Ruth was born in Saltaire, West Yorkshire but grew up in Cleveleys, Lancashire. She graduated from Exeter University in 2000 and qualified as a Religious Studies teacher in 2001. Having met her husband at university, they got married and moved to the South East - him to do his MA and her to start her teaching career.
She worked full time as a teacher, writing odd bits here and there whenever she found the time, in between the job, the dogs, the husband and the small boy who was added to their family in 2005.
In 2014 Ruth gave up teaching to become a full time writer, but after a few months, life decided it had other plans for her and she went back to running around after another small boy. At the same time, the family moved to the Essex coast and started building their family life in a new town.
The only writing she was doing at this point, was a travelogue style Facebook page, run on behalf of their youngest son, which kept friends, family and a few strangers abreast of all the weird and wonderful things he was getting up to. When the littlest member of the family started pre-school, it was time for Ruth to dust off the fountain pen and notebooks and start writing again. She decided to study for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University and in December she graduated with a merit.
Since then Ruth's finished the novel she started during the first year of the course and she is now looking for an agent to represent that. She have also completed the first draft of a second novel and is now doing a Novel In A Year course to work on the third.
How and when did you begin writing?
I can’t remember a specific age, but there are two memories of writing when young that stick out. One was watching the film ‘Emil and the Detectives’ and re-writing my own version of the story. The other was doing my writer’s badge in Brownies and turning up to the test with 25 sides of A4 for the story. I remember the tester (a lovely lady who was a former teacher) telling my mum that most people turned up with 1 or 2. Bless her though, she sat and read every single page. Her attitude was that if I’d put the effort into writing it, the least she could do was pay me the courtesy of reading it. She was so kind and I think that’s why it stuck with me.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
A difficult one to answer. My friends at school all knew I wrote and I was writing an ongoing story that I used to add another chapter to every evening and then they’d read it on the bus on the way to school. Years later, one got in touch and asked if I’d continued with it, as she’d always wanted to know what happened to them all in the end! I always thought that I’d consider myself a writer when it was the main thing I did, rather than a hobby. Then, when I gave up work to concentrate on the writing (and be at home with the kids!) I moved the goalpost and it became ‘when I get published’. I self-published some children’s books I’d written and moved them again to ‘when someone else publishes my work’. Then I learned about Imposter Syndrome and just accepted that although by the definition I would apply to anyone else, I am a writer, I will probably never feel comfortable describing myself as such.
However, I think working on the magazine has really helped with that. Not only is my own writing going to be out there, but I’ve also helped to select other people’s work for it and I think psychologically that’s given me more confidence to use the word ‘writer’ to describe myself.
What was your favourite research activity for your books?
I always love researching, to the extent that sometimes I have to make a conscious decision to stop, so that I can actually start writing the book. I’m enjoying the research I’m doing at the moment, as it’s about the area I live in, so it’s interesting on a personal level as well as useful on a professional one. However, I think my favourite piece of research was learning about the Gilded Age in New York and the American Heiresses who married into the British aristocracy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. That book is the one I’m editing at the moment.
You have an MA in creative writing how did that help you develop as a writer?
It gave me much more confidence in my own abilities. Whilst I don’t for a moment think you need a qualification to prove that you’re good at something, I did need it. It answered the question of whether writing was something I genuinely had a talent for, or whether people were just being kind in telling me they enjoyed what I wrote. It also made me much more conscious of my style of writing and helped me to move away from what we’d been taught at school was ‘good’ writing. Adjectives are not necessarily your friend! It also helped in ways I hadn’t expected – I’d got into a rut with my reading and researching the assessed work and looking at the books on the recommended reading lists really pulled me out of that rut. As a consequence, I’ve read some amazing books and picked up hints, tips and ideas for my own writing from them.
Makarelle launches next week. Publishing a magazine is a lot of work. What have you learnt in the process?
How quickly a casual, throwaway comment can suddenly become a reality when the people you’re working with are committed and determined to succeed. All of a sudden you realise that this is actually happening and you are part of this amazing venture and you wonder how on earth you’ve managed to get this far so quickly. I think we’ve all learned so much over the last couple of months, including brushing up on our knowledge of Microsoft and Google systems that we were only vaguely aware of beforehand. There’s been so many things that we’ve done for this edition, that we’ve identified needed streamlining and we’ve already put systems in place to make it easier the next time around.
You are in the process of redrafting your series and rewriting your first book. What are the reasons for that and how is it going?
