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Alumni Voices: finding your voice is the key to getting published

Rachel Edwards’ (French & English, 1996) debut novel Darling was published in 2018.

In May 2018 my debut novel, Darling, was published by 4th Estate, part of HarperCollins. Before it was released, the TV rights were bought by the production company behind the award-winning crime drama The Fall. Having wanted to be an author since I was 10, my dream was finally coming true in spectacular fashion. This was not the first book that I had attempted – as most authors will tell you, it rarely is. Moreover, I had already published over three million paid-for words during my 13 years as a freelance writer, working for magazines like Marie Claire. Yet I knew from the start that this novel was unlike anything I had written before.

So, why Darling and why now?

The answers are, in part, entwined. Darling, which has been called in the press ‘the first Brexit thriller’ is a novel for now. It was fuelled by my own outrage at the Brexit vote (I remain a Remainer) and the rise of the Far Right in the UK and beyond. The ‘big idea’ driving the novel is that racism corrupts love. Yet even with a strong and timely idea, securing a publishing contract is difficult.

What makes a book speak to you as a writer, then to your agent, then to a commissioning editor and ultimately to your readers?

It is that simple yet elusive factor that unites all books that succeed: voice. As a writer, you must find your voice, whoever and whatever you write, whether contemporary or historical, whether in the first person or not. An author’s voice is the conduit for their sensitivity and ideas and in literary fiction it must be true.

For years I thought ‘write what you know’ meant writing about events I had experienced, or cherry-picking tics and idiosyncrasies from myself, or from people I had met, all thinly disguised as fiction. This may indeed help to drive and colour my writing: my protagonist, Darling White, is a black British stepmother like me. But above that you must express the truths that you know – the ideas – and write with a true voice (which stands quite apart from the reliability of your narrator) while saying what you must.

Now, more than ever, there is a thirst for fresh voices in publishing. That means not just debut authors, or writers from certain backgrounds, but authors who can say something original. This, after all, is essential to the future of publishing: staying relevant. While the odd author might kick up a fuss about the BAME or working class or LGBTQ authors taking their place at the literary table, there is clearly a readership out there eager to hear from a broader range of voices.

If you can write and have spent time on both the art and the craft of writing; if you have passion, talent and ideas; if you want to say something that no one else could say in quite the same way; if you are finding your voice; if you are truly an author, then the time to write is now. Good luck.

Darling by Rachel Edwards, is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook; the paperback is out on 7th February 2019.

If you would like to share your story, why not get in touch? Email with a short bio and a summary of the story you would like to tell.

In this story

Rachel Edwards

Rachel Edwards

Contributor to Alumni Blog.

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