Hello Ruth. Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Ruth Dugdall, and I’m based in Suffolk. My novels are all set in the county, in Lowestoft and Felixstowe as well as further in-land, and the setting is very important to me.
Ah, a local lady. How long have you been writing?
I loved books as a child, and English was my favourite subject at school. I went on to study it at University. But I didn’t start to write a novel until 1998, when I got lost one Sunday and ended up in Polstead. I happened upon the story of Maria Marten and the Red Barn Murder. So many things about the case didn’t add up to me, that I began to research. And from there, a novel began to grow.
I remember that story from drama classes at school. What first got you interested in writing?
Writing is a wonderful way to make sense of the world, or to try to. My first novel started as a way to explain a historical murder in a way that made sense. My second novel was written during my maternity year, and explores the feelings of being a new mother… In short, what got my interested in writing was life!And I love to read. Reading is the handmaiden of writing. There is nothing more inspiring than reading a good book!
Do you attend a writing group?
I am a member of Scribblers in Felixstowe. I also run a smaller group, for serous novelists. Writing groups are a wonderful way to get feedback, and to learn about `what works`. They are also a chance to practice reading aloud, which is an important skill for the published writer.
What is the most valuable think you have taken away from your writing group?
To support each other. To be honest. To be constructive.What genre(s) do you write?
I am a crime writer. For many years I struggled with this label, as so much of what I write does not fit the typical crime genre. But I now accept that the genre is a broad church and I am on the `psychological thriller` end of the spectrum.
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
I would be unlikely to write a light, feel-good, romance.For me, a novel has to be stimulating and thought provoking. I want to feel moved or challenged by what I read, and I can’t demand any less of what I write.
What types of things do you write?
I am a novelist. A long-distance literary runner, if you like. But I also like to sprint and write a short story every now and again. I’ve dabbled with poetry, but not seriously.
Have you ever had anything published?
The James Version, Legend Press
The Woman Before Me, Legend Press
The Sacrificial Man, Legend Press
Before having those books published, did you receive any rejections?
Rejections are a part of being a writer, so yes I have had plenty. To succeed in writing you need to be tenacious and resilient.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
Yes, my first novel was initially self-published. It’s a great option, as it allows you to test the market - and your marketing skills. It can also lead to other things; I was approached by agents after self-publishing, and The James Version is now commercially published by Legend Press. I am a great believer in authors taking control of their own destiny in this way.
It's something I've been thinking about for a while. I might just give it a go! Have you ever entered any writing competitions?
Writing competitions have saved me! Literally!
The Debut Dagger with The Woman Before Me was a massive coup, but winning the Luke Bitmead Bursary got me a publishing deal. I also won a print run of The James Version through a competition.
I’ve also `won` two mentorships (with Escalator and Apprenticeships in Fiction) and having a writing mentor is worth its weight in gold.
Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
Yes, and I recommend it. Sometimes you have to do something that scares you to grow as a writer, and this would be an example of that. It is good to hear your own voice out loud, and to see a `live` reaction to your work. Earlier this year I hosted the IP-Art open mic session, and was sure to give everyone something positive to take away. It should be a good experience.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Writing is a private activity, but the aim of the published author is to reach an audience. Scary though it may be, it’s vital for me to share my work, and listen to feedback, if I’m eventually going to release my novel into the public space.
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
From life, situations I see, or things I hear about. It’s usually something emotional or bizarre, a story that lodges in my imagination and won’t let go.I used to be a probation officer, so inevitably I draw on my background experiences. The protagonist in two of my novels (The Woman Before Me & The Sacrificial Man) is a probation officer, so it’s fair to say that my career is the inspiration for that!
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
Names are very important. I will choose a name carefully, and it always says something about the character. For example, `Rose` is a beautiful name, yet my character thinks she is ugly. Rose is also a flower with thorns.
The personalities grow, organically, as I write. My novels are driven by character, and I allow them to dictate the plot.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I will have an idea, a theme if you like, but it’s only when I have my main character that the plot begins to open up. My first draft will organic, growing as I write, without much planning. But after the first draft I will get my pens and flip chart out, and start sketching out themes and plot lines. That is when the craftwork begins.
