Blog tour: Red/Black

Welcome to the blog tour for Red/Black by Rachel Atherton-Charvat! Ready to learn more? Keep scrolling…

Hi Rachel! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Red/Black! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A:  Thank you, Silvia and for inviting me to speak on your blog! My book is about a woman called Sarah and her destructive descent into depression and gambling addiction. It begins with Sarah preparing for the move to a British military camp in Germany. Her husband, Graeme, is a psychiatrist who, having only previously served in the army reserves, has accepted a fulltime posting for two years. Not long after she arrives, she is involved in a car crash where there is a fatality, which takes her back to a previous tragedy of losing her son, in an accident where she had been driving. This is the catalyst for the return of her underlying depression and she begins gambling online. Her struggle with her illness and increasing addiction is exacerbated by the isolation, expectation of conformity and demands of army life. When the deception of her coercive husband is revealed, she is forced to face her past and her present reality. My aim is to show the potentially devastating consequences of neglected mental illness and particularly for those that seek refuge in gambling. Sarah’s previous denial and recklessness and the discovery of her husband’s deception, create a perfect storm. There is always an account that has to be settled, someone always pays the price.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: As I sat down to write, the plot for my book was only skeleton in its plan. I had the characters and the initial setting and that was essentially it. As Sarah’s character grew, she took her own course. The first scene I wrote takes place near to the end of the book. I then began her journey as she prepares for the move to Germany. The characters were vivid in my mind and I followed them and gave way to the chaos and deception within them. 

Was Red/Black your working title? Either way, how did you choose it?

A: I chose the title very early on. When Sarah starts gambling and begins to lose control, she submits herself to extremes of chance, instead of acknowledging her lack of fulfilment and taking responsibility in determining her own path.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Sarah?

A: Rosamund Pike. I would like to take credit for this idea but it was a suggestion by a friend.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: The most difficult scenes to write were when Sarah begins to unravel, particularly towards the end of the book as she returns to her past.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Yes, but they were lighter passages that gave further dimension to peripheral characters. I enjoyed writing them but thought I should spare the reader what was more of an exercise in finding myself very funny. 

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: Currently, I am writing a book about a dysfunctional, borderline misanthropic psychologist, which is dark in its nature and black-humoured. When her life spirals out of control, her clients are inextricably drawn into her path to self-destruction.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Xenophon's The Persian Expedition and I have just taken receipt of Stephen Fry’s Troy. I currently live on the West Coast of Turkey and have spent the last four years exploring the Greco-Roman cities of Asia Minor. I find the history and mythology enthralling, wonderfully brought to life by reading the pages of ancient texts which turn ruined foundations into thriving cities. As the sun goes down and you are looking over the ruins taking it all in, it’s difficult to beat that. With a cold beer in hand, impossible to beat that.   

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I tend to limit my time on social media. It can be a wonderful thing, connecting people with ideas and information. I try to make the most of that. However, in terms of influencing my writing, being on it too much would take my focus away from my work. For all the brilliant, positive, illuminating and profound contributions linking our shared experiences, I’ve seen too many people in these forums who seek to bring others down, shutdown debate, too full of anger and intolerance. I find much of our modern culture is becoming increasingly narrow in its expression and exploration of ideas, I would even say sometimes oppressive and I don’t feel that is progressive or healthy. For me, there are too many people from all sides telling us how we should feel, think, what our values are. Too little empathy and not enough enquiry. We seem to be starting with answers not questions, casting out judgements without thought. Most importantly, regarding social media, in a world where we face an increasing mental health crisis, we need to look out each other now more than ever.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: My advice? I will attempt to keep this brief but will ultimately fail to do so. Firstly, back yourself. Be true to your writing and your unique voice and try not to think too much about how it will be received or how many it will sell. You will have plenty of time to concetrate your focus on this side of things when you have finished it. Don’t give yourself deadlines if you don’t have to, work at your own pace. When you are obsessing over perfecting a passage, the prospect of completing the book can seem overwhelming. Step away if you need to, other pursuits can often reenergise your writing. It will at times likely be a frustrating, exhausing and occasionally expletive-ridden journey. Anything worthwhile is. I have experienced self-doubt on more occasions than I can recall, and certain that I will do so for as long as I continue to write. But it is the most rewarding thing imaginable to have a finished manuscript in front of you. Lastly, I would say that it is essential to be receptive to advice and constructive critical opinion, it has helped me immeasurably in the pursuit of publishing this first book. My publishers most of all, who were great at leading me through the process.

Thank you for your time!

A: Thank you again, Silvia, for the privilege. Best wishes to all and stay safe.  

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