Lady luck: Interview with competition judge and author, Rachel Edwards on love, luck and literature
I always thought writing was for other people, not for second-generation Jamaican-Nigerian girls like me. My mother tells me, while as a keen gardener she always had a spade in her hand, I always had a book in mine. I read voraciously, and by the time I was seven, I felt that there must be nothing finer than to be an author. A few short years later, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison helped to open a door that encouraged me into a more ambitious space, in literary terms.
I’ve always considered myself lucky in many ways – being born on Christmas Day; I’ve always loved that. I have been lucky in my wonderful mother, an NHS nurse for 50 years; lucky in love – having been with the most amazing man for 20 years – lucky in being able to raise my stepchildren. Lucky in winning £25,000 as the fourth-ever contestant on Deal or No Deal (bit random, I know) – that helped me to buy my first flat in Oxfordshire. When writing gets tough, I am buoyed by the constant thought that I am lucky to be doing what I absolutely love: creating and living life as a published author. When it came to my second novel, LUCKY absolutely had to be the title.
Lucky is the story of Etta, who is in her mid-thirties and keen to nudge her loving but commitment-phobic partner Ola towards marriage and children. Ola is worried about money and reluctant to get engaged before they have enough saved for a house deposit, so Etta quietly begins to make money on an online gambling site – until she begins losing. Soon she has secretly lost their entire savings. Luckily, Etta has made a friend on the site, a friend who has recently won big. Perhaps she can persuade him to give her a loan, just until she wins the money back. What could possibly go wrong?
It examines societal factors that can turn lives upside down: from the increasingly popular online gambling to migration and the movement of people. Ultimately, Lucky is a book that examines the risks we all take to survive.
I had the idea for LUCKY years ago while still living in Oxfordshire as a freelance writer in my 20s. At one point, as a form of elaborate procrastination, and because I have something of a moth-to-the-flame personality, I gave in to a perverse urge to explore online bingo and then a few betting games. I thought I would be impervious. But I was appalled at how quickly online gambling could pull someone in and turn into trouble. Happily, I did not go down the same path as my character Etta. But that age-old author’s question of ‘What if?’ arose – what if I had been desperate for money? What if I had not stopped?
So much of story writing comes from that curiosity, where you let your imagination run. Not knowing where it’s going to go can be its own sort of gamble too. My novel is about some of the most significant gambles we can take, from crossing an ocean for a better life, to taking a chance on love: existential gambles and the risks we take. Even entering a writing competition! For my books, DARLING and LUCKY, I was fired up about Brexit and the rise of the Far Right, then about online gambling and migration issues. I write better when I have something powerful to say, something that matters to me.
I love short fiction that is powerfully evocative: it captures a moment or a theme perfectly and it works well with the brevity of the form. If it is a moving idea, beautifully written, and if the author writes with an original voice, then it is sure to be a strong contender for me. I love to be fully immersed in a story and its characters. My characters become so real to me that they could walk into my living room right now and I know exactly what they say and do. That’s a thrilling relationship.
I am keen to encourage emerging writers. I have long embraced new voices in fiction: I talk regularly to students at the HarperCollins Author Academy and I also host bespoke solo writing retreats, with a Masterclass option for emerging writers. Take a look at racheledwards.com to find out more.
It is essential to encourage new talent onto the literary scene and it is a privilege to be a judge for this prize. Good luck to everyone who has entered! I cannot wait to read your stories.
Rachel Edwards is an author with Fourth Estate, HarperCollins. Her second novel, Lucky – a tale about race, migration, betrayal, online gambling and the risks we all take to survive – was published on 24th June 2021. It follows on from the success of her acclaimed debut, Darling, published in 2018.
An alumna of King’s College London, she worked in publishing, won a national Arts Council award for her fiction and became a freelance writer for over 12 years until she chose to focus full-time on writing novels. Rachel has appeared at literary festivals and events around the UK. Her articles have featured across the national media including in The Guardian and The Sunday Times. During the summer of 2020, she featured as lead columnist for The Sunday
Times Magazine. She is a regular guest on BBC Radio, featuring on Woman’s Hour in 2019 and 2020. She lives in Somerset.
Follow Rachel on social: @RachelDEdwards on Twitter or @racheledwardsauthor on Instagram.