A Q&A with Rebecca Thornton, author of The Exclusives
Prep meets The Secret History meets Mean Girls in The Exclusives — a gripping and emotional thriller from an exciting new voice. Coming from Spiderline on May 14, The Exclusives will keep you desperately turning the page until the very end. It is Rebecca Thornton’s debut novel and we were lucky enough to ask this talented young writer a few questions.
1. What can readers expect from The Exclusives?
The Exclusives is a psychological thriller, set in a girls’ boarding school in England. Josephine and Freya, the two main characters, are beautiful and intelligent, with the world at their feet. They are also the best of friends. Then, something happens on a night out that rips them apart. Eighteen years later, Freya confronts Josephine about those fateful events.
2. Can you describe how you came up with the idea for The Exclusives?
It sprang from a huge interest in the dynamics of female friendships. I find them fascinating, especially when they are confined to one space, without much room for freedom. This was where the boarding school setting came into play. The idea of the girls growing up in this environment, where they can’t really leave the school grounds, was fascinating to me.
3. What do you think The Exclusives says about female friendships?
That honesty in a friendship is a really good thing. Much of the time women, especially teenagers, don’t understand how hurtful they are being; how innocent words and actions can be magnified when someone’s already low.
Often female friends are afraid to tell the truth about when they’re annoyed, upset, or frightened. They’re scared of isolation or the silent treatment (which was much-used at my school). I think it gets easier to be less afraid when you are older, but in those angst-ridden, teen years, it’s very important to be courageous and open about the way you feel.
4. You set out to write a romantic comedy first. How did the idea transform into such a dark tale?
I actually got about 30,000 words into the romantic comedy. I was doing Faber Academy’s Writing A Novel course at the time. Every one of the students had to present their work to the class and they’d get critiqued on it.
I handed in about 5,000 words of my novel in progress at that point. To say the reaction was muted was an understatement. It was all done really kindly but Tim Lott, one of my tutors, said that I wasn’t being very honest in my writing. I went home crying! I didn’t really understand what he meant, either. I did rip up the romantic comedy though, and two days later, I understood what he was saying: I wasn’t really writing from the heart. I’d been writing what I thought was marketable, and what an audience might like, but it wasn’t really me. This set the tone for The Exclusives. I woke up a few days later with Josephine’s voice in my head.
5. What other writers do you draw inspiration from?
I love novelists who write real characters. I don’t know if I draw inspiration from them as such, because I mainly just read them and think: “I wish I could write like that.” Authors who’ve nailed female friendships and whose books I’ve adored, include Rufi Thorpe, with her debut novel The Girls of Corona Del Mar, and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.
6. Why did you decide to write two stories: one of Josephine in 1996 and another of present day Josephine?
I think the two story lines show how the past impacted on Josephine’s present; how it affected her behaviour, thoughts, and feelings. When you reach the denouement at the end, you finally (I hope!) understand why she did the things she did.
7. You were sent away to a very strict boarding school when you were thirteen.
I was. It was a hugely formative experience for me, because I’d never really been away from home that much before then. Originally, I was at a London day school and I was a total delinquent,. My parents sent me away in the hope that the school would transform me into an obedient, hard-working teenager. Sadly, that didn’t happen! I stayed there, though, until I was eighteen.
8. Which parts of Greenwood Hall are inspired by your experiences there?
The psychological interaction between the girls! All of the characters are made up, but going to a boarding school did give me a pretty good sense of the nuances and dynamics of female friendships. Emotions and such were really heightened, given we never had the chance to be alone.
9. Which are embellished?
For the most part, the girls at my boarding school wouldn’t have been so cruel as Josephine and Freya were to each other.
10. Do you have any upcoming projects?
I do. I’m working on my second novel at the moment. It’ll definitely be a psychological thriller again , maybe centred on mother-daughter relationships, although I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be about!
11. What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a book called Not Working by Lisa Owens. It’s a book about finding yourself in your twenties. It’s so sparely written and hilarious and spot on. I’m loving it.
In 1996, Josephine Grey and Freya Seymour are best friends and on the brink of great success. Both are students at the elite private school Greenwood Hall and Josephine, the daughter of the advisor to the Prime Minister, is heading for everything she has ever worked for: Head Girl, Oxford, the demons of her mother finally abated once and for all.
But in 2014, Josephine is hiding in Jordan — and has been for eighteen years since those catastrophic events in her last year at school. And then one day she is found. Freya, whom she has not seen since those fateful four months, insists on meeting to revisit their difficult past once and for all and finally lay to rest the events that have haunted their adult lives ever since. But Josephine can’t bear to — it only took one night for their whole lives, friendship, and even selves to unravel beyond comprehension. They have done truly terrible things to one another in the name of survival. She most of all.
All she has ever wanted was to forget, but Freya is no longer willing to let her and now at last, Josephine is to meet her reckoning . . .
The Exclusives is a gripping and emotional thriller that explores the power the past can have on our present and confronts how far we are willing to go when everything we prize is threatened.