Do you have a writing routine?
Writing is now my day job, so once the kids are at school I sit and write. I have targets for each day, and won’t stop until I’ve met my daily goal. This, for me, is how I keep motivated.
Do you have an editing process?
Yes, I have a process that basically involves me working through the draft again and again until my agent and myself are satisfied. I’ll go on writing courses and workshops, all of which help, and my writing group keep me on track!
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
Most: the writing. It has to be the best job in the world, to lose oneself in words and imagination. What a luxury!Least: dealing with rejections and bad reviews. But it does come with the territory so I’ve learned to `suck it up` (as my teenage protagonist, Sam, would say).
What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
Glue your bum to the seat and write.
And what advice could you give to a new writer?
Keep going, through to the end, before you edit. Get that first draft done, then start to perfect it.Also, don’t send it out to agents or publishers too early. They are only interested in the finished article, not a `work in progress`. (I have learned this to my cost!)
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Acting, which is a great discipline for a writer as you learn to get into another person’s head.I also like walking, in Suffolk, on Sundays. Preferably ending up in a traditional pub! And as you can see from my earlier answer, sometimes getting lost can be a good thing.
There are some lovely places around Suffolk to get lost in. You may stumble across me and my dog one Sunday! What types of things do you read?
I generally read female authors. Right now I’m reading (and enjoying) The Casual Vacancy. My favourite crime writer is Gillian Flynn, though I read outside the crime genre and enjoy Jeanette Winterson and Margaret Attwood a great deal.
Margaret Attwood is one of my favourite authors. If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
`Kill your darlings` is a good writing mantra.
My favourite literary line is from Doctor Zhivago. It’s spoken by Komarovsky, who gets all the best lines, “There are two types of women in the world. And you my dear, as we both well know, are certainly not the first kind.”
I love the book and film so much, I was inspired to visit Russia.
And I went to Denmark this year, so you can guess what inspired that!
Moscow is on my list of places to visit. What are you working on at the moment?
A novel entitled MY SISTER & OTHER LIARS. It is set in Ipswich and tells the story of Sam, a teenage girl whose older sister has been attacked and left brain damaged. As the police are closing the case, Sam is going to find the man who attacked her sister and kill him.
Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing?
I'm also on Twitter (@ruthdugdall) and I have a Ruth Dugdall Author page, which you can 'like' on Facebook.
I will certainly do that! Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I’m always happy to visit book groups in person if they are reading one of my novels. I never take a single reader for granted, and take time to respond to messages from readers or other writers.If you have read one of my novels and enjoyed it, a review on Amazon is very much appreciated!
That's brilliant. I'll have to tell my book group. Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
This is an extract from my third novel, THE SACRIFICIAL MAN, when we meet my probation officer protagonist, Cate Austin:
Lifting her head from the safety of her duvet cocoon Cate blinked at the white-bright bedroom, her breath drifting like smoke on the cold air. Through the window she could see snow falling, heavy floating flakes bumping against the glass and landing on the ledge. Closing her eyes she could still see the brightness, and knew how cold and clean the world would seem outside, but it was an illusion. Just a few drops of rain, a slither of sun, and the ground would be slushy with ice and grit, the mud and grime winning yet again.
She checked the clock – it was early yet – so she snuggled back under the duvet, feeling the warm skin of her daughter’s leg. She hadn’t heard Amelia join her in the night and never really minded even though she felt obliged to make some show of telling her to stay in her own bed. But Amelia was lovely, especially asleep, when her long eyelashes brushed her pale skin, her face so peaceful and content. Cate cuddled her daughter gently, kissing her shoulder, but the girl didn’t stir. A shard of anger pricked under her skin; Tim had brought Amelia home late last night. It wasn’t fair, it left her exhausted the next day at school. But she also knew she couldn’t complain too loudly because without Sally, Tim’s girlfriend, Cate would have to find a childminder. She hated to feel gratitude to the woman who had stolen her husband, but there you have it. Life.
© Ruth DugdallThank you very much, Ruth.