rachel’s career beginnings blossomed after returning to England from Germany and participating in a simple writing exercise at a creative writing workshop.

“Straight after the class I went home and bought a writing magazine, I’d never bought one before, but I was just so excited by the positive feedback I’d got. In it was an advert for a short story competition. So I expanded the 100 words into a few thousand words, and it won the national crime short story competition. It was the first piece of creative writing I’d done since GCSE English!”

I ask if she has any advice for aspirational writers looking to expand on their work the same way…

“You need to find a little core of fellow writers that you really really trust, and share. Just share drafts with other people – I still share drafts with people from my course! Showing early drafts to other writers is so beneficial to your critical eye, and the feedback from other writers helped me so much in the early stages.”

How do you make time to see people to write together?

“You don’t even need to meet! I haven’t met up with any of them since the course finished but every 2 months, we try to send each other 2000 words.”

Any other advice for the keen student writer (if uni hasn’t already killed your enjoyment for picking up the pen)?

“I know it’s cliché but read lots. And read books you like – you need to be writing or reading in a genre you would like to read. Write something you yourself would like to read!”

Rachel’s latest novel, The Roommates, published by HarperCollins is available on Amazon, and Rachel can be found on Twitter @RachelSargeant3.