Lucy Goacher (English 2008) is an author who recently published her first novel The Edge, a gripping psychological thriller about a woman who believes her sisters’ suicide was murder.
Lucy came to Sussex in 2008 to study a BA in English. After completing her course, she decided to continue her studies at Sussex and consequently completed an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. Since graduating, she has published her debut novel, and her second novel Small Secrets is due to be released October 2023. Lucy reflects on her experience at Sussex as someone who was “painfully shy”, and “socially anxious” and gives her top tips for those are looking at a career in writing fiction.
What attracted you to studying at Sussex?
It was the least scary option. On the brink of many unknowns, I knew I’d be breathing the same sea air I’d grown up with and going to pubs I’d already been to with my hometown friends.
I never yearned for the ‘typical’ university experience of being away from home. I found comfort in knowing mine was just eleven stops away by train.
Have you always wanted to be an author? How did you approach being a writer as a career path?
I’ve always loved telling stories – but as a child, being a writer seemed like something that other people did. It was only when I finished my English degree and started panicking about what to do with my life that I thought… well, why couldn’t it be me who writes books? I signed up for Sussex’s MA course on Creative and Critical Writing to help hone my craft and graduated with author as my career goal.
A lot of writing advice is ‘write what you love!’, but to get published, you also need to write what will sell."
You recently published your first novel The Edge. What drew you to writing a psychological thriller?
I’ve always loved the twists and turns of crime fiction, but the uneasy darkness of psychological thrillers is what lingers in my brain more. Nicholas Royle’s MA course on Freud – ‘Psychoanalysis and Creative Writing’ – was my favourite module out of everything I studied at Sussex, because it was all about how a character’s psychology can inform a narrative. It ignited my passion for creating nuanced characters who haul around suitcases of mental baggage.
The Edge has twists and turns, of course, but it’s also an exploration of the grief and guilt that comes from missing a loved one’s last phone call. It’s about the paranoia of modern dating where all you know about a person is the information on their Tinder profile. And it’s also about how it feels to be a shy, socially anxious person at university in Brighton.
That’s the joy of psychological thrillers – they give authors the space to work through their own psychology on the page.
Do you have any top tips for anyone looking to start a career in writing fiction?
- A lot of writing advice is ‘write what you love!’, but to get published, you also need to write what will sell. I gave up the cosy mystery book series I’d planned and switched to the chart-dominating psychological thriller genre, writing books with hooky pitches and twists to keep the readers coming.
- All through the process, writers face rejection. Whether it’s a harsh critique in a creative workshop, a ‘no’ from a literary agent, a pass from a publishing house, or a one-star review on Goodreads, no writer is ever free from negativity. Don’t let it get to you!
- Learn from criticism – use it to help shape your books for the better – but don’t ever let it discourage you.
Do you have any standout Sussex moments?
I lived in Brighthelm for my first year, and during the spring term the whole campus got snowed in. As a coastal girl who rarely gets to see snow, it was so special to crunch through thick snow and see it sprinkled across the hills. The whole campus had a ski holiday vibe: classes cancelled, people sledding down slopes on baking trays, impromptu snowball fights with strangers.
Favourite spot on campus?
This is the introvert in me talking, but – the countryside. A few minutes of uphill walking and I could be completely alone on a hilltop, looking out across the South Downs. I had a lot of fun following the official campus walking routes in my first year, although I did get lost a few times.
What songs would make up the soundtrack to your time at Sussex?
I started university just as Lady Gaga’s first ever singles were dropping, and she was everywhere – in bars, in clubs, and even playing in the background at Donatello’s. But when I think of Sussex more personally, I remember walking through the countryside listening to the Scottish band Idlewild on my iPod and moping in the rain on Brighton seafront to their song The Remote Part after a heartbreak in my second year.
Your social media accounts are full of foxes. Tells us more about how you became such a big fan.
I never expected to become a ‘fox girl’, but somehow leaving out barbeque leftovers for the urban foxes in my area once turned into nightly garden feedings, sneaking them medicine, and even spoiling them with treats like animal-safe chocolate and jam sandwiches. These animals we share our urban spaces with aren’t the vicious predators they’re often painted as in the media. They’re soft, gentle creatures who like to play and cuddle with each other, and who – in special circumstances – will even come up for nose boops. I’m thrilled that thousands of people want to follow my foxes’ antics on Instagram!
How do you keep motivated as a writer?
I can’t be romantic about it – writing is a slog! It’s torture sometimes, trying to drag words out of a mind that won’t cooperate, even though I know exactly what needs to happen next in the story. But as painful as writing is, storytelling is bliss. That’s what I really have a passion for: entertaining others. And I can’t entertain anyone with a blank page.
What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back and start university again?
I wish my university experience had been different. I wish I’d spoken up when I was the only person who could answer a tutor’s question in a seminar, instead of staying silent and avoiding their eye. I wish I’d been bold enough to go to more parties and make more friends. I wish I’d asked for guidance when I didn’t understand, when I couldn’t locate a library book, when I didn’t know where the common room was. With perspective though, I did what I was capable of, and that taught me to be capable of everything I’ve achieved since then.
Be shy, be awkward, be a mess – but please try to keep on top of your reading! Trust me, you don’t want to still be finishing Ulysses the night before your graded presentation on it…
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