Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018, Rachel says of herself:
I was born in London and have lived there most of my life.
I studied history and then English at Cambridge and then went to Strathclyde in Glasgow to study linguistics. I did a variety of short-term jobs over the next couple of years while everyone told me that time was running out and I needed to decided what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. On what appeared to be a whim and perhaps to avoid more prodding, I decided that I would do a PhD and become an academic. After some scary part-time teaching in Goldsmiths’ English Department at the University of London, which gave me a serious case of imposter-syndrome (something I will be writing about a good deal on this blog),
I got a job at Middlesex University where I worked very happily for a number of years. But we none of us live in a vacuum. My early years there corresponded with an expansion in Higher Education that was, by today’s standards, well-funded. As teachers, we felt we were genuinely contributing to widening participation. As researchers, we had opportunities to develop interesting work; busy as we were, we also had time to think. In my writing and teaching, I specialised in the 19th century novel and how publishing and reading shaped writing and in 20th century colonial and post-colonial writing. It didn’t last of course and my final years were grim ( you can read a short account of why I left here).
Leaving university teaching at the moment that I did, taking voluntary redundancy after deciding that I couldn’t reapply for ‘my’ job yet again was a huge risk but has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. It prompted me, pushed me, kicked me into writing fiction and into different types of teaching. It is not an easy place to be – for me – but it is where I wish to be.