The Forest Children was only ever intended to be a standalone book. It was the first book I wrote when we decided I was going to be at home with our eldest son and I was lacking in inspiration so thought if I wrote something about him it would give me a starting point. He said he wanted to have an adventure with Robin Hood. I had the idea for the second book when I wrote the last chapter of the first. Then it became an idea for a series. The trouble was there was so much that he wanted included that it all got a bit muddled. I didn’t really know where the series was going. I knew the end point, but nothing in between. Every idea I thought of didn’t work and when I wrote the first draft of what should have been the third book, I was struggling to link it to the first one, except through the characters. An added difficulty was that my son now had a brother and he wanted him to be in the story as well, but there’s a ten year age gap which made it almost impossible to pull off. I realised that I actually had the potential for two different series which could have some characters making guest appearances, much in the way that Rick Riordan’s Greek and Norse books overlap in a minor fashion. I had to basically come up with a modified version of the original story that drew more on the historical and pagan aspects of the Robin Hood story to make it work. Hence the re-write. My eldest is now old enough to understand that sometimes you have to sacrifice the truth for the sake of the story so he’s allowed me to change ages where necessary! I don’t know whether this series will ever be anything much more than books for my children, but to be honest, that’s OK with me. They both love writing their own stories and the youngest is really excited at the idea of them both being in a story I’ve written about them.
You are pitching to agents at the moment. How do you start creating a novel? How did you come up with the themes?
The one I’m pitching at the moment came about because of the MA. Right at the beginning we did a piece about writing about what you know and I cannibalised bits of the early part of my relationship with my husband for an exercise which then grew into a novel idea. The second part of the story came about because of two trips – one to Beth Chatto gardens where I had a picture of two people meeting there and instantly falling in love and then I wondered about what impact that would have on their lives if one of them was already married. The other trip was to Blackpool Tower Ballroom. I spent most of my childhood in there and suddenly realised I’d never used it as a setting in its own right. I suddenly knew how the second part of the story was going to play out.
I find that this happens a lot – I like to use locations I know well in my books and often it’s either the location itself or a quirky fact or story I learn about it that inspires my writing. I started writing a story back in the early 2000s and did about 5,000 words and then got stuck. I came back to it in 2014 after a visit to Warley Place with my son’s school and wrote another 5,000 words before running out of steam again. In October 2020 I went on a writing retreat to Northmoor House in North Devon and suddenly, it all came together. By the time I came home, I’d picked out the bits I could re-use, had the rest completely plotted out across three timelines and the first draft was completed within about 6 weeks. All because of the location.
If I get stuck, I go for a walk. If I can, I visit the place I’m writing about and it’s yet to fail me as a way of working out solutions to plot problems!
You read a lot, the lists of books on your blog are impressive. Do you have a favourite author? Or a book or books?
It’s so hard to pick just one. When I redecorated my study I asked myself the same question because I wanted art work to decorate my study walls, but I wanted each piece to be a book, series or an author I loved.
From my childhood I picked ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘The Dark Is Rising’ and ‘The Wind In The Willows.’ References to all three of these series made it into pieces I wrote for the MA and I’ve written extensively on my own blog about my love for these books and why they are so important to me. ‘The Chalet School’ and ‘Nancy Drew’ also feature heavily on my bookshelves.
The ‘Harry Potter’ series is a favourite for the whole family and it was these books, along with ‘The Famous Five’ and the ‘Percy Jackson’ series that turned my eldest from a reluctant reader into someone who loves reading.
I love Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, so they’re up there as well.
Kerry Greenwood’s ‘Phryne Fisher’ also has a place of honour, as does a Robin Hood plaque that was a present from a friend and books starring both characters are heavily featured in the bookcase.
However, Sir Terry Pratchett has to be mentioned. I’m not usually a fan of fantasy novels, but I adore The Discworld, particularly the Night Watch books. His books make me think, they make me research the real life inspiration for the stories, they make me laugh. I adore his books and one of my absolute pleasures recently has been collecting the beautiful clothbound hardback editions of The Discworld Series. I can never see an orangutan in the zoo, without whispering, ‘Ook?’ through the glass.
What is your ultimate dream as a writer?
I’d love to have something traditionally published via an agent, but increasingly I’m considering looking at indie publishers, so I think really it’s to see my book on the shelf in a bookshop or library and know that people other than my friends are reading it and enjoying it.
What advice would you give a new writer?
Have faith in yourself and if you’ve asked people to give you honest feedback and they tell you that they enjoyed it, believe them!
Remember, any editing suggestions are just that – ultimately it’s your book and you decide what goes in or comes out.
Above all, remind yourself daily that you ARE a writer and don’t be embarrassed to tell people.
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