Laura Starkey – Q&A

Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions by Laura Starkey was published by Embla Books on 16 September 2021.

Laura kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions.

Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions is the story of a woman who, as the novel opens, feels her life is quite sorted and under control. She has a decent job, strong friendships and ambitions to improve things even further via the New Year’s resolutions she pens at the start of the story (Couch to 5k anyone?).

However, Rachel is in denial about how some past events and experiences have affected her – not to mention the fact that her friends’ lives seem to be moving on in the present. She’s crafted a ‘small world’ for herself, a world in which she’s comfortable… But (as is often the way in stories) everything is about to change.

During the course of the novel, we see Rachel struggle to deal with the curve balls life keeps throwing her: a company takeover, the reappearance of her ex-boyfriend and a major announcement from her flatmate.

These force Rachel to repeatedly update her list of resolutions – but also to confront a whole heap of feelings she’s been trying to keep a lid on. I like to think the story is entertaining, romantic and funny, but also that it has a little depth. Alongside the lols, there’s a slightly more serious thread running through the book. It’s about honesty with oneself and others, and how easy it can be to misjudge people when we’re not being truthful about our deepest feelings.

2. What inspired the book?

I first had the idea for the book a really long time ago, when I was living in London. I bumped into someone that I hadn’t seen in years – literally bashed into them on the street – and was amazed that in a city of millions (and with this person usually being a Yorkshire resident), such a thing could happen.

While this wasn’t an unpleasant encounter, it set me thinking about the sort of random reunions that might turn a life upside down.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I realised during the writing of this novel – my first! – that without a plan I could end up adrift, shipwrecked on a sea of utter drivel. This realisation struck after I spent about 30,000 words writing myself into a depressing corner and then had no idea how to get out of it.

I went back to the drawing board and thought about the material I had. How could I slot it into an overall story structure that would make logical sense, support plot momentum and emotionally engage readers?

I worked really hard on the architecture of the thing before I carried on drafting, and in many ways this was the most challenging part of the writing process for me.

Now I don’t plan to the extent that some writers do, but I try to form a top-down picture of my characters’ development, how the plot can serve these arcs and what things should happen where.

I like to have an order of events that I’ll write around, plus notes on where the peaks and troughs of feelings should happen: which bits are going to be the funny bits, where the romance is going to come in and where there are going to be dramatic or sad moments.

4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

I have absolutely loved learning about the importance of getting story structure right. Writing nice sentences is one thing – but pulling thousands of them together into a satisfying 100,000 word novel is quite another.

I’m still no expert, but the almost scientific approach I had to take to getting my first book into shape definitely surprised me. Writing isn’t all sitting in a garret, scribbling away and drinking absinthe while the inevitable magic happens. Who knew?

I think another thing I’ve learned is how incredibly important luck is, when it comes to getting published. There’s an annoying element of serendipity at play which means things work out for some people, while others – no matter how talented and tenacious they are – can wait years and years before catching a break. I was one of the lucky ones, and I consider myself hugely fortunate.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

Relaxation is often in pretty short supply in my house… I work part time as a writer and editor for websites, as well as working on books. I also have two fairly young children, two dogs, a cat and a house that’s in constant need of a good clean.

Reading is obviously one of my favourite ways to escape from it all – and if I can’t justify sitting down for an hour with a cuppa (or sloping off for a hot bath), I’ll listen to an audiobook while I race around doing chores.

I love food, I enjoy a nice glass of wine and at this time of year I become obsessed with Strictly Come Dancing – which the entire family watches together, snuggled on the sofa come Saturday night.

Walks with my dogs, trips to the RSC (which isn’t too far away!) and regular evenings out with friends also help to keep me sane.

Like Rachel, I try to exercise a few times a week for the sake of my fitness and releasing some of those lovely endorphins gym-types speak of – even though (like Rachel) I’m pretty rubbish at it.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

Would I even be a rom com writer if I didn’t say ‘something by Jane Austen’?

For me, it’s probably Emma – one of my favourite novels of all time. I love how flawed a protagonist Emma is, and the journey she goes on through the book to better understand herself and the people around her.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Crikey, this is a tough one! I guess I would like it if more people asked me about Laurence, Rachel’s most recent ex-boyfriend.

He wasn’t originally going to be in the novel at all. I first imagined him as an off-stage idiot: someone who got mentioned but was never actually part of the narrative.

One day – and I completely forget why – I decided to try chucking him in a scene to see what happened. He quickly revealed himself as a total git, but an absolute scream to write. I knew then that I had to keep him in the book, and had a brilliant time making him a figure of fun, albeit one with a dark side.

So many readers have said to me that they recognise the character of Laurence: the entitlement and male privilege that make him basically unable to believe that he’s been dumped. That awful kind of mannish arrogance was what I wanted to explore through his character, and I’m so glad it worked the way it did.

Also, I think there’s something in here that links back to your question about planning. With Rachel Ryan’s Resolutions, I made myself a plan that allowed me some room to experiment and feel things out as the story progressed – I could turn down a side road and see where it went without worrying I’d end up totally lost.

Here’s hoping I can pull it off a second time! (*Crosses all fingers, toes and limbs*)

About the Book

In January, Rachel Ryan’s New Year’s Resolutions are fairly predictable. Exercise more, put money into savings before spaffing it all on clothes, remember ridiculous rule that potatoes don’t count towards your 5-a-day…

Before long, though, the year ahead of her is very much not going to plan. When the creative agency Rachel works for is taken over, one of the new suits in the office is very familiar. And very handsome. Surely it can’t be… Jack Harper. The man she has spent years trying to forget. Not only is Rachel now working with him, she has regular sightings of the gorgeous woman Jack cheated on her with – who happens to be plastered to the side of every London bus.

Thank goodness for Tom, who is always there to listen (and pour wine). But when work stirs up her most painful memories, her best friend makes a major announcement and Jack dials up the charm, Rachel starts to question everything.

As life throws her a world of crazy, will Rachel have to make some very different resolutions?

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