A couple of years back, I started a fiction book club.
One of the members chose a psychological thriller called I Know Your Secret, by Ruth Heald.
What can I say? That book led me to choose the Wedding by the same author when it was my turn to pick a selection.
Needless to say, I became hooked and went onto read the New Girl. For sure, I will be reading the rest of Heald’s thrillers.
But the best news of all is that Ruth Heald was willing to be interviewed by me.
I hope you’ll enjoy this Q&A.
What is your writing process like?
Once I’ve come up with the idea, I write a synopsis for my editor. We agree any changes and then I start the first draft. I’m most productive in the mornings, so I settle down to write once the kids have gone to school. I write for three or four hours each day, and during the first draft I write until I get to the end, and don’t let myself go back and change things. I used to write in the evenings and on weekends as well, but I’m trying to cut that down to get more work-life balance! I usually have to go through three or four drafts, sometimes more before I send the book back to my editor at my publisher, Bookouture. The book then goes through several more rounds of edits before it’s ready for publication.
Do you have a specific place you like to write: coffee shop, writing studio, etc?
I often write at home, but when I’m starting to flag, or lacking creativity, I go to a coffee shop. I find the noise of other people chatting energizing, and it makes me feel more part of the world, instead of locked away in my house!
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere! I’ve always had lots of ideas for books, TV programmes, new products…you name it! Sometimes I’ll overhear something in the street, and an idea for a character will appear. If I read a newspaper article and ask ‘what if this happened to a person’? Or ‘I wonder how x’s sister coped with that’? Then I’ll have an idea for a plot. Sometimes I’ll get ideas from places – for example thinking about who used to live in a house. Or I’ll meet an interesting character and wonder how they would react to an extreme situation.
Well educated and worldly savvy in the business spectrum, what made you turn to writing as a career?
Like most writers, it was something I always wanted to do since I was a child. But even though I’d written a lot of drafts of various books in my spare time, writing professionally had always seemed out of reach. It wasn’t a stable, ‘sensible’ job. But after I had my daughter, I thought it was ‘now or never’ and I took the risk of quitting my job in business strategy at the BBC to write. I always thought I could go back to working in business if it didn’t work out. But lucky, so far it’s worked out very well!
You’ve written several books now. When you begin to write a new book, do you question how it will fair with the others you’ve written?
When I start writing, it’s like entering the unknown. I find I have a very clear vision of the book in my head, but sometimes the words on the page just don’t match that vision. So when I start I never know if the book will flow easily and I’ll be happy with it or if it will be a slow, extended writing process. Once it’s finished, then I start to wonder how it will compare with the others and how readers will respond. Readers have such different tastes, so I never know for certain what will happen until the book is published and the reviews start coming in.
As a writer, what favorite genre do you like to read? Any authors, in particular?
I love reading and writing psychological thrillers! There are so many brilliant authors in this genre at the moment. Recently I’ve enjoyed the Perfect Father by Charlotte Duckworth and Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce. My favorite author is Kate Atkinson, whose writing is so evocative – A God in Ruins and Big Sky are both brilliant books. I’m always eagerly awaiting her next offering.
My daughter presented your book I Know Your Secret it to our bookclub. I chose the Wedding for the following month. Both novels were very well received! Was it serendipitous or merely chance that both books had a “fire” motif?
That’s an interesting question! It’s by chance more than design that they both feature fire. In a psychological thriller, I’m always trying to up the suspense and level of threat. A fire really ups the stakes!
Revealing your plot line from more than one perspective and more than one timeline, what techniques did you incorporate to keep things straight?
When I start a book in Word, I always start an Excel spreadsheet as well. As I write, chapter by chapter, I fill in the details of the chapters in the spreadsheet at the same time. I put the key plot points down so I can remember what’s happened when and who knows what. Psychological thrillers can get very complicated and I need my spreadsheet for when I do the edits, as chapters can get moved around and I need to make sure the overall plot still makes sense!
Presently, I am reading the New Girl. I’m enjoying the frightening scenes in the flat. You do a good job keeping the reader guessing in your novels. How do you accomplish these twists and turns?
It’s a lot of fun writing twists. I always know the ending of the book when I start writing, and then think of all the ways the other characters might be suspicious and what motivations they might have for causing the main character harm.
Do you have any advice to offer writers?
The most important thing when you’re first starting out is to let go of your internal critic. Let the words flow. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t perfect to start with. It’s best to get to write to the end of your book and allow time for editing later. And once you’re submitting to agents, you need to have a thick skin. Most writers have lots of rejections before they have any success, so a key part of the process is dusting yourself off after disappointments and keeping going!