Friday 13 November 2020

A Q & A with Ruth Ware


Ruth Ware is the author of six books the most recent being One by One. All her books have been on the bestsellers list. Three of her books have been optioned. In a Dark, Dark WoodWoman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game.  One by One is out now.

Ayo:- Your new book is One by One – Who are or what was the inspiration for the story?

Ruth:- I suppose it was really the fact that, sitting down to write book six, I realised that I had tackled toxic friends, dysfunctional families and twisted romances but had never looked at the people that many of us spend most of our days with – our colleagues. And yet as anyone who's ever had a bad boss or a brilliant co-worker can tell you, our colleagues have the power to make our lives miserable or brilliant, and we spend eight or even twelve hours a day in their company. Of course having decided to write about the world of work, I instantly wanted to ramp the torture up to the max by making it impossible for the characters to escape – so a corporate retreat felt like the natural setting to explore those tensions. 

Ayo:- This is in some ways not only a locked room mystery but also very reminiscent of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Was this your intention?

Ruth:- Well it's definitely not a re-write, I've seen some people describing it as a reimagining, and I don't think I would go as far as that. There's a locked room setting and a lot of people get bumped off (more than my other books), but other than that the premise and the way it plays out is totally different. However I do love Christie, and I think And then there were None is one of her best plots, so brilliantly conceived and executed. So it was definitely an inspiration.

Ayo:- There is also a Golden Age vibe going on not only in One by One but also your other books. Are you a fan of classic crime and do you have any specific favourite books?

Ruth:- I love classic crime – it's my go-to when real life becomes too stressful or complicated to bear. There's something so inexplicably reassuring about reading a book where Poirot or Marple or Lord Peter Wimsey is going to swoop in and sort out all the problems. And the settings are so wonderfully escapist. Who wouldn't want to travel on the Orient Express or lounge in the Bellona Club? When the news is full of Brexit and Covid and global warming, sometimes you just want to go somewhere completely different with issues that are immediately fixable. I love classic Christie, Sayers and Tey, but my books are equally influenced by writers who're not usually shelved as crime – people like Shirley Jackson, Sarah Walters or Daphne du Maurier.

Ayo:- How did you go about doing your research for this book? Did you actually go to the Alps?

Ruth:- I didn't go specifically for this book, but I love skiing and have been to the Alps many times. The setting for the book is sort of loosely based on Val D'Isere / Tignes, which is probably my favourite skiing area. Unfortunately because I already knew the location pretty well I didn't think I could justify charging a skiing holiday to expenses – which I'm now regretting!

Ayo:-Do you ski and do you have any horrendous skiing stories?

Ruth:- I do ski, and in fact the book is dedicated to three friends who took me down the hidden ski run which makes an appearance late in the book (in a more exaggerated, nightmarish form). Fortunately I've never had any terrible experiences (touch wood) – but one of the things that makes skiing thrilling is that you never quite know how things will turn out. I think most skiers will have had the experience of getting into a lift on a grey day in the valley and then stepping out onto the mountain peak into a world of screaming winds and snow. It turns familiar slopes into barren white-outs, and can be really nerve-wracking!

Ayo:- What made you decide to have 2 narrators and how do you feel about unreliable narrators?

Ruth:- It's the first time I've tackled two narrators, as I've always been worried about trying to distinguish the voices. I hate it in books when you're not sure who's speaking and you have to keep flicking back and forth. I started writing the book from Erin's perspective, but I quickly realised that although her outsider point of view was essential, I also needed someone inside Snoop who could explain the set up there, without Erin having to implausibly overhear conversations all the time. When I decided to bring in a narrator from Snoop, Liz was the obvious choice. She's an insider, but also an outsider as she hasn't worked for the company for many years. She's also the person in the most difficult position, as a tiny share-holding has given her the casting vote on an important buy out offer, and she's under pressure from all sides to vote with their interests. 

I love unreliable narrators, personally. Both to write and to read – though I don't think I write them as often as people think. Most of my narrators are totally reliable – they are just not believed by others, which is a different issue.

Ayo:- One by One is also a commentary on our society today and its obsession with social media. How do you feel about using social media when you not only have Facebook, Twitter but also Instagram and all three are increasingly used for promotion?

Ruth:- Like many people I have a really ambiguous relationship with social media! I love how it helps keep me in touch with people, and I love talking to readers and other writers. But I do not love what it's done to my attention span, nor the way I end up scrolling and scrolling through news. It's a kind of addiction really, and like most addictions it's really hard to break without going cold turkey. 

