We caught up with best selling author Ruth Ware talking about her writing life as she marks the release of her brand new book The Lying Game.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Wow, ok I haven’t actually been asked that before! I think the answer is probably both, when it’s going really well it’s amazing and I get really fired up and really into the emotions of the characters. In fact, if I’m writing an argument or something I come down and find myself snapping at my poor husband because some of it over-spills! However not every day the words come that easily and there are days when it feels like, you know, you are just joylessly grinding away – it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. Those days are definitely quite exhausting!
Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?
I’m really boring when it comes to writing (laughs). I have two small kids so I drop them off at school and then I come home and I sit in my chair at 9:30am and I write until I go and pick them up. That’s pretty much it but I do have an alarm because sometimes if I’m really into a scene ill just write through the school pick up and completely forget to go and get the kids!
Describe what your ideal writing space looks like.
Well, my heart would like to say a beautiful library with lots of shelves, you know, the lovely shelves you would need a ladder to get to the top tier! That was always my dream as a child but in reality my ideal writing space would be somewhere that is as boring as possible. I mean we have a beautiful view from where my study is over the Sussex hills and it’s a really exquisite view but my desk is in a corner facing the wall. It’s really important that the view in your head is more interesting than the view in reality otherwise you can’t shut everything out. So yeah, my ideal writing space would be a padded, sound proofed cell!
It’s really important that the view in your head is more interesting than the view in reality otherwise you can’t shut everything out.
How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends, in a Dark Dark Wood I did quite a lot of research as there was quite a lot of technical stuff like the memory loss, police procedures etc. With the Lying Game it was much more about the emotions and what was going on in the characters head which wasn’t as much research. However I did spend quite a lot of time tracking down people to check that it was plausible and that I’d got the details right. Usually I think about a plot for about 3 or 4 months before I actually start writing and kind of mull it over and do a bit of googling. Most of the research is done then but inevitably stuff crops up once you start writing and sometimes it’s the really small stuff that’s hardest to get right. Things like would this policeman be able to do this? and no one seems to know, Google’s not helping and then you have to take a pragmatic view of well, if none of the police officers I’ve spoken to knew, then what percentage of the readers are going to be able to figure it out?
What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for a book?
Basically my Google search history is like every intelligence officers nightmare! It’s basically a litany of bullet wounds, shootings, poisonings, substance abuse and then what sentences are handed out in the event of all these terrible occurrences! The weirdest thing is probably the vast amount of very specific drug stuff that’s in the current book which is hard to describe without spoiling the plot! To do with the different types of effects overdoses – I probably know more than I should do about the effects of heroin in the system!
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
I should say my kids really… well, my kids and my current book, obviously!!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Social media. It’s so addictive. The one thing as a writer it’s quite a weird, lonely existence and you don’t have that kind of comfort necessarily as you do in an office. If you have a frustrating day you can go chat about it at the water cooler and get it all off your chest and for writers the only way to do that really is on social media. But inevitably you go on there for some factual reason or to off load something and you get sucked into endless debates about Brexit or something that has nothing to do with your writing life! So yeah, sometimes I will have periods where I will de-register from Facebook until I’ve got 30,000 words down on this new book.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Have Faith. I was convinced that I wouldn’t get published. I wrote for years and years and years and literally all the books went under the bed, I always wanted to be a writer but I think I just thought that it didn’t really happen for people like me. So it would be nice to have someone tap you on the shoulder and say ‘it’s probably gonna be ok , keep going!’.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Its’ very different writing as a job than it is writing for fun. Part of that was getting published and part of that was when I gave up the day job and began writing full time and then I realised I just had to write what was fun and what sold.
I think I’m probably not alone in this but my only way of getting the courage to write a book is to pretend that nobody is going to read it. I just pretend I am writing for me and put in all the ridiculous stuff and not think about the fact my mother in law is going to be reading the sex scenes. The further you get down the publishing path the harder it is to maintain that illusion because it becomes not just probable but certain that this book is going to see the light of day. The mother in law will buy it and so will all of your friends so that definitely changes things!
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I used to be a press officer so I guess if I hadn’t published I would still be doing that. When I gave up my day job to become a writer full time, I told myself that if it didn’t work out I was going to retrain as an accountant. I love numbers, I love spreadsheets and I love the satisfaction of finding out about weird quirky bits of legislation and making it all fit so I think I would be good at it.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Because I write stand alone’s, (I think this is a problem specifically for people who write stand alone’s) and I write a book a year at the moment I have to start the new book before I finish editing the old book. Each book has a different narrator and a different voice and a different kind of feel to the book and coming up with that whilst simultaneously editing in the voice of the old book is really, really difficult – it’s a process. I kind of liken to rubbing your stomach while patting your head or someone singing a song in your ear while you are trying to sing another. It’s hard and that’s the bit I least enjoy.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe people get it, but touch wood I haven’t so far, I’ve probably jinxed myself now! I believe it’s as real as depression or any state of mind that you have no control over. Why people get it and what you can do to combat it I think is a myriad of different answers because I think it’s a symptom rather than a single thing but yeah it definitely exists.
What’s in store for the future?
Hopefully finishing book four which hasn’t got a confirmed title yet otherwise I would tell you! I have the finish line in sight now so I’m feeling a bit better about it!