I want to welcome T.R. Richmond to the blog today. T.R Richmond wrote the novel, What She Left, which have had people comparing it to Gone Girl on Goodreads and Amazon. The story starts with Alice Salmon, a young woman who died when returning to her university town one night.
But as Professor Cooke begins to look into Alice's life via her paper and internet trail, he begins to wonder...
To celebrate this book's US release (out next week, for those of you in the States), T.R Richmond has joined us to reveal why he wrote What She Left in the style that he has.
Before I hand it over to T.R. Richmond, I just want to say thank you to him for taking time out to write this post. I know how busy he must be, but thank you nevertheless.
I expect most people who read this blog, as well as loving traditional “paper” books, also have an electronic reading device.
It’s not just how we read novels that’s changed in the last decade or so, however. The way we get our news and information has changed more in the last 10 years than it did in the previous 100.
Long gone are the days of keeping up with what’s going on in the world by taking one newspaper or catching one radio or TV news bulletin. The internet allows us to hear about local, national and global events in a host of ways from a multitude of sources.
It's also true of how we communicate with friends, colleagues and loved ones. We interact in a variety of disparate, episodic methods. We text, email, tweet, blog, post on Facebook and use picture-sharing websites. So many ways, these days, to get in touch, stay in touch and to hear – and spread – news, views and information.
I wanted to reflect this in my novel, so rather than featuring one single narrative voice included multiple subjective accounts and snippets. My lead character was a 25-year-old woman who was part of the Facebook generation – it felt appropriate to tell her story in this way.
Of course, it means readers have to do a bit of “join-the-dotting” (is that an actual expression?) as they piece together the story of Alice Salmon’s life and, ultimately, the mystery surrounding her death. But hopefully that’s the fun bit – they get to “play detective” as they sort fact from fiction, work out who to believe, and come to their own conclusions about what she was like and what she left. But this is actually no different to what we all do every day – we piece together news and the narratives of our own lives.
As for why I opted for multiple first-person narrators, well, I’d always enjoyed this form (we’ve all read Gone Girl, right, and I’m currently watching a TV show called The Affair which also does it brilliantly). It feels like an “honest” approach because we all see things from our own perspective and are all, in fact, unreliable narrators of our own lives. I’m also a fan of epistolary novels (everything from Dracula to Bridget Jones) so was drawn to this format.
Ultimately, I wanted to explore how representative of us the traces we leave behind in this digital age are – because, more than at any point in history, we all leave a “footprint” nowadays.
So this was the challenge I set myself – to write a suspense story that collated a life (and the circumstances of a death) from this footprint. In some ways, I wanted What She Left to feel like an unfolding news story, as well as a novel.
I might have set out with such motives, but when you get into the heart of a story, the characters take over. It not so much then about what I wanted – more about what they told me they were going to do. At times, it felt like I was doing a jigsaw puzzle, but that’s how life feels, isn’t it.
Writing What She Left highlighted to me how much I enjoy the digital world – it reminded me of its joys, its power and its omnipresence. That said, it’ll never replace that most old-fashioned and wonderful of things – face-to-face human contact. Just as electronic reading devices will never totally replace traditional books.