Interview with Rachel Edwards
In conversation with Cat Hall
On wanting to write
When I was ten years old I have a very clear recollection that what I’d love to do more than anything was write a novel. I’ve had this yearning for as long as I can remember really. I didn’t write reams and reams of short stories. I’ve always been passionate about the novel form, so it was more how do I close that approach down into a shortened form rather than being a natural short story writer who opened out.
Working in publishing was the way I found to be paid for being close to books. I had drive to be an author but I certainly didn’t know how I’d get there. My twenties was a constant balance, see-sawing between getting money and writing time. Towards the end of my 20s I was mostly writing for a living. That was a great milestone in my life, I felt I was earning most of my money by writing, be it copywriting or writing for magazines or whatever. Copywriting is in some ways as helpful to writing a novel as writing short stories.
It makes you think in a different way because you have to inhabit a character for copywriting. When you’re writing for a certain brand you have to take on a certain identity for that one sentence or paragraph, and I enjoyed doing that.
On the writing process
I had Darling the character in 2016, but then I thought what’s her story, what’s happened to her, why does it matter that she’s a Black British woman, what does she have to say? That’s when the Brexit vote happened and I thought, okay this is a really interesting time to be the daughter of immigrants, let’s see where this is going, and then I wanted to link it with Lola.
I worked fast and quite intensively on it and I think more than anything I knew suddenly I’d gone up a gear in terms of what I was writing. Darling was my first time writing in first person; I really inhabited them to the point where I could hear their voices, and that’s the way I’d always wanted to write. There were times where I thought, I wish this wouldn’t be what her motivations are, or, why she’s like this? But that’s what they’re going to do. It sounds like being out of control but it only gets to that level of intimacy with your characters when you have been really in control - as much as you can be, as a debut novelist - of your material. That’s when you can let go and that’s when interesting things can happen - on the second or third draft at least. That’s what I wish I’d realised earlier on in my writing life, that you really get your hands dirty, let it get out of control, go a bit wrong and let the characters talk to you. I’d heard other authors talking about that but I’d never experienced it myself and that was really exciting actually.
Working with my editor Anna Kelly was incredibly helpful; she did help me to reshape it and work on it. It wasn’t necessarily going to be a psychological thriller when it came about, I had very much developed the characters of Darling and Lola, and it was quite advanced by the time I got it to her. It was quite well-progressed but then it got slightly darker, shall we say. I don’t think it changed genre. I think this is where drafting is so important, because I worked through the book quite a few times so I knew where it was going. The characters dictated the tension and the twists and the turns and I let them really go to town on each other, that’s when it emerged as quite a twisty dark book, when I let go of the reins a bit.