Congratulations to Rachel Crowther, whose second novel, ‘Things You Do For Love’, will be published in August this year – with her third novel (as yet untitled) scheduled for publication in August 2017.
Rachel studied for the Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes part-time between 2009 and 2011, whilst working as a Consultant in Public Health Medicine for the NHS. While she was completing her MA, Rachel successfully entered her first novel, ‘The Partridge and the Pelican’ for the Hookline novel competition, seeing it published in April 2011. Some passages in that novel grew out of exercises undertaken for seminars within the MA
By then, Rachel was already working on her next novel. Initially conceived as a pair, her idea was that one novel would be from the point of view of Flora, the retired surgeon protagonist, and the other from the point of view of her daughters. Rachel submitted extracts from the novel with a commentary along these lines for her final assignment of the MA under the title ‘Binocular Fiction’ – the term she chose to capture the advantages of developing two slightly different, equally weighted perspectives on a story.
In the end, Rachel successfully combined the two narratives into one novel, resulting in the soon to be published ‘The Things You Do For Love’. The novel looks back over forty years of Flora’s career and marriage, and her daughters’ childhoods, examining their choices, sacrifices, secrets, disappointments and hopes.
On her experience of writing her novel whilst studying for her MA, Rachel writes that:
‘During the MA course I workshopped several extracts from the novel, some with the course staff but also with Kate Clanchy, and a couple of scenes grew out of exercises we did in class (especially in Jim’s Novel module). That experience was helpful in that it gave me a chance to test-drive some passages in a challenging environment, and helped me answer some questions about my characters and how I was telling the story. Another hugely valuable element of the course for me was the ‘Rewriting Fiction’ module I did with Rob Pope, who went on to supervise my final piece, because those sessions really stretched us all and brought out some wonderfully innovative, creative, even mad ideas from all of us in the small group lucky enough to be taught by Rob’.
On completion of her MA in Creative Writing, Rachel spent three busy years moving house, jobs and schools, whilst taking the manuscript apart and putting it back together again several times over, with various different characters and plot lines removed, rejigged or reinstated at each stage – a process that she feels yielded a much stronger novel than she started out with.
Rachel’s manuscript was taken on by Patrick Walsh at Conville and Walsh in December 2014, and sold to Bonnier Zaffre in July 2015 as part of a two book deal.
‘The Things You Do For Love’ is coming out in August this year, and the next novel (final title to be agreed) is currently in the editing phase and provisionally scheduled for publication in August 2017.
The following is an extract provided by Rachel which she remembers workshopping during the course. Flora’s daughter Kitty is a composer, just setting out on her career and not yet sure that she believes in herself as a musician, and this passage describes the moment when she first sees what she is capable of.
The opening notes lifted from the piano as slowly and carefully as if they were being thought of for the first time. Lifted and then lingered in the air, languorous but persuasive, perfectly placed. Kitty opened her eyes again, and her mouth opened too, as though she needed to see and breathe and taste the sound as well as hear it. It felt as though the song needed her complete attention to will it on – although the extraordinary truth was that Andrej and Daniel were making the sounds she could hear, evoking so precisely the music in her head. This must be like giving birth, seeing what was inside you take shape in the world.
The rest of the audience had vanished now. There was only Kitty and the performers and the space above them in which the sound waves hovered and spread. Not even Kitty, perhaps; all that mattered of her was in the music. Andrej’s voice held a long G, closed it on a careful, not quite English diphthong, then slid gracefully onto a high E and unfurled the plaintive phrase that signified to Kitty something more than the words of the setting: something that Andrej’s impeccable breath control seemed to yield up between the notes. Kitty’s heartbeat accelerated with them, drawing out a pure thread of emotion from the interplay of words and melody. This was something she had never known before, a surge of feeling she couldn’t explain or control, bringing recognition beyond rational meaning: something that felt very much like love.