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My First Time...with Rachel Edwards

Rachel Edwards, The Riff Raff

Rachel Edwards was born in Cornwall and raised in Hertfordshire by her Jamaican mother and Nigerian father. Following what she regards as an equally improbable turn of events, she now lives in an Oxfordshire with her husband and twin stepchildren.

She read French with English at King’s College London and, following a graduate stint in publishing, broke into fiction in her twenties when she was engaged to craft literary sauce for first editor Rowan Pelling.

Rachel then won a national fiction award from The Arts Council, the prize being mentoring sessions with acclaimed novelist Catherine Johnson.

She freelanced for various publications before focusing on writing fiction full-time. In May 2018, Fourth Estate (HarperCollins) published her debut novel, Darling.

As if that wasn't enough, Rachel will be reading at The Riff Raff on Thursday 14th June...

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book.

I had Darling White in my mind for few weeks from early 2016. She was coming to life as a black British stepmother, but I still was not sure what her story was.

Then came 23rd June: the EU Referendum. I watched the votes come in all night in total shock.

Two days later some man racially abused me in the street. Within hours, I was writing Darling.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

I had heard the saying ‘writing is rewriting’ but had not yet really lived that.

I thought I ought to be able to ‘get it right’ with a carefully written first draft and a bit of a polish.

Naïve. I did not understand how integral writing drafts was to the creative process; how it enables your writing to become layered, like tapestry, or given depth and dimension, like sculpture.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

I have so many! At points during the uncertain early stages it was easier to bludgeon one’s creative urges flat by half-watching TV instead – not Sky Arts, it had to be so pointless that it almost hurt (no offence Come Dine With Me repeats).

Over-phoning good friends killed some time. As did playing the piano, or going to lunch alone, with a notebook, and writing two words.

But I cut myself some slack because I knew that the procrastination was just me easing myself into something that – if I was lucky – would swallow me whole for a year or two.

I was simply taking a breath before diving into what I sensed might be a period of febrile creativity. When the writing really catches, when the book the characters speak to you and their stories come alive in your consciousness, when you write until you sleep and wake at 5am with the urgent need to write more… to me, that is being fully immersed.

Any tantrums while writing it?

I didn’t have tantrums about the book itself, but I think I coped less well with anything that wasn’t the book.

I started harbouring an unhealthy resentment towards things like unloading the dishwasher. Luckily, I have a very understanding husband.

Best thing about writing your book? The vast majority of it was an absolute joy. The business of getting a book together is one thing, but when you feel – at last! – that you are really writing, there are moments of inspiration, luck, serendipity and, yes, what feels like magic that you cannot plan for or manufacture.

For me, to be totally immersed in writing is to feel completely engaged and alive.

And the worst?

Reading through the first draft, you can feel that you are still far from where you should be, even though that initial detailed sketch is down on the page.

At that stage I believed I ought to be feeling some contentment, but for a day or two I felt deflated. The only solution was to write on. Now it seems clear to me that somewhere between that finished first draft and the final edit is where the real writing happens. I was too impatient – there are no short cuts.

Darling by Rachel Edwards, The Riff Raff

Go-to writing snacks?

Savoury treats, mostly. Smoked salmon. Cucumber batons with a smattering of salt and pepper on the side. Cold chicken wings. Salted popcorn. Jalapenos or gherkins straight from the jar (never together). Twiglets, unless my husband has already eaten them all. The odd chocolate truffle. A judicious amount (!) of red wine.

As the kids had left home and I was more interested in staying at my laptop than spending hours in the kitchen, my meals were often a collection of snacks on a plate. Disordered eating is not helpful, but when I’m writing, the three-square-meals-a-day thing becomes secondary.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Initially, I need at least one big idea, something I’m aching to say.

For Darling, it was that ‘racism corrupts love’. Also, chance conversations or gifts can inspire – my stepson gave me a Caribbean cookbook that got me thinking about the sense of identity among the British-born children of the Windrush Generation, like me.

The book that changed you?

Jane Eyre. The only day trip I can remember making alone with my late father was to Foyles in London. I was about 11. He let me wander the aisles and choose my own book at a time when I was feverish with a passion for reading.

The brown, gold-embossed hardback was actual treasure and the novel contained yearnings and shadows and beauty that formed a fundmental part of my literary awakening.

Your pump up song?

I have two depending on the occasion: Lose Yourself by Eminem may be a motivational cliché but that’s because it works; used sparingly, it really sharpens the focus.

I listened to it just before that very first phone meeting with my publisher, which felt a bit American and not very me, but it did the trick! Also, just hearing the intro to Here Comes the Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze always leaves me feeling elated.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

There are many authors who could delight, surprise and enlighten me over a full-bodied red, but Maya Angelou lived one hell of a life.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published?

It rarely feels like it at the time, but every rejection and dead end is shaping your path to publication.

Read everything, of course, but also listen: listen to criticism, listen to authors who have gone before and above all listen hard to your instincts to find your true voice and the story you must write.

If writing is what you love and if a writer is who you are, then do not give up.

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