About The Author
T R Richmond is an award-wining journalist who has written for local, regional and national newspapers, magazines and websites.
His debut novel, What She Left, tells the story of Alice Salmon and what she leaves behind after her death. Using a contemporary structure of facebook posts, texts, tweets, diary entries, letters and exchanges with friends, T.R. Richmond presents a ‘whodunnit’ with a twist, a coming-of-age tale of a complex young woman, brought back to life through a series of glimpses.
Part 21st-century epistolary novel and part digital scrapbook, What She Left explores the nature of news, truth, our social footprint and online identity, as well as such timeless issues as love, loss, revenge and redemption.
Richmond's publishers, Penguin, have created a Facebook profile for Alice and a tumblr for the Professor who is obsessively gathering information about her death.
You can also read a letter from Alice, not published in the book, to The Times, complaining about university tuition fees.
Below, exclusively for Foyles, T R Richmond describes the endless roles played by an author during a book's lifecycle: from accountant to osteopath, linguist to lawyer…
Below that, in another exclusive piece for Foyles, he discusses how the internet has changed the transmission and consumption of news stories, the way certain stories are played out in the media and how he uses his 21st-century version of the epistolary novel to provide the reader with an immersive experience.
The Author At Foyles
Author - 10 jobs rolled into one
Writers don’t just write – they have to do everything from basic IT to advanced law. And that’s even before working out the benefits of listening to whale music. Here are the professions you’ll need to be proficient at:
You’re either skint and have to budget every penny or make money and are faced with a mountain of tax-related paperwork. You can pay an accountant to do this for you, but they’ll basically get you to do it, then ask you to sign a form saying you’ve done it right. Then they’ll charge you. HMRC is no longer just an acronym.
Bad backs are as much an occupational hazard as failing eyesight and raging paranoia. Hardly surprising, with all those hours hunched over a computer. We don’t go to see an expert – we research our symptoms online, half-heartedly do some exercises, then return to our preferred default position: suffering martyr.
3. Shift worker
No one ever said this would be a 9-to-5 gig, did they. That’s not what your contract says. Hang on, your contract doesn’t make any mention of hours – it gives you a date to deliver a manuscript by. If that means pulling a few all-nighters, so be it.
4. Public speaker
Thrust suddenly in to the spotlight, you’ll have to explain why you write. That's the easy bit. Questions like “Can you tell me how to write a bestseller?” and “Will you read my manuscript?” are harder to field. The opening question at a bookshop event I once did was: “Does that shop on the corner sell food?”
If you’re lucky enough to see your work published in foreign languages, you’ve got a problem. There’s only so much putting a review through Google Translate will tell you. Say it’s published in Holland and Denmark and respective reviews dub it “prachtig” and “lort”. You might want to share the former rather than the latter.
6. Online and social media guru
From Facebook and Twitter to YouTube to LinkedIn, you’ll become a dab-hand at “connecting”. And when it comes to finding a WiFi signal, you’re like a Pointer dog on a grouse: you can sense one at 100 paces. That said, IT issues will still fill you with fear, none more so than the spectre of viruses. They’re like myxomatosis was to rabbits in the 1950s – they can wipe you out.
It might be positive thinking (you can write this book). It might be relaxation techniques (whale noise CD, anyone?) It might be “mechanisms” for not letting failure crush your confidence or success turn you into a pompous parody of every bad writer ever depicted in fiction. In short, you have to learn to stop being yourself.
8. Time-and-motion official
We all know that sometimes anything can feel preferable to knuckling down and tackling the job at hand. Even cleaning the bathroom becomes appealing. But you have to strip out inefficiencies from your routine, which means erasing procrastination, distractions and time-wasting. Trouble is, without those things there might not be much left in your day.
Contracts can be mind-bogglingly complicated. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an agent to help you understand the detail. Otherwise, gird yourself. You’ll experience a kind of snowblindness by the time you’ve got to Clause 427, section E, subsection 2, addendum b (ii).
10. PR practitioner
Talking to journalists can be scary, but you get more confident at it. They’ll want to know what’s sexy about the book and about you. Ideally, you’ll have a dazzlingly interesting backstory – maybe a former city highflier who became a singer-songwriter before getting addicted to prescription drugs then becoming a monk and eventually retraining as an experimental chef in the west country. Sadly, I’m none of these things…
Staying Informed in the Internet Age
It used to be so simple.
If we wanted to stay informed, we’d read a paper and/or watch the news on the telly. Some people simply listened to ‘the wireless’.
We had to make a few choices about, for example, which paper to read, but this was largely dictated by our politics and background. We were kept abreast of what was happening in the world by one or two outlets.
Nowadays, we still get information and news from these sources, but the options have vastly expanded. And then there’s the internet, which has been a complete game-changer.
The worldwide web is home to information on everything from politics and current affairs to celebrity love triangles and sport. It’s vast, piecemeal, variously strikingly accurate and woefully wrong – and it’s the mere click of a button away.
All this information doesn’t come solely from people who we’d view as journalists, either. Far from it. We can now get ‘facts’ from a multitude of places.
Via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, we communicate with those locally and those on the other side of the world. We share and interact with our friends, contemporaries and complete strangers. Whether it’s for tips on fixing a lawnmower or the latest developments in a murder case, it’s online we look.
How we, to use the modern parlance, ‘consume’ information has also changed. We don’t do it as previous generations did – a few dedicated minutes with the newspaper over breakfast or in front of a TV news bulletin at the end of the day. We grab it on the hoof. On our phone, on our iPad, on our laptop, on our desktop, or from a free paper someone hands us in a train station.
I wanted to reflect this new communication landscape in my novel, What She Left. In some ways, the book is a traditional ‘whodunnit’, except I tried to give it a 21st century spin by piecing together the mystery surrounding the death of a young woman through the paper and digital trail she left.
This ‘evidence’ is collated by an elderly anthropology professor, who is determined to discover the ‘real Alice.
I’ve always been struck – and occasionally appalled – by how certain stories play out in the media. When someone disappears or is found dead, the coverage acquires a life of its own, with the public desperate for updates and the media frantic to feed this hunger. It can develop into a perfect storm of cause and effect, every twist and turn played out in a very public way.
The line between ‘news’ and ‘opinion’ has blurred. Ditto the boundary between ‘factual’ and ‘entertainment’, with real-life events often dramatized, and drama frequently presented in a documentary style. It’s also true that the distinction between journalists and the public has become a grey one. An individual with a blog with 10,000 readers is arguably every bit as influential as a journalist whose paper sells the same number of copies.
These issues are not simply pedantic points of definition. They raise questions about how we keep ourselves informed and whether we can believe what we read.
I’m an author and a journalist so this whole debate about how we communicate and relate to each other fascinates me. It’s fertile territory for fiction, too.
Novels have, of course, always played with style and format. There’s nothing new about telling a tale from multiple perspectives or in a non-linear time structure. Similarly, the epistolary format (the name comes from the Greek word ‘epistle’, meaning letter or message) has been widely used. But I wanted to write an epistolary novel for the 21st century.
Hopefully at the heart of What She Left there’s a good old-fashioned story and a simple question: What happened to Alice Salmon?
But hopefully, too, readers will have an immersive experience – almost as if they’re following an unfolding news story.
I wanted readers to have the chance to play detective, piecing together Alice’s life and the circumstances surrounding her death from the fragments she left.
The truth is, we all leave a bigger ‘footprint’ nowadays than ever before. This article is one part of mine. By the end of the day, I’ll bet you’ll have added to yours, too...