Book Review

Q&A with Rachel Edwards

Hello everyone, today I have a very special Q&A for you. Lucky by Rachel Edwards is probably one of the most intense and unforgettable books I have read this year. It touched upon online gambling as well as identity and belonging which are very close to my heart. I am totally in love with it and I cannot stop thinking about this book even though I finished it weeks ago!

Rachel has been so amazing and agreed to do this Q&A with me. I hope you enjoy and please don’t forget to check out this book which is out now. You will love it!

Thank you so much 4th Estate Books for making this Q&A possible.

Enjoy and thank you so much!

Q: I haven’t read anything like it before, especially a subject matter about addiction to online gambling. What inspired you to write this story?

Rachel: Some years ago, as a freelance writer, and was online a fair bit. At one point, as a form of elaborate procrastination, and because I have something of a moth-to-the-flame personality, or used to, I gave in to a perverse urge to explore online bingo and then a few betting games. Just because I thought I would be impervious to the seedy glitter of its charms. Anyone who reads Lucky will tell I have had some first-hand experience with online gambling, although the novel was spun out of my imagination. I was shocked, then appalled at how quickly online gambling could pull someone in and turn into trouble. Happily, I did not go right down the same path as Etta: Instead, I about-turned, stepped back from the cliff-edge and resolved to write about the pitfalls rather than fall headfirst into them. That age-old author’s question of ‘What if?’ arose – what if I had been desperate for money? What if I had not stopped?

As you will have realised, this book 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: the gambles that can make or break us.

Q: The story is about Etta who wanted to have enough money to have her dream wedding, so she turned to online gambling, and everything went downhill from there. However, the story also touched upon other important subject matters such as the Windrush scandal, racism, relationships and identity. Why was it important for you to include these themes in Lucky?

Rachel: As a Black British author, a second-generation Jamaican-Nigerian, I feel it is both essential to my own fulfilment and central to creating work I find meaningful out in the world, to explore themes of identity and play with perceptions of identity. The Windrush Scandal aspect of the book was also of personal significance; it was a great injustice I wanted to acknowledge in my fiction. Lucky, like my first book, Darling, is an anti-racist novel: the battle against racism is a fundamental part of the ongoing struggle to assert the equal humanity of all people. So, while every book I write will be different, that will always matter to me!

Q: I have bought lottery tickets from time to time even though I know I am never going to win… In Lucky, Etta has gone to the extreme and lost herself in the world of online gambling. Why do you think people do this, knowing the chance of winning is so low?

Rachel: The vast majority of people will take gambles in their daily lives. In the most literal sense, that may be the lottery ticket that millions of us buy each week. Why? Broadly, chance. The chance of winning may be vanishingly small, but it still exists. That is why we are told ‘It Could Be You!’. Nothing wrong with a little dreaming, it can get us through the hardest of times. We just don’t want to become the person spending the rent on a hundred lottery tickets with a chaser of two-dozen scratchcards…

That said, hope itself, the belief that we can somehow win in life, is vitally important to our happiness. As I write in Lucky, ‘We are all gamblers.’

We just have to try our best to work our which gambles are worth taking and that is often easier said than done.

Q: That ending. I have to say that ending took me by surprise! Was that a hint of a second novel or sequel?

Rachel: I am glad the ending surprised you! I like to reset a reader’s expectations, both within the world of the novel and, if at all possible, beyond that. Nonetheless, I always need to feel that the ending is absolutely true to the book.

A sequel? There could be more to come from some of these themes or certain characters… I am open to whatever inspiration the future throws my way!

Q: I have always wanted to know about an author’s writing process. Did the story end the way you originally envisaged or did the writing process take you into a completely new direction? What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

Rachel: The ending to Lucky emerged over time, as the characters told me what they wanted and needed and I, the author playing God, riffed on that. As the ending came into being, I ultimately felt that it was so integral to the story that I could not end it any other way.

While I plan a ‘skeleton structure’ for the first draft of my novel, as the writing gets underway, and if all goes well, then everything will develop and shift, voices will become clearer, new ideas will emerge. The structure will change too and parts may get dropped. I found it hardest to let go of some passages touching upon the neuroscience of addiction – which I find fascinating  – and a couple of superfluous characters in an early draft. However, although they disappeared, I then wove their significance into the story more organically – my wonderful editor was right!

I relish the great joy (and terror) of never quite knowing at the beginning of writing a novel how it will all pan out. I like to surprise myself. It is all part of what I see as the magic of writing fiction.

Q: What are your top three favourite books of all time?

Rachel: Too, too hard, especially if you go back deep into the classics, not to mention French literature (which I read at uni), or the literature of India, or the continent of Africa, the Russians… This question hurts, it kills me…

But, I also love it! Here are three relatively modern game-changers that I read before I became an author:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. The first book I read by a black woman author spoke straight to my soul when I was a girl.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is both otherworldly and profoundly human; a rare and precious reading experience.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. It blew me away, broke me down and remade me from that child who wished to be author into someone determined to write, come what may.

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