Ruth studied English at university and then took an MA is Social Work. Following this she worked in the Criminal Justice System as a social worker then as a probation officer. Part of this time was spent seconded to a prison housing serious offenders. She continues to work within the Criminal Justice System, most recently in Luxembourg. Ruth’s novels are informed by her experience and are “authentic and credible”.
Thanks for agreeing to an intimate probing with me… Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin…
For the benefit of those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your books can you please tell us a little about each one and the order they should be read?
The James Version, my first novel and initially self-published, is a fictional account of the murder of Maria Marten in the Red Barn. Most people know the story from the Victorian melodrama with the wicked villain in a black cape, twirling his moustache, and forlorn Maria a vestal virgin in distress. The true story is much more interesting.
Next came The Woman Before Me (2010), a novel about motherhood and obsession, and written during my maternity leave from probation! It won the Debut Dagger in 2005 and changed my life, as I resigned from the probation service to concentrate on writing. It took four more years until it found a publisher, though!
The Sacrificial Man (2011) is about a beautiful woman who responds to an advert on the internet from a computer nerd seeking a lover to kill and eat him. It’s my darkest book, and also my favourite.
Humber Boy B (2015) is about a child who throws his best friend of the Humber Bridge, and the consequences when he’s released from prison eight years later, the past threatening to catch him up.
Nowhere Girl, also published in 2015, is set in Luxembourg where I was living at the time, and is about a British girl kidnapped at the annual Schueberfoeur. It’s about human trafficking, and was written as the refuge crisis was unfolding in Europe.
I am a huge fan of your books and the first one had such an impact on me that I actually remember where I was when I read it (Malta, St Julien’s holiday 2012) it definitely had the shock-factor and the deliciously uncomfortable vibe – when you are writing these books and researching these horrific subjects does it affect you and how do you deal with it?
I allow myself to go to the darker places of human behaviour, and always have. I blame my mum, a Northern lass who never read a book in her life until ten years ago, but she’s a natural storyteller, and has a taste for the macabre. She used to be a paediatric nurse, and she’d always give too much heart-rending detail about those sick children. I think it de-sensitised me, and that was useful as a probation officer. It’s not that I’m un-shockable, more that I won’t look away, instead I’m intrigued and need to know more.
As we mentioned in our first question although all the books can be read as standalone they do all feature the wonderful Cate Austin – do you have more plans for her?
My next two books, My Sister and Other liars (release date May 1st) and Innocence Lane (late 2017) both feature a new protagonist, Detective Sergeant Penny Rickman. She was mentioned in Humber Boy B, and it’s felt a natural progression for me to go into the police perspective of crime-writing. I’ve been very lucky that Suffolk police have appointed me an adviser, so I can keep my writing authentic, something very important to me.
As for Cate, who knows? It depends what readers think to Penny, I suppose!
You have a new book out in May called My Sister and Other Liars – what can you tell us about it and when can I read it please?
It starts on New Year’s Eve. Samantha Hoollihan is dying. She lives on a hospital ward and is in the advanced stages of anorexia, like her fellow sufferers, she thinks of `Ana Unit` as her best friend. She just wants to forget and disappear.
But oblivion is not what Clive, the hospital director, has in mind. He has decided on an unusual form of therapy: Sam must talk for a set time, or she will be force-fed through a naso-gastric tube. It is a brutal tactic, and Sam’s last chance for survival.
If only she wanted that.
But something changes. Sam’s mother dies and her personal effects are brought to the hospital, including a chocolate box full of photos. Clive gives Sam the box, and asks her to talk about a photo. Or be force-fed. She has to choose.
I’m awaiting proofs, but I promise you are first on my list!
Note… Since this interview I have read and reviewed My Sister and Others Liars and LOVED it – you can read my full review here
You are the news presenter on Felixstowe TV – which you describe “as the smallest TV station in the world” – any amusing stories you can share with us?
I also used to present the Caravan Channel, on some obscure Sky channel, but got the sack after a weekend for fans was organised and I spent my first night in a caravan. I hated it, and made the mistake of telling people so. I’d really rather present the Hotel & Luxurious Spa Channel!
I’ve also been on Four in a Bed, and got slammed for leaving my books in people’s rooms as a welcome gift. It was seen as shameless publicity, and I think I knew then that we wouldn’t win! (We came second to last).
You change your hair colour and style almost as much as me – red, blonde, short, bobbed, long, with a fringe, without a fringe – how often do you go to the hairdressers and what colour/style are you right now?
This is a problem with the internet – some of those pictures are very old!
I’m actually a natural redhead, and though I may have some help from Nice & Easy now, there’s fire and passion in my DNA. Last year I went to the Redhead Festival in Breda and was gutted that I looked too blonde!
Almost every photo on google has you holding a book of yours – do you keep a collection in your handbag and whip it out when you see a camera?
Lol! What else should I be holding?
What’s the funniest review/comment you have had from a reader so far?
My favourite was from someone who asked me at an author talk, “Why aren’t you obese?” I think she meant because I must sit down to write all day, but it came out as a challenge so I’m now upping my biscuit consumption.
Amazon reviews can be manna from heaven or bolts from Hell. “Don’t give up the day job” was probably the most damning. Especially because I already had.
Do you read much, if so, what is your preferred genre and any particular books or authors we should look out for in 2017.
I’m a prolific reader, and I’m not picky about genres.
I’d recommend Julia Crouch’s Her Husband’s Lover, which is out this month.
Stephen May has a new book out in a few months, entitled Stronger than Skin. He’s wonderfully wry, and I’m currently reading the proof.
I’m also looking forward to Jane Isaac’s May release, The Lies Within.
If you were to go on Mastermind, what would your specialist subject be?
World War 2 military history.
I used my two years in Luxembourg as a chance to visits every museum within a 3 hour radius, so my specialist subject would be the Battle of the Bulge. I love all that stuff, tanks and retreats and “Nuts!”
Last year I went to Waterloo and that was fab too. Drop me off at a war museum for half a day and I’m a happy camper.
To read my reviews on Ruth’s books – click here
- The Woman Before Me – Cate Austin Book 1
- The Sacrificial Man – Cate Austin Book 2
- Humber Boy B – Cate Austin Book 3