Imagine reliving the horror of freshers’: the strangers for flatmates, hoarding dirty dishes in the sink, projectile vomiting at pres and the mystery of a missing flatmate; Rachel Sargeant, a previous winner of Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition, and author of the Kindle top ten bestsellers The Perfect Neighbours brings us another HarperCollins Psychological Thriller, The Roommates. The author revisits her, and her children’s, university days, bringing the thriller setting to the UK university. The Roommates follows a multi-perspective of four girls, each from a different background, as they come to grips with university life and a missing roommate. Their secrets tear them apart, yet a shared bond of lies and mystery brings them together. Who knew freshers’ week could get so dark?
We arrive at the fictional, Abbey University, with an uneasiness lurking in the background. Inside our flat, we find: Imogen, a reserved girl with trauma in her eyes; Amber, a bubbly liberal activist with an air of fakery around her; Tegan, a Welsh girl, dripping with cash and a mind for business; Phoenix, who always seems to be doing the dishes as if to avoid a conversation about her past, and Riku, a boy, who appears to be a Thai international student with a suspicious amount of deliveries. The characters are easy to relate to, often feeling like your actual roommates. The diversity of the characters is pleasant and not forced on the reader, bringing a reality to the text — a realness resulting in me often confusing the fictional Abbey University for Swansea.
The text occasionally brings us to draw false conclusions on unsolved leads. The girls hack evidence using the library computers, propose crazy theories and blur the boundaries of the law. It leaves us wondering, how Imogen manages to be a full-time detective and still attend her 11 am business lecture? There is a moderate feeling of page-turning events, where the novel seems to be reading itself, almost as if you are the sixth flatmate trying to save your friend. Although not intellectually challenging, and not for the so-called highbrow reader, in this book, you can find nostalgic glimpses of freshers with an added mystery.
Often while reading, I found myself dazed in memories from my freshers’. Memories of saying farewell to mum and dad, the awkward cups of tea with new flatmates, the risk of alcohol poisoning and even pretending to be out when someone knocks on your door. A nostalgic read with a page-turning quality.
Interview with Rachel Sargeant
In an interview with Rachel, she hinted at a potential sequel with the characters going abroad together, even graduating one day. Could there be a sequel on the horizon?
Marcin: What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before writing ‘The Roommates’?
Rachel: Research varies from project to project. With ‘The Roommates’, I was familiar with university life through my own experience and more recently through my children’s. Anything I wasn’t sure about, I just texted my children to make sure I was up-to-date. I had to do research about one of the character’s backgrounds because it was a lifestyle I knew little about. By chance, while I was doing my research, there happened to be a TV documentary about the same thing so that helped. One of my other characters suffered a terrible trauma in her past that still affects her at the time of the story. I did quite a bit of academic research so that I could deal with the topic sensitively. I probably spent two weeks on the academic research but continued to research while I was writing the first draft.
What is your favourite memory of your freshers’?
Meeting my friends for the first time – people I’m still friends with now.
If you were to continue the narrative, where would you like to see Imo (Imogen), Tegan, Amber and Phoenix go/achieve in their future?
Where would you like to see the characters from the flat go/achieve in their future?
What a great question. I can see myself writing a sequel where they join forces again in the summer vacation to help Imogen find closure for her family trauma. This would involve them going on a quest overseas. I’d also like to see them graduate one day…
Which character do you relate to the most? Why?
When I started writing the character of Imogen, I used my daughter as inspiration. Once I got going with the first draft, the character took on a life of her own not based on anyone. However, I kept some aspects of her physical appearance the same as my daughter so I suppose I have a soft spot for Imogen.
For future authors, what advice can you share for new writers?
Read widely, not just in your chosen genre, to spark ideas, identify current trends and see how other writers do it. You also need to practise your writing. You can’t edit and improve a blank page.