CTG Interviews: Ruth Ware about her psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD

unnamed

The night I called Ruth Ware was suitably eerie. Torrential rain and high winds were causing the branches of a tree to bash the window I was sitting next to, and the security light outside kept going on and off ‘for no reason’. All in all it seemed a fitting context for the call to discuss Ruth’s brilliant psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD.

If you’ve not read this fantastic thriller, here’s the blurb to give you a flavour: “Leonora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back. Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her? As the champagne corks pop, and the secrets begin to flow, and a hen do for an old school friend begins to take a sinister turn …”

So, to the interview …

I found Nora a hugely compelling character – likeable, genuine, and self-doubting, yet refusing to be beaten by everything thrown at her. What was your jumping off point for creating her?

I like to think of Nora as being vulnerable on the outside but with a core of steel on the inside. The idea for IN A DARK, DARK WOOD came about from a conversation with a friend. They said they’d never read a thriller set on a hen night, and I knew instantly that I wanted to write that book (and luckily they didn’t!).

In the beginning I knew that Nora would struggle with accepting the invitation, and wanted to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia and threat. I think most people, unless they’re real extroverts, find being in a group of relative strangers for a long period tiring. I wanted to bring this out.

Through working with my editors I explored the reclusive, introverted side of Nora’s character, but I also strongly wanted to keep an ‘everywoman’ feel to her. I felt this was important, and it lets the reader ‘tread the path’ with the character – which is something I enjoy to do in a thriller.

The book tells both the modern day action of the hen party, and the past events that led to Nora and Clare not speaking for ten years. Did one of these timelines come to you before the other, or did they develop alongside each other as you wrote?

I always had the sense that there was a lot of history between them, you know the weight of shared experience – good and bad – you have with people you’ve known a long time. And I knew there was a big reason in their past that made Nora reluctant to accept the invitation.

I knew the incident where things all kick off would happen a long way into the book, so the hospital timeline and hen night timeline were really important to get all the players in place first, and for the reader to get to know them. I always find it more interesting to start from a place where you know something dreadful has happened – it’s an easy way to show something bad is coming, without having to do a lot of tedious signposting.

What I especially loved about the book was the uneasy dynamic between the friends at the hen party, and that they felt so incredibly real. When you’re writing do you use actors (or real people) when you picture your characters and how they’ll react in a scene?

I tend to keep everything in my head. I do keep a few notes on basic stuff – eye colour, height if that’s relevant to the plot – but that’s it really. There are quite a few scenes where the guests at the hen are all together, but without any other characters, so that made it easier to flesh them out. Also, the set up [of them meeting on the hen] meant they could introduce themselves, and allowed them to talk about themselves.

I’ve been on a few hens, and I think you start to notice archetypes. In fact, I’ve probably been all of them at one time or other over the years – the organiser, the bride, the new mum – so you could say the characters are all different aspects of me. The alpha girl was also a lot of fun to explore!

The glass house in the forest is chillingly cut off from civilisation, yet the glass allows those outside to see in. It’s creepy and adds an added layer of tension to the story – what gave you the inspiration to create such a setting?

I’ve always been fascinated by forests. Pine forests are always so dark, because they’re evergreen and never lose their leaves. And I love the Scottish forests that go on and on for miles. So setting the story in a forest was a bit of wish fulfilment!

The glass house I pinched from all those American horror films – the ones where the people are going round the house checking all the doors are locked, but you know it’s too late! I thought about the time of day, as it gets dark, when windows stop being a way of looking out, and become a way for people to look in – that’s when I close the curtains! But when I see houses with huge walls of glass, like on Grand Designs, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in a house like that – where you can’t have curtains.

One of the themes of the book is exposure – exploring the face we choose to present to others and the face we choose to hide. In a way, the glass house is like a physical representation of this.

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD has been likened to the sort of locked room mystery Agatha Christie would write if she was writing crime novels today. Are you a Christie fan, and what other crime novels do you count among your favourites?

