Rachael Blok's debut novel Under the Ice is an emotional crime-thriller set in the Cathedral city of St Albans in the aftermath young girl’s drowning. Katie Smart caught up with Rachael to find out more about the journey and her experience taking the 3-month Curtis Brown Creative (CBC) novel writing course in London back in 2016.
You worked on Under the Ice during your 3-month novel writing course with CBC. How did your time on the course impact the way you wrote your novel?
In the first few weeks of the course my word count halved. The focus on how to edit your writing means looking at your work as a reader and a writer. There’s nothing like having 15 people discuss your writing to really clarify what’s working!
I realised writing a novel is a balancing act: character, plot, tone, description etc. Some characters had to go, and whole sections of description I’d crafted disappeared. I finished knowing that reading, editing, re-reading is a huge part of the process.
The novel is a chilling crime-thriller set in the days before Christmas. What inspired you to juxtapose the gleeful suspense of the festive count-down with such a dark, gripping tale?
We were hit by snow a few years ago and everything stopped: planes, trains, buses. I had two young children and the wheels of the buggy wouldn’t move – I had to pull my toddler on a sledge and put my baby in a carrier just to get out of the house. It would have been easy to feel isolated, and stuck inside the house.
It reminded me of having my first baby – which was amazing and exhausting. The lack of sleep alone can throw you off track. The character of a new mother, sleep-deprived, locked in a town that has been halted by snow, seemed the perfect way to unsettle the usual run-up to Christmas; the twelve days of the novel count down to Christmas, but also uncertainty and peril.
Head of Zeus announced your book deal in the trade press at the London Book Fair. Can you tell us how you felt in that moment?
I was more than pleased! I think it was the first moment that I realised my book might actually be published. There may have been some wine that day…
Tell us a bit more about your journey from writing on the CBC course to securing your agent, and now your book deal?
Once I’d finished the book, which took almost a year, I submitted in total to seven agents. Five of them asked to read the full manuscript, and the waiting time was tense. Eve (of Eve White Literary Agency) was brilliant. She was very clear about what she loved and how I could develop the novel, and offered to represent me on our first meeting. I’ve been very lucky.
Do you have any advice you would like to pass on to new writers?
Finish the book. I think one of the hardest things about writing is to believe that your work is ‘real’. You need to take your plot through to about 80,000 words, and doubting what you’re doing makes that tricky. Don’t give up! Join a writing group, a book club, or try a course – this course gave me a great group of writer friends. We still meet and discuss our writing.
You can follow Rachael on Twitter @MsRachaelBlok.
INTERVIEW BY KATIE SMART