Author Q&A:
Heather Darwent

The Things We Do To Our Friends

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Estranged from her parents, Clare has been living with her granny in Hull for the past two years, laying the groundwork for her reinvention when she moves to Edinburgh to study art history. There she meets the alluring Shiver – a group of friends that appears to have money, sophistication, ambition and an undercurrent of cruelty running through it. Clare can’t believe her good fortune when she is initiated into the group but it soon becomes clear that it is no accident, and the very thing she is trying to escape from her past is the reason they have befriended her. Creepy and seductive, The Things We Do To Our Friends is the debut novel from Yorkshire-born Darwent.

What is it about young female friendship that makes such fertile ground for novelists? And who are some of your favourite literary friendships? 
I think female friendship is endlessly fascinating to read about in all its different forms. Sometimes these relationships can be positive and supportive, and sometimes they can contain a little (or a lot) of cruelty. The distinctive dynamics make it interesting.

Jessica Moor does it well in Young Women, where the bonds are varied with contrasting old and new friends – she poses some really interesting ethical questions. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton* is also brilliant in a similar way when it comes to the unsettled nature of friendship in your twenties and thirties. Then there’s the thriller genre where we see lots of books that show a more toxic side of friendship, like Idol by Louise O’Neill*.

One of my favourite books is A Little Life because it’s full of detail about complex group dynamics, but it also renders individual friendships too with such clarity. In some ways friendship is quite hard to write about because it’s tricky to show a connection that has strengthened over time through shared experiences, but Hanya Yanagihara does this really well.

Dysfunctional and emotionally detached female narrators are having a moment in literature. Why do you think that is and do you have any favourite examples of it?
Sometimes there is an expectation for a certain type of easy softness from women in literature, or steely and heroic strength, but I like to see a wider range of personalities, behaviours and flaws, some of which relate to the chaos of modern life. I also think dysfunctional can mean so many different things. Many of us have dysfunctional moments and, in my opinion, it’s good to see this reflected in characters. I like to read (and write!) about them messing up, about things going wrong, and about things being unmanageable. I also really enjoy a morally grey character.

I was fascinated by Amy in Gone Girl (plus it’s an example where the film adaption is brilliant too), and I love how Gillian Flynn portrays both Amy and Nick – it’s masterfully done, and they are such addictive characters to read about. I’ve recently read Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater which comes out in April, and that novel has very dysfunctional narrators – two of them – and it adds so much texture to the novel. They both feel real in their quirks. Personally, I like reading about narrators who have an edge to them, however that may end up presenting. I think it lends itself especially well to the psychological thriller genre.

Money and viciousness are two sides of the same coin for the Shiver – as Clare calls the friendship group she infiltrates. Are the two intrinsically linked? 
I think they very much are linked. The appeal of money,

and the desire for wealth leads to a certain kind of viciousness in the book – it allows them to work out how far they will go and for what amount of money, and what (and who) they are willing to sacrifice. But under it all, these earnings also provide safety. I was interested in the concept that money is something the characters crave in part because they are scared of being left with nothing.

There is more to Clare’s reinvention than going from Hull to Edinburgh to university but do you think a lot of students – especially working-class ones – do this to some extent anyway?  
I think reinvention is something all of us do to some extent through life, and something Clare comments on early in the book – she’s delighted to have a fresh start and grasps it with both hands. We frequently experience opportunities to reinvent in life, and it can sometimes be brilliant to have a fresh start, but in many psychological thrillers where the narrator tries to have a new beginning, their history inevitably creeps up on them.

What does the motif of mould represent in the book?  
Mould is exceptionally creepy to me – the way it can spread, how it looks, and the way it smells. The whole idea of black mould in the context of the home has come to the forefront of public health in the last few years as we understand how it can impact us and our wellbeing. To have something in your living space that can affect your health is justifiably an incredibly scary thing.

When I was planning the book, I was really keen to include something where it would be a little ambiguous whether Clare, the narrator, was actually experiencing it or whether she was hallucinating. It was also something that linked back to her past. I find mould kind of beautiful in some instances. Things that are beautiful and have a harmful edge to them can work well for the thriller genre.

Clare, Tabitha and Imogen study history of art as you did. Does art have a particular significance in the novel? 
The book is less focused on the academic side of university life, or on art, but the characters are all drawn to a romanticised life. They see art in the everyday.

I remember when I came to the end of my degree, there was a feeling that I wouldn’t be qualified to do much at all when I left – plus I had no idea what I wanted to do anyway! So, regarding the subject, I chose it because I wanted to have a sense of the characters looking out at the world, and at what they’re studying, and wondering how that’s going to fit together at the end. What will it mean in terms of a job, and money, and a life? I think that’s quite a common feeling for a lot of graduates.

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