Yes, I’m a Christie fan, although I didn’t set out to write that type of novel – my agent was the first person to say the story was like a modern Agatha Christie. I read a lot of Christie’s books when I was a teen. She was a great plotter and I’ve always loved books which have intricate workings and red herrings. Gone Girl is a lot like that – the plot locks together in a really satisfying way.

I worked in the publishing industry for a long time so I got to read a wide variety of genres and authors, and I still have a magpie reading habit now! I’ve just read the non-fiction book that the movie Pitch Perfect was based on – which was great. I love psychological thrillers – books like Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, and Tammy Cohen’s When She Was Bad (which is incredibly scary!)

What would you say your favourite part of the writing process is?

I love the ideas stage, that point where you’re nudging at an idea and letting in take shape. It’s like an unscratched lottery ticket – it could be the most wonderful book ever written. It’s like being in the early stages of a love affair – full of possibility.

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD is your debut thriller, can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

I wrote YA books before, but this feels very different – the types of events you do, the amount of exposure you get. It’s very nerve racking, putting yourself out there, and it definitely felt like a risk, trying something out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did. If I’d sat down to write a fantasy wish list, then I think the top three things would have been getting onto the New York Times Best Seller List, the Sunday Times Best Seller List, and achieving a film deal. I would have been over the moon to get any of those – I still can’t quite believe that IN A DARK, DARK WOOD has done all three.

You mentioned the film deal, can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, it’s still at an early stage at the moment, but very exciting. It’s been bought by New Line (part of Warner Bros) and Reese Witherspoon, who produced Gone Girl, is attached to the project.

Will you be involved in the writing of the screenplay?

A part of me would love to be involved, but I know about books not film, so it’s best to leave the screenplay to those in the film industry I think.

And how have things been since IN A DARK, DARK WOOD was announced as one of the Richard & Judy Book Club Spring Reads?

Surreal! I knew when it was on the shortlist, and that was really nerve racking. Being chosen is a dream come true. The Richard & Judy Book Club persuades people to take a punt on an author they’ve not heard of, because it’s Richard and Judy saying ‘try this, you might like it’. It feels incredibly special to be part of it.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

Well, I’ve just finished the structural edits on my next book. It’s called The Woman in Cabin 10, and I’ll be spending the next few months doing the copy edits and proof reading on it. Then I’ll start writing the third book. I’ve got a skeleton outline of the plot already, and a cast of characters – I’m in the love affair stage of writing!

 

A huge thank you to Ruth Ware for letting me interrogate her for the CTG blog.

The fabulous psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD is out now. You can buy a copy from Waterstones here  and from Amazon here 

Be sure to check out Ruth’s website at www.ruthware.com and follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter

And you can read my review of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD here 

 

CTG Reviews: IN A DARK DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware

 

Unknown

What the blurb says: “Some hen parties are bad. This one’s going to be murder. Leonora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back. Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her? As the champagne corks pop, the secrets begin to flow, and a hen do for an old school friend begins to take a sinister turn …”

This tension-fuelled page-turner is enough to put anyone off hen parties for good!

When Nora receives an invitation to her old school friend – Clare’s – hen party she’s not sure whether to accept. It’s been ten years since they spoke, and there are unresolved issues from that time that Nora would rather leave in the past. But, when she learns another friend, Nina, has been invited, they make a pact to go together. It’s a decision that will come back to haunt them both.

Organised by Clare’s new BFF – Flo – the hen party weekend has been meticulously planned to be the perfect party, with having fun made compulsory. But Nora isn’t having fun. From the isolated setting in the woods, to the forced need to enjoy themselves and peer pressure to fit it and do every activity, the tension within the group ratchets ever higher. The weekend isn’t off to a great start, but Nora could never have anticipated just how bad things will get.

In A Dark, Dark Wood has all the hallmarks of a classic locked room mystery brought bang up to date within a contemporary setting – a modern house in a remote location in the woods where there’s a patchy phone signal, only one route in and out, and no close neighbours. Nora is flawed and likable, and a character I couldn’t help but route for. In fact, all the characters are vivid and interesting (even if you might not want to be friends with them all!) and the relationships between them, and alliances that form as things go wrong, are fascinating to watch unfold.

