The first book of 2017 I read was a novel by Amy Engel called The Roanoke Girls. A mystery with deep dark roots, The Roanoke Girls left me rattled, thrilled and moved. Last week I was lucky enough to ask author Amy Engel a few questions about The Roanoke Girls.
This is your first novel for adults, how was it transitioning from YA to adult fiction?
The transition was actually pretty painless. For me, the crux of any story is the characters and that doesn’t change whether I’m writing YA or adult. I was, of course, able to go to some darker places with the adult book, but the actual writing process wasn’t all that different.
The Roanoke Girl is so dark and provocative. What was it like to write something so emotive, was it difficult? Did you have any special processes to help you write?
The book wasn’t actually that difficult to write, although at times I did find myself having to shake it off after a day of being immersed in the world of Roanoke. I didn’t really have any special processes unique to The Roanoke Girls that helped me write it. I tend to write all my books in a certain spot in my house (a big comfy chair in my living room) and that didn’t change with The Roanoke Girls. I definitely think this is a story that wanted to be told, because I never had much trouble getting it to flow.
I loved the setting of The Roanoke Girls, the hot Kansas landscape really transported me. What sort of research did you have to do for the book?
Very little research when it came to the setting, actually. I was born in Kansas, my mom grew up in a small town there, and I spent many, many summer in rural Kansas. So I know the rhythms of small time life well, along with the stifling, oppressive heat and the relentless boredom. I pretty much just plucked from my own past for those parts without having to do any research.
What was your favourite thing about writing The Roanoke Girls?
Honestly, all of it. For such a dark book, it was a tremendous joy to write. I especially loved writing Lane, who I know can be awful and difficult at times, but I always felt such sympathy for her. She’s doing the very best she can, and I admire her strength.
Were there any writers or stories that inspired you when writing The Roanoke Girls?
My love for gothic novels definitely inspired The Roanoke Girls. In fact, the first line of the book is my own little homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Gillian Flynn is always an inspiration when it comes to diving into very dark places. And Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell inspired me with its strong evocation of place, which I really wanted to achieve with The Roanoke Girls. There’s also a little nod within the novel to the story of the lost colony of Roanoke, Virginia, but so far only a couple of people have made the connection.
Finally, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a new adult novel, psychological suspense again. I’m hoping to have the first draft done soon!
The Roanoke Girls is published 9th March by Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN: 9781473660311
With thanks to Trish Brown for author images.
In October one of the fanciest proofs came my way. It was beautiful, intriguing and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel… Then I moved house and lost my copy of The Roanoke Girls.
Flash forward three months to when I final get round to unpacking one of the six boxes of books I refuse to make eye contact with, you know the old saying “Don’t unpack your stuff, just buy new stuff.” and I find my copy of The Roanoke Girls.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Engel’s novel but within a few pages I was completely hooked.
Lane finds herself uprooted when her mother commits suicide. From the busy, loud landscape of New York she’s taken in by her estranged grandparents who live in the dusty, middle-America town of Osage Flats, Kansas. Upon arrive at the Roanoke estate Lane finds the Roanoke’s to be nothing but welcoming, her grandmother, grandfather and her cousin, Allegra. For the first time in her life Lane has a family and begins to find out about the old Roanoke family.
The novel then jumps forward to present day. Lane receives a phone call from her grandfather, Allegra is missing and Lane must return to the Roanoke household.
When I started The Roanoke Girls it was obvious that this is a beautifully written novel yet every sentence hints towards something dark and nasty. As you start to find out about fifteen year old Lane and present day Lane, Engel’s writing makes you feel a little awkward and uncomfortable so when you hit the first real “OH!” moment it makes you shudder. It’s an isolated story and Osage Flats reminded me of something out of a Steinbeck novel, I haven’t read a huge amount set in small-town America so I was completely captivated.
Engel’s writing really does keep you wanting more and the novel doesn’t lose pace at any point. It took me all of a couple of days to finish The Roanoke Girls and as soon as I put this book down I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
I’m so glad I started 2017 with this dark little gem of a book.
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel will be published 7th March 2017 by Hodder &Stoughton.