Thursday 14 January 2016

Q&A with T.R. Richmond, author of What She Left

Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel, What She Left?

It’s the story of a 25-year-old woman who drowns on a night out in her old university city. A lecturer pieces together her life – and the mystery surrounding her death – from her paper and digital trail.

Did writing a book that touches on the theme of social media change the way you personally use it?

It’s definitely made me think about privacy and how much information I share with the world. It’s easy to forget social media is a public place, so I try not to forget a piece of advice I was once given: Never tweet anything you wouldn’t be happy to stand up in a pub and shout. I’m a fan of Twitter, though. I love the fact that it’s a direct line to readers, so I can get feedback, but it can also be a big distraction and I don’t need any more of those!

What She Left is not written in a conventional style – instead, the narrative is told through a mixture of forum posts, letters, social media posts, diary entries and more. How challenging did you find writing in this style?

At times it felt like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but I wanted to write a book that reflected the way people communicate these days. Whether we’re communicating with our friends or following the news, we don’t get a linear narrative via one medium. I tried to make sure Alice was the “spine” of the story so we regularly hear from her in her own words via her diary entries, and the professor also gets a lot of airtime via a series of letters he’s writing. Other information is then layered on from other sources.

How much research did What She Left require?

Lots. One way I did this with Alice was to read what I thought she’d have read in terms of websites, magazines and novels. In terms of getting inside Cooke’s head (not always a nice place to be!), I took a bit of a crash course in anthropology and read around it widely – albeit at a basic level.

Research helps you visualise your characters, shape their personalities and make choices on their behalf, but ultimately most of it shouldn’t be visible on the page. It’s like an iceberg – most of it is under the surface.

How has the response to your debut compared to your expectations?

That’s a hard one to answer because I really had no idea what to expect. Fact is, having a book published by Michael Joseph/Penguin has been a dream come true for me.

What’s your opinion on book comparisons – ie. If you liked … you’ll love … - are they a help or a hindrance to readers and authors? Both?

Definitely both. They can be unhelpful, but when they’re done thoughtfully – as they often are – they’re a useful reference point for readers. Ultimately, I don’t mind what readers compare my book too.

Once it’s been published, it’s no longer yours – you’re handing it over to readers and their views on it is every bit as legitimate as yours.

What do you love the most about being a published author?

The buzz when people tell me my writing has moved them in some way. That’s an amazing feeling. I also got to meet Richard E Grant!

If you could offer one piece of writing advice, what would that be?

Do a little bit every day, even if it’s only a few minutes.

What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2016?

Can I have two please? I loved Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go and her next one, I See You, is out in August, so that’ll definitely be on my TBR pile. I’ve also always admired Kathryn Flett’s journalism and she’s got a new one, Outstanding, which will hit the bookshelves in April, so I’ll definitely be getting hold of that.

If you were to co-write a book with another author, who would you love to write it with?

Oh, interesting question, I’ve never been asked that before. I’ll go for Stephen King – a) because he’s a brilliant writer and I could learn loads from him and b) because he’s so prolific so he’d do most of it and I’d get to lounge around.

What’s next for T.R. Richmond?

I’ve recently started a new novel, and am loving working on that. When your characters pop into your head at unexpected moments, that’s always a good sign – and that’s happening a lot. Writing is like an itch you can never properly scratch. The desire to do it never goes away. That’s probably the best and the worst parts of this job. In terms of what next, as in literally next, well, a walk with the dog then a microwave meal. It’s all glamour here…


What She Left is out now.


  1. Great interview! I added this to be my to be read list, xo!


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