With deeply unsettling undertones from the outset, In A Dark, Dark Wood is a real nail-biter of a read. Packed with twists and turns, it had me hooked right from the opening chapter through to the last.

It’s a brilliant debut and an absolute must-read for thriller fans.

 

IN A DARK DARK WOOD is a Richard & Judy Book Club Spring Read 2016.

To get the book from WH Smith click here

To buy the book from Amazon click here

To find out more about Ruth Ware pop over to her website www.ruthware.com and be sure to follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter

 

[With thanks to Vintage for my copy of IN A DARK DARK WOOD]

Friday Book Freebies #CTGgiveaway – THE CROOKED HOUSE and THE CRIME AT BLACK DUDLEY

It’s Friday! So to celebrate the fast approaching weekend we’ve got two fabulous books to give away.

About the Books …

crooked 2

THE CROOKED HOUSE by Christobel Kent

What the blurb says: “Alison is as close to anonymous as she can get: with no ties and a backroom job, hers is a life lived under the radar. But once Alison was someone else: once she was Esme, a teenager whose bedroom sat at the top of a remote house on a bleak estuary. A girl whose family, if not happy, exactly, was no unhappier than anyone else’s – or so she thought.

The one night violence was unleashed in the crooked house, in a nightmare that only Alison survived and from which she’s been running ever since. Only when she falls for the charismatic Paul does Alison realise that to have any chance of happiness, she must return to her old life and face a closed community full of dark secrets.

Utterly beguiling and strikingly atmospheric, The Crooked House will be enjoyed by fans of stylish thrillers such as Apple Tree Yard and The Girl on the Train.”

The Crime at Black Dudley cover image

The Crime at Black Dudley cover image

THE CRIME AT BLACK DUDLEY by Margery Allingham

What the blurb says: “A suspicious death and a haunted family heirloom were not advertised when Dr George Abbershaw and a group of London’s brightest young things accepted an invitation to the mansion of Black Dudley. Skulduggery is most certainly afoot, and the party-goers soon realise that they’re trapped in the secluded house. Amongst them is a stranger who promises to unravel the villainous plots behind their incarceration – but can George and his friends trust the peculiar young man who calls himself Albert Campion?”

With quirky characters, and a mysterious family custom involving a haunted dagger, this is a lively locked-room mystery with plenty to keep the reader on their toes as George Abbershaw tries to figure out the truth behind the strange and sinister goings on at Black Dudley mansion.

*** THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED ***

How to Enter …

For a chance to win these two fabulous books, all you need to do is tweet the link to this post (using the Twitter button below) OR retweet one of the CTG tweets about the giveaway – making sure to include the hashtag #CTGgiveaway. You’ll also need to follow us on Twitter so we can send you a direct message should you win.

Rules: (1) One entry per reader (2) UK residents only – due to postage costs – sorry! (3) We will draw the winner at random (4) No cash alternative (5) The competition closes for entries at 5pm GMT on Sunday 21st June 2015 (6) The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Good luck!

#VintageMurderMysteries – The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

The Crime at Black Dudley cover image

The Crime at Black Dudley cover image

Those lovely people over at Vintage are bringing Margery Allingham’s golden age murder mysteries back into print under their Vintage Murder Mysteries banner. The book covers have been given a fantastic make-over, and the whole of the Mr Campion series will be published between May 2015 and August 2016.

One of five Margery Allingham titles published this month is The Crime at Black Dudley.

What the blurb says: “A suspicious death and a haunted family heirloom were not advertised when Dr George Abbershaw and a group of London’s brightest young things accepted an invitation to the mansion of Black Dudley. Skulduggery is most certainly afoot, and the party-goers soon realise that they’re trapped in the secluded house. Amongst them is a stranger who promises to unravel the villainous plots behind their incarceration – but can George and his friends trust the peculiar young man who calls himself Albert Campion?”

