RE Loten talks to me about writing and her new book Unforgettable
Makarelle a literary and creative writing magazine, AND authors.
Ruth has recently published her novel Unforgettable which is a beautifully interwoven love story (I can't tell you too much without giving away spoilers - sorry).
Anyway - lets get to the good bit.
1. When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I guess the answer to that depends on how you define ‘writer’. Writing was always something I did as a hobby. I keep saying that I didn’t write for years when I first started teaching, but looking back now I realise that I was always writing bits and pieces, it just took longer to finish a project because I was working full time and had a family! It wasn’t until 2014 when I quit teaching that I started to take it more seriously and then family stuff took over again until 2018 when I started the MA and made the commitment to try and turn it into a career.
2. Tell me about Unforgettable – what was the inspiration?
I’d had the idea for the opening part of Grace’s story when I visited the Beth Chatto Gardens but didn’t really know where it would go from there or how to take it beyond the conventional ‘boy meets girl’ scenario. I went back to the idea when I realised I was going to have to write for adults on the MA and started thinking about possible scenarios that might complicate the love at first sight idea and the idea of Tom being married developed out of that.
|Click on the picture to purchase Ruth's book|
3. I know you love ballroom dancing, so to have it in the book must have felt like returning home – do you believe that ‘write what you know’ is important when creating a novel?
For me it’s hugely important and especially so in this book. It was the first time I’d written for adults and I pilfered so much of my own life in writing it. The characters are definitely fictional but a few of the scenarios they find themselves in are distorted reality, particularly with Tom and Olivia. When I first started writing it, knowing that I’d used something true as a basis for the fictionalised version just gave me more confidence that it was believable. The further into the writing I got, the more my confidence grew and the further it moved away from reality. By the time I’d finished editing it, the bare bones of real events were there but nothing more than that.
4. How long did it take Unforgettable to come together into a finished piece?
Just over two years. I spent the first year of the MA writing it in between assignments, but in the second year I used short stories instead and then COVID hit us and I had to put everything on hold apart from the work for the course to be able to home school my youngest. Once he started back at school properly in the September, I went back to work on it and finished the first draft in October 2020. It then sat for a while until I decided what to do with it. Eventually, I gave it a proper edit, had it professionally edited and then published it in January this year.
Unforgettable isn’t your first book. You have
quite a varied back catalogue, from young adult to historical to local tales
from Brightlingsea. Check out Ruth's website here
a. Why do you have such a varied approach to your writing? Most writers tend towards one genre or age group, do you think it is beneficial to have such a varied approach?
I don’t that it’s necessarily beneficial, but I like the variety – I think it keeps my writing fresh and it means that if one avenue isn’t working or doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, I can try something different. I’d always written for children/young adults before and thought that was my comfort zone, but doing the MA made me realise I could write for adults as well and there’s so much more you can explore in an adult book – there’s much greater scope for the darker side of life when you don’t have to think about the age of your readers. That said, I’ve got two series for children/young adults brewing away and I’m really excited about them as well because they dip into the world of fantasy a little bit and that’s another area with massive potential to be a bit different!
b. How do you come up with so many different, wonderful, stories when most writers struggle with one idea!?
I think it’s just reflective of my brain in general. I flit from one idea to the next in a normal conversation and just expect my husband to keep up with the inner workings of my brain, so I guess that just translates into my writing as well. The frustrating part of it is that once you have the great idea, you’ve then got to find the time to actually sit down and write it all down!
6. You are not only a prolific writer, but you’re also a voracious reader. Do you think reading is an essential part of being a writer?
I think it’s massively important. As writers, we collect bits from everywhere and then we try to turn them into something new. I’m always on the look-out for new vocabulary or different ways of describing things – I’ve always loved playing with language – and if I get stuck, I’ll often go off and read a book until my brain starts to make its own way back and figure out what needs to happen in my own work. It can backfire though – I recently sent a book to an editor who’s also a friend and she sent me a message to say I’d used a direct phrase from one of her books. I had no idea I’d done it and have no recollection of reading it, but clearly it had stuck with me and gone into my sub-conscience! Obviously, I’ve now changed it but it would have been terribly embarrassing when it was published, if it hadn’t been her that I’d asked to do my editing!
7. What book do you wish you had written?
I don’t know that there is one specific one, but I’d love to create a series that is so enduring – something like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.
8. What book had the greatest influence on your writing?
For my adult books, Kate Mosse’s Languedoc Trilogy. For my children’s books, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. Both authors have such control over both plot and setting and re-reading them as a writer I’m in awe of how intricately everything is planned without it ever feeling laboured to the reader.
9. What is your comfort read?
Pride and Prejudice variations. They got me through night-time feeds with my youngest. I don’t have to think when I read them – the plots are never complicated – and you know the ending will be happy. When I’m need of a comfort read, I want something I know will make me smile.
10. Which book would you like to be remembered for and have you written it yet?
Given that the adult series I’m currently working on is set in a fictionalised version of the town I live in, it would be lovely if it put it on the map a bit more. Usually when we tell people where we live, we’re met with blank looks, unless they happen to be a part of the sailing community!
11. As a writer one of the hardest things to deal with is rejection. How do your cope with this and carry-on writing?
It’s probably the hardest part of writing and it can be utterly soul-destroying. No matter how many times you remind yourself that writing is subjective, getting rejected does batter your confidence. One turning point for me was when a piece that had scored highly on my MA couldn’t get published, but a piece I’d written in a hurry and done very little editing of placed in a competition. I’m also lucky in that I’m surrounded by other writers – people whose opinions I trust because I know they’d tell me if something wasn’t good enough – and they keep me from going too far down the ‘I’m a dreadful writer’ rabbit hole.
12. What made you decide to self-publish and would you recommend it to other writers?
Ultimately, it was a practicality for me. I was trying to get the Writer in Residence role and I needed to demonstrate that in spite of not having had a novel traditionally published, I was serious about writing and could do the job. I had work in various anthologies but needed a full-length book, so decided to publish it myself. Ideally, I’d like to be in a situation where some of my books are traditionally published and some are self-published, but it’s finding the time to devote to sending things to agents/publishers while simultaneously trying to promote existing books, organise cover designs and blog tours and write the next one!
I think if you like to be in complete control of everything and have the money to pay out upfront, self-publishing can work for you, but it can get very lonely.
13. And finally (and because I love a baker’s dozen), what advice would you give to someone who is starting out as an author.
To never be afraid to describe yourself as a writer, take every writing opportunity that’s offered because you never know where it will leave and develop a very thick skin. It’s extraordinarily important to be able to separate your own ego from your work and accept criticism – you have to tell yourself that it’s not that you can’t write, it’s just that it’s always easier to find ways to improve someone else’s writing because you’re at a distance from it!
Thanks Ruth, some great advice.
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