Arts, Venue

‘Secrets, trust, and danger’: the three promises of Rachel Sargeant’s new novel

Rachel Sargeant is quickly rising the ranks in psychological thrillers, with her novel ‘The Perfect Neighbours’, becoming a top ten Kindle bestseller. Now she talks to us ahead of the release of her upcoming novel, ‘The Roomates’. 

Sargeant’s new novel revolves around a university campus and explores the story of a stalker. Packed with darkness and grip, Sargeant sums the book up in 3 words: secrets, trust and danger. She found her inspiration when visiting her son and daughter at university. I saw real potential in a psychological thriller that featured a university setting with lead characters who were freshers, away from home for the first time.”

After writing four novels, Sargeant has read a lot of readers reviews. She says: What I’ve learned is that every reader has their own unique experience of reading a book. It’s been both enlightening and exciting to discover that no two people will read a scene in the same way. All I can do is write a story that I would like to read in the hope that my taste isn’t wildly different from that of most other psychological thriller readers.

Producing a polished novel can be difficult, especially when trying to form a psychological thriller, but Sargeant has a method of making sure her work is on point.I’m lucky to have three writing friends that I met as fellow students when we did our MA in Creative Writing. The course finished four years ago but we still show our first drafts to each other. I use their trusted advice to make my scenes clearer, hopefully. I also rely on my editor at HarperCollins to point out when I’ve gone off piste. He has a good idea what HarperCollins thriller readers are looking for.

As the novel is set around a university setting I wondered if Sargeant molded the novel around her own experiences, or that of her children who have attended university. She says: “I think some university experiences are universal and don’t change over the years. The nervous excitement on moving-in day. All the other new arrivals looking as if they know what they’re doing and quickly forming groups, sharing jokes and laughing, while you clutch the jiffy bag containing your room keys, pretending it’s taking your full attention.” Sargeant seems to recall her own university experiences when she continues: “Meanwhile your parents make a loud and running commentary on everything they see. Then you die cringing as they speak – speak – to other freshers, asking what courses they’re doing and whether they’ve travelled far. And later, when the course starts, you are the only one who can’t find the lecture theatre and have to walk in late on a sea of faces all staring at you. You’re convinced the lecturer hates you and everyone seems to have better A levels than you.” However, she did have to rely on her children’s experience when it came to the social side, particularly “vodka pre-s, Snapchat, nightclubs, kebabs and Ubers at 5am.” In fact when drafting her novel, she did visualise her daughter as the lead character, Imogen. However Sargeant says that: “As soon as I got onto rewriting and expanding the plot, the character took on a life of her own, nothing like the real person. Only the blonde hair stayed the same. I don’t think I could base characters on real people. Apart from it being unethical, I wouldn’t be able to make real people do what I want them to do in the story. Some of my characters get up to grim or outrageous things.” 

Reminiscing about her student days, Sargeant says: “We went to the pub for cider and a warmed-up pasty, and possibly onto a ticketed party at the students’ union. We’d go out about 7pm and be home again soon after midnight. No one used taxis. We either walked or used the student union minibus. We made all plans in person as the only phone was a callbox on campus which always had a queue.”

I always wonder if authors write for a specific purpose, and hoping readers take a specific message away from their work. For Sargeant, she says: “Because each reader is unique, I’d like them to take away whatever they hoped for from the book. They could be entertained, moved, pleasantly surprised or maybe a little scared – but in a good way, not in a sleepless night kind of way. Although The Roommates deals with emotional themes and there are some tense scenes, I would like readers to enjoy the experience of reading it.”

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Leia Butler

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September 2021
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