WRITER Rachel Sargeant says the world of her new university-set novel is relatable to all and that freshers’ concerns are “human condition.”
The Roommates is the fourth novel by the Gloucester-based author, who has two children of university age, but her own student days are a fading memory.
The psychological thriller follows a group of flat-sharing freshers who unravel the mystery of a friend who drops out of her studies, the group also uncovering past secrets about each other along the way.
Sargeant says that despite her distance from the depicted world of The Roommates, it was not a challenge to create a believable setting.
She said: “I think some of the experiences are universal, and it doesn’t really matter if you experienced them in 2019 or 1989 because it’s human condition.
“It doesn’t even have to be a university setting, really. [The Roommates] is about somebody young, aged 18, perhaps away from home for the first time and seeing a new world, and who is trying to fit in.”
She admits that some of her research involved hearing about the modern student experience first-hand, from her son and daughter, whose stories also inspired the book.
She said: “I started getting this long list of ideas for what it’s like at uni these days, because it’s a long time since I was uni. And I thought, ‘there’s a story here.’
“Where I needed a bit of help was in how students function these days. Obviously technology is different – there’s a lot of texting going on, a lot of online stuff.
“The whole social side is different now. There are much later-at-night social activities than when I was at university – I’m just about to go to bed and my daughter’s getting ready to go out!”
Despite the tantalising tagline of The Roommates’ cover – “How well do you really know them?” – Sargeant assures the story should not prompt students to suddenly distrust their friends.
She said: “It’s not really specifically about what might go wrong at university because you’re at university. So I wouldn’t say it’s a cautionary tale in that way.”
Even so, the author took into account the factors contributing to student safety and wellbeing in her research, and thinks these have never changed.
She said: “I think where the danger lies is for freshers and I think it was ever thus.
“It was the same when I was at university – you were away from home for the first time, you were suddenly in charge of every decision that you made.
“So I think the dangers are down to the decision-making of freshers.”
Although the paper edition of The Roommates is yet to hit shelves, Sargeant has written two more novels, with another in the works for a postgraduate degree, which will be a departure from her past psychological thrillers.
She said: “What I’m working on for the PhD is much more serious. It’s looking at society and crime.
“It will be a more literary, more sociological approach to the novel than what I’ve written so far.”
For now though, she hopes The Roommates will find an audience of students and otherwise, its characters’ experiences relatable to every reader.
She added: “I think the feelings you have are the same as an 18-year-old, going somewhere new and trying to find your feet, trying to present a version of yourself.
“I think that’s the same.”
The Roommates is released in paperback on November 28, published by HarperCollins. The ebook is out now.
Featured image credit: rachelsargeant.co.uk