I’m delighted to have on The Spike this morning Rebecca Thornton, author of that book I keep going on about – The Exclusives. Set in 1996 and 2014, The Exclusives is about the events of one fateful night between two best friends and the enduring repercussions. But it’s so much more than that – it’s about paranoia, maternal love (or lack of it) regret, guilt… so much. AND it’s a massive page-turner.
It’s one of those rare books that leaves you with a distinct feeling all about you – like how a powerful dream can leave you feeling weird for the rest of the day.
It’s a brilliant, gripping, spine-tinging thriller and I loved it hugely, so I hailed Rebecca down and asked her some difficult questions.
1 Is this a story you’ve always wanted to tell? Or one of a few ideas that you’ve had that just “took”.
I am totally obsessed by girls’ boarding schools/ females in confined spaces because psychologically there’s so much material, so I always had the setting in mind.
Originally, I was writing a rom-com inspired by Never Been Kissed and it was going to be called ‘”Exclusive!” For those of you that don’t know, Never Been Kissed, with Drew Barrymore as the lead, is about Josie, who goes back to her old High School as an undercover reporter.
I did the Writing A Novel course Faber Academy and Esther Freud was my tutor. She read it and was like, er… no. *wags finger*. I was so embarrassed, but realised she was absolutely right, so I had to take a step back and have a rethink.
Someone suggested I try first-person, which I did and thus, “The Exclusives” was born.
2 You’ve got 2 really small kids – your youngest is only 6 months old! – did you find it hard to write with them? Or did you feel doubly energised during your work time.
Before I got my book deal, I wrote at night when my oldest son was in bed. That was tough because obviously I was knackered and also, I had no clue if the book was going anywhere. I could have finished it and had the whole thing thrown back in my face. On the other hand there was no pressure so I could be more leisurely about it.
I got the book deal [for The Exclusives] and an advance for a second novel when I was pregnant with my youngest. It became easier then to finish The Exclusives, as I had an excuse to get childcare so I could write. Being at my desk was like a holiday by comparison.
It’s not quite like that now I’m working on book two, because I have no fecking clue what I’m going to write about and my kids have got permanent coughs and colds and keep me awake all night. I stare blankly for hours.
3 This story is intricately bound up with mental illness – what is real, what isn’t, what is accurate perception, what is paranoid fantasy: what research did you do to make this all so realistic?
I’m glad you say it’s realistic. I didn’t do any field research. Although there was someone I wasn’t really communicating with at the time of writing the novel and I felt quite hunted. That helped with the paranoid bits… In that I imagined what it must be like to have that feeling magnified by a zillion. Other than that, it was all made up. I did pretend to feel and act like Josephine for an entire day once and I felt deranged by the end of it.
4 A powerful theme of the book is privileged neglect – the wealthy girl who “has” everything, yet is kind of abandoned to the housekeeper, who even then is only a shadowy figure – was that on purpose, something that you’ve witnessed? Or did it just sort of occur as you were writing.
That’s really sad. I have seen it. When I was in my early teens, I used to be friends with the daughter of someone whose wealth defied belief. Genuinely – think bling private jets on tap etc., which was much, much less common in those days. But, she was totally left to her own devices. The stuff she got up to, age eleven, was EYE-WATERINGLY shocking, even to me and I was no angel.
I also tutored an extremely wealthy kid who was about five or six, whose parents left him in sole care of his teenage cousin whilst they went away on long trips abroad. When they were gone, he walked home alone one day from school and got knocked down and killed by a bus.
5 Was this the first novel you’ve ever tried writing? Or do you have a hundred “starts” on your laptop? (I know I do)
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. I’d die of shame if any of my previous attempts were read. I’d honestly die. There were a couple that nearly got me an agent but that were ultimately not good enough. I think it was about ten years worth of trying.
6 Favourite memory from 1996
I think it has to be going driving around Henley with my friend Caroline, straight after we walked out the school gates for the very last time. We put the music on really loud and I felt so free and grown up. I had no concerns about what I was going to do the next day, let alone for the rest of my life. I must have looked like a real loser, though.
7 Favourite outfit – from 1996
My personal best was…. dreadlocks, (I shit you not) a long purple skirt with butterfly print, one of those multi-coloured crochet tea-cosy hats and a striped neon pink and orange cardigan.
8 The plot of the Exclusives turns on a really dumb, obvious error, which leads to a disastrous chain of events. I think we can all really relate to making a dumb mistake that might have had serious consequences: can you think of a proper DUH ARGHGH mistake you’ve ever made?
I once went to a festival in Normandy with some friends. We were about fifteen or so at the time? Two naive, idiotic fifteen year-old girls.
We lost all our money on the way out there, somehow, and ended up hitching a lift all the way from Dover in this crusty caravan with some strange, filthy hippy wannabes who were also going. The guys demanded me and my friend sit on these trunks when we went through customs. I happily said yes, thinking it was because they cared about my safety.
When we got through the other side of customs everyone started smoking and taking all sorts of pills and acid… WHILST DRIVING. A couple of the guys then opened up the trunks we had been sitting on, which were stashed with, I’m guessing, about half a million pounds worth of drugs. I have never, ever run so fast in my entire life.
I guess there were no repercussions from that, so I’m not sure it can be classed as a mistake per se, but I guess it was about realising how foolish, irresponsible and just plain fucking dumb we were as teenagers. I still look back and think about how I was so, so stupid back then and that really could have all gone to shit, in so many different ways.
…. Thanks Rebecca! Now go and read The Exclusives, Spikers, as long as you don’t mind the whole of the rest of your life going to shit while you can’t put it down…