I have a treat in store today, A question and answers session with Rachel Crowther, author of Every Secret Thing!
Summarize each character
The central characters are a close knit group who all sing together in a choir at university.
Marmion is described by one of the other characters as the group’s ‘moral compass’. She’s a Quaker, a very talented musician, fresh-faced and optimistic about life. She’s perhaps a little naïve and unwordly but she sees the good in everyone and is unstintingly kind.
Judith is ‘the only daughter of two doctors from Bristol, strikingly beautiful and ferociously strong-minded’. She describes herself as a ‘Jewish Hindu atheist’ and likes to think she doesn’t care about other people’s opinions or conventional morality.
Cressida comes from a wealthy family, ‘the product of a famous girls’ boarding school who’d grown up with horses and brothers in the Home Counties’. She is very clever and highly ambitious and dreams of becoming an academic at Cambridge, but she’s also spiky and full of self-doubt.
Bill comes from Birmingham, where his parents run a small hotel. Ginger-haired, bluff and self-deprecating, he’s the choir’s star tenor, a natural musician who is determined to escape from the confines of his family.
Stephen is perhaps the most complicated of the group: he’s tall and gangling and a little awkward, reluctant to talk about his family – his adoptive parents and disabled brother. He’s also the most ambitious of them, destined for a glittering career in international commerce.
Fay is the group’s shadowy benefactress, an older woman who takes them under her wing and gives them treats: dinners, concerts, and then a weekend in her cottage in the Lake District.
Explain who is your strongest character, in your eyes, and why? Who do you believe to be the most influential of the group?
Judith is probably the one the others see as most powerful, because she’s very self-assured and outspoken and rather unconventional. They’re all a bit on awe of her. But Marmion has the most inner strength, and the others recognise that too. In fact they all have a lot of respect and admiration for each other, and in different ways they are all strong characters: Bill is a natural leader, Cressida is incredibly well-read and erudite, and Stephen’s sights are set well beyond the others’ horizons.
Why is the friendship so important?
The five characters have had a very close bond during three intense years at university, when singing in the choir together has been the most important thing in all their lives. To quote Marmion: ‘the thrill of singing with this group of people would never leave her. Making
something together, she thought in a moment of startling clarity, in the same way as sex, and with the same effect of rendering you completely alive.’
Later, the drama that overtakes them that summer in the Lake District overshadows all their lives, and although they go their separate ways for twenty years, those events and the destruction of their friendship is something that never quite leaves them, and in different ways holds them all back.
In a sentence explain how each character has changed with age.
I don’t want to give too many spoilers here, so I’ll be cautious…! The short answer is that although they have all been more or less successful in life, they are all essentially unfulfilled at forty-ish. None of them have children, and none of them have very successful relationships. They are all drawn back to the cottage they visited with Fay that summer in 1995 because they are looking for resolution and redemption, and hoping for something better from the future.
What does ‘Every Secret Thing’ mean to you?
The setting – both the Cambridge choir and the Lake District – are drawn from my own life, and both are really important to me, so the novel was very enjoyable (and rather nostalgic) to write. But all the characters, and what happens to them, are entirely fictional, so it was also exciting to find out what became of them all as the novel took shape, and I became very fond of them all.
I guess the question of fresh starts and new possibilities in mid life is also close to my heart: I was about the age of these characters when I started writing and began to move away from medicine, and I do believe strongly that people can take stock, rethink what they want and remake their lives at forty or fifty or even sixty.