Ruth is the author of The Woman Before Me – which bestselling author Sam Mills described as “an enthralling psychological thriller”. I recently had the opportunity to ask Ruth a few questions.
1) Your novel, The Woman Before Me, was published By Legend Press as the winner of the Luke Bitmead Bursary in August of this year. Tell us a little about the road to winning the bursary and ultimately having The Woman Before Me published.
The plot for The Woman Before Me came to me the night I gave birth to my son, Eden, and I wrote the novel during my maternity leave. It is the story of Rose, a grieving mother who becomes obsessed with her boyfriend’s ex-wife and is then accused of killing the other woman’s child. The story starts when Rose is applying for release on parole, and explores themes of guilt and justice, love and obsession.
In 2005 it won the Debut Dagger, which was amazing. I had agents and major publishers begging to see the full manuscript. I thought I had made it and it was all going to happen…
But The Woman Before Me fell at the marketing hurdle, was too `cross-genre`, `too dark` for the major publishing houses to take a chance on. I moved on to writing my next novel and put The Woman Before Me into the computer equivalent of the bottom drawer.
Last year I saw the Luke Bitmead Novel Bursary advertised in Writer’s News, and also mentioned on Authonomy. The Bursary was set up by Legend Press in memory of Luke Bitmead, a talented writer who sadly killed himself and its aim is to publish a new writer each year and I decided to enter.
Winning the Bursary was a watershed moment for me – it every way, as I cried through much of the ceremony, knowing I would finally see The Woman Before Me in print. In August this year, five years (nearly) after winning the Debut Dagger, it was published by Legend Press.
2) Have you been writing long?
I’ve always loved words, and my first love is reading. I studied English Literature at University, and always dabbled with creative writing, but never had the confidence to take it any further. I had an idea for a historical fiction, which I had been researching and writing for several years, but on a fairly ad hoc basis. Then, in 2002, I went on maternity leave and I filled the time between feeding and nappy changes by working on the novel. It’s called The James Version and is based on the actual murder of Maria Marten at the Red Barn in Suffolk.
It won a First Place at Winchester Writer’s Conference and the prize was 60 printed copies. That was how I fell into self-publishing, which was a fantastic experience and I learned some valuable lessons about marketing, which are coming in very handy now. The James Version won the David St John Thomas Self-Publishing Marketing Award in 2006.
3) How do you approach the process of planning and writing a novel? Do you outline in detail beforehand or just jump right in?
I prefer to dive straight in with an idea, and write straight through to the end. That’s how I wrote my first few novels, going back and fleshing out characters and plot lines.
I’m currently being mentored by crime writer Laura Wilson, and she has taught me to slow down and plan more, which is definitely against my personality type but the advantage is that fewer words have to be deleted because they don’t move the story forward. With Family Snap (my fifth novel) I started with family trees /time lines/character descriptions, and it has convinced me that writing with a plan is more time-effective. But it’s less fun!
4) I recently heard the novelist William Boyd say in an interview that he believes there are, at heart, two kinds of novelist – those who are heavily inspired by the autobiographical and those who write about things of which they have no personal experience, relying on research etc. Which category do you fall into (if you do at all!)?
I don’t think it’s a clear cut as that. My first novel was a historical fiction, but what I took to the novel were the issues that I wanted to explore because of who I am. The heartbeat of any novel is often a theme that the author is obsessed with. The James Version is about relationships between women, jealousy, thwarted hope… things which concerned me as a woman living now, but which I was able to explore through a story set in the 1800s.
The Woman Before Me is about motherhood in all its guises. It pulls on something inside me, and a piece of my soul is in everything I write. I may research extensively, but I still invest personally in all my novels, and I think this is true of many writers.
5) We all have writers – or particular books – that inspire and drive us on. Which book or author do you find has had the most significant impact on your wanting to be a writer?
I love Margaret Atwood, especially The Handmaid’s Tale & Alias Grace. I think her use of language is extraordinary. I’ve also read and re-read Donna Tartt, as she has darkness in her writing that intrigues me. There is something very slow and measured about the way she takes a reader into her fictional worlds.
More recently Gillian Flynn has inspired me. Sharp Objects is an outstanding debut, and I like the way she exposes the psychology of criminal behaviour.
6) What are you reading at the moment?
Room by Emma Donoghue. It is one of those books that I wish I’d written; simple and amazing. But it is also worth remembering that Room is Donoghue’s tenth book, and writing is a craft that takes time to master. I’d previously read Slammerkin and loved it, but Room is genius. It should have won the Booker.
7) What have you planned next? Are you working on a new project at the moment?
Next year The Sacrificial Man will be published by Solidus Press. It tells the story of a man who advertises on the Internet for a woman to kill and eat him, and of the woman who replies. (Not based on personal experience, but the research took me to some interesting places!)
© 2010 Gary William Murning and Ruth Dugdall.