I think as a society we're still figuring out how we feel about this stuff. We love that when we put “Tesco opening hours” into google it returns the opening hours for OUR Tesco, and not the one in Fife or Padstow. But we find it creepy when we pop into a shop and then two hours later we're being followed round the internet by money-off vouchers and ads for the cafe. We're still trying to decide what we're prepared to exchange in return for convenience and accuracy, and any area that society is uneasy about is interesting to explore as a writer.

Ayo:- What is the more important for you characterisation or plot or do you try and have a happy medium between the two?

Ruth:- I find this really hard to answer, as for me character IS plot, and I think this is true for most crime writers. Actions come from character, and so does motive. A clever twist or a brilliant murder method or alibi is nothing if you haven't successfully persuaded the reader that your character would act that way. So I would say the two come hand in hand. 

Ayo:- Do you plot before hand or do you just let the writing flow?

Ruth:- A mix. I pretty much always know who did it and how, and I usually know the characters and some of their flaws and motivations before I start writing. But what exactly unfolds along the way is often a surprise. I don't plot out scene by scene or anything like that. I just try to ensure I know enough to drop the right breadcrumbs to the reader.

Ayo:- How would you like your characters to be remembered?

Ruth:- Wow, interesting question! I truly don't know – one of the things I love about writing is that it's a joint thing between you and the reader, and what they bring to the book is almost as important as the book itself. So whether people find my characters loveable or annoying or unlikeable or whatever, I don't think is for me to decide. I guess I would just be happy if my characters were remembered. I think that's the ultimate compliment – to create someone who feels real to the reader and stays in their head for a long time.

Ayo:- What is a typical writing day for you and how do you juggle it with family life?

Ruth:- I try to write to office hours, so I sit down at my desk after the kids go off to school and pretty much stay there. I'm not writing that whole time – especially not at the moment, in the lead-up to publication there are always a million emails flying back and forth and lots of admin and promotional stuff. But I treat it like a job, really.

Ayo:- How did the lockdown affect your writing?

Ruth:- It was terrible. It was partly the fact that schools closed – I have school age kids so my life suddenly became a tedious rigmarole of home-school exercises and MyMaths problems, during which it was made abundantly clear to me why I should never be a teacher. But it was also just that I became aware of how much I rely on the interesting minutiae of life to provide me with writing fodder. Without friends to chat to, conversations to eavesdrop, strangers to watch and funny little news stories to intrigue, I was stuck in my own head. I realised how much inspiration comes from just daily life for me. 

Ayo:- Do you think that this is a good time to be a female crime writer?

Ruth:- I think it's a great time to be a crime writer full stop – the genre is doing really well, and people are doing interesting, challenging things with the format which always inspires other writers to raise the bar. The playing field is still a little bumpy in some areas – prize shortlists continue to be male-dominated, and I would love to see more awards for psychological thrillers, which are disproportionately female- focussed, and often assumed to be somehow less serious than “real” crime. But it feels like we're in a new golden age of crime in many ways. The next challenge for our industry has got to be widening participation to under-represented voices – the crime sector, like much of the publishing industry, skews white and middle class and there are so many unheard voices with brilliant stories.

Ayo:- Desert Island books – If you could take six books with you which ones would they be and why?

Ruth:- This is much too hard! Only six? I think I would end up taking the longest just purely to spin them out – would the collected Sherlock Holmes count as one choice if I picked the Penguin single volume edition?

Ayo:- What are you working on next and can you tell us about it?

Ruth:- In a normal year I would have a new book well under way and could tell you all about it. 2020 being what it is/was, I have only a very faint idea that I'm too superstitious to jinx. But I never stop writing for long, so watch this space...

One by One by Ruth Ware (Published by Harvil Secker) £12.99 Out Now

Snow is falling in the exclusive alpine ski resort of Saint Antoine, as the shareholders and directors of Snoop, the hottest new music app, gather for a make or break corporate retreat to decide the future of the company. At stake is a billion-dollar dot com buyout that could make them all millionaires, or leave some of them out in the cold. The clock is ticking on the offer, and with the group irrevocably split, tensions are running high. When an avalanche cuts the chalet off from help, and one board member goes missing in the snow, the group is forced to ask - would someone resort to murder, to get what they want?

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