With her debut novel Disclaimer, earning comparisons to both Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, Renee Knight’s writing career is off to a promising start. Of course, crafting a compelling narrative is nothing new for the former BBC documentarian. The rising star where she discusses her writing process, the inspiration for Disclaimer, and what she does in her free time to unwind:
What is your writing process? What does your typical day, when writing, look like?
If I don’t sit down at my desk in the morning, then it’s a lost day, lost to writing anyway. I am a creature of routine so, after breakfast I make coffee and take it up to my office (which is a shed in the garden). Before I write a word I have to do The Guardian crossword (the quick one, not the cryptic). It is an addiction but I think a healthier one than playing solitaire which I used to do endlessly. I stay at my desk until I have written a thousand words and depending on how long that takes, then I’ll either go for a walk or read or, if there’s time before anyone else gets home, then both.
Was there a particular incident or person that provided the inspiration for Disclaimer? Where did the idea come from?
I wrote a novel before Disclaimer which didn’t get published. There were elements in it which were quite close to a friendship of mine and, as I was nearing the end of the book, I began to think about the possibility of it being published and how I hadn’t even told my friend that I was writing a book, let alone that she might recognise herself in it. So, I sent it for her approval and while I waited to hear back from her the idea for Disclaimer came to me. In the end she gave me her blessing but no one wanted to publish the book.
Disclaimer is your first novel, but have you always been a writer? Was novel-writing something you’d always known you would do?
I wasn’t a child who dreamed of being a writer, although when I look back now I realise English and writing stories was the one thing I felt confident in at school. It wasn’t until middle-age that I gave it a go. When I stopped working in television I wrote a few scripts and gained enough confidence to finally write a novel. I needed to dip my toe into scriptwriting first, before I found the courage to take on a book.
How do your characters develop? Do you find that your characters take on a life of their own when you are writing? Or are you always completely in control of what they say and do?
I wish my characters did take on lives of their own but they don’t. I work and work and work on them until I believe in them and I develop them by challenging their motivation. Why would they do that? How would they respond to a certain situation? So I am in control of them. What is strange though is that there have been times when I have read something back after a break and I can’t remember writing it. That’s always a nice feeling.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your settings and characters?
I am inspired by people and events around me, sometimes things I witness or overhear, sometimes things I read in a newspaper or hear on the radio. Ideas come to me when I’m not looking for them. If I go in search, then I feel as if I’m forcing it.
When you are not writing, what do you do to relax? What types of books do you read for pleasure?
I love walking, like many people, it clears my head and helps me relax. I try, and often fail, to take an hour’s walk every day. I don’t play sport, I don’t go to a gym so walking is the only exercise I do. Reading too is one of my greatest pleasures. I find it relaxing to be taken into someone else’s world and away from my own. I like books that show me a new way of seeing something, so the subject matter may be familiar but the way it’s handled is surprising and original. There are so many writers I admire, but in particular it’s those whose writing has edge and bite but wit too, so Anne Tyler, Edward St. Aubyn, Lionel Shriver, Colm Toibin, Julian Barnes, Ali Smith, the list goes on…