This is the first of Margery Allingham’s books that I’ve read and it’s certainly a lot of fun. With quirky characters, and a mysterious family custom involving a haunted dagger, this is a lively locked-room mystery with plenty to keep the reader on their toes as George Abbershaw tries to figure out the truth behind the strange and sinister goings on at Black Dudley mansion. As the danger mounts, and the group of London’s bright young things decide to take action into their own hands, it’s a race against time for them to escape the locked-down mansion and bring the culprits to justice.

To find out more about The Crime at Black Dudley and read an extract, hop on over to Dead Good Books to read the first chapter here

 

[with thanks to Vintage for my copy of The Crime at Black Dudley]

CTG Reviews: My Criminal World by Henry Sutton

My Criminal World cover image

My Criminal World cover image

What the blurb says: “In awe of his wife, hounded by his agent and ignored by his editor, crime novelist David Slavitt finds his life is spiralling out of control. As his wife grows increasingly distant and his agent insists that his new book needs more violence – a lot more violence – David is getting worried. He needs to do something if he is to save his career, and his marriage. But just how far is this most mild-mannered of crime writers prepared to go? And who is the person really pulling the strings in his story? In this ingenious crime novel, there is more than one mystery to be solved.”

I think the first thing that attracted me to this book was its cover – bright and funky with a rather retro-cool design. So, I picked it up and starting reading, and the story was just as fun – quirky and really intriguing.

It’s like two crime books in one. The first story is of crime writer, David Slavitt, whose career is stalling and knows he needs to pull a bestseller out of the back to keep his publisher, and his agent, on board. The second story is the crime book he’s writing, based in a small, coastal location near his home and seemingly part-based on the strange experiences he begins to have in his day-to-day life.

As he battles to get to his daily word target, and his anxiety about his future reaches break point, events conspire to make him take his head out the sand and face up to the fact that his beloved wife could be having an affair. He uses the confusion, the paranoia, and the fear she’ll leave him, pouring it into his novel and using it as fuel to write some of the more violent, more gory scenes his agent has constantly urged him to. But, just when the novel is going well, disaster strikes in his personal life and it seems that his fiction and real-life could be more connected than anyone around David had ever expected.

This book was great fun to read, packed with mystery and intrigue, and kept me, as the reader, on my toes as it switched between the fictional book David is writing and his own personal life. I loved how he used the things he saw and experienced in daily life, changed them a bit, and put them into his novel, and the endearing, self-doubting inner monologues he often had while writing. Packed with larger-than-life characters, this is a perfect novel to devour in a weekend, or take on holiday to read poolside.

Highly recommended.

 

[Many thanks to Vintage for my copy of My Criminal World]

 

CTG Interviews: Koethi Zan author of THE NEVER LIST

Koethi Zan (c) Pieter M van Hattem

Koethi Zan (c) Pieter M van Hattem

Today I’m delighted to welcome Koethi Zan, author of the fabulous psychological thriller, THE NEVER LIST, to the CTG blog.

I found THE NEVER LIST both spellbinding and chilling. Through Sarah (Caroline) the reader experiences the horror, and impact, of her ordeal in a way that feels very authentic. How did you go about researching the book?

I researched the book by reading essentially everything available about the experiences of women who have been abducted: their memoirs, trial transcripts, psychology textbooks, third party accounts and newspaper articles. I was quite submerged in it, which was a very dark and scary place to be for so long a time.  Of course, I can never know what that experience is truly like, but I feel I have developed a particular empathy for those victims, and I hope what I’ve learned comes across in the book.

For the BDSM parts of the book, I read books on the topic, but also spent a lot of time going down the internet rabbit hole of that culture.  I found myself on many shocking chat boards, websites, and blogs. At a certain point, I’d read so many disturbing accounts that I started to believe I could never be surprised by anything.  But there was always that one more site, one more story, one more image.

The idea of Sarah and Jennifer, after experiencing loss and trauma while still at school, creating their never list is fascinating. How did you get the idea for the never list, and would you call yourself a list person?

The relationship between Sarah and Jennifer is loosely based on my own relationship with my best friend.  She and I never had a formal, written list of ‘don’ts,’ but we did have a set of rules we’d follow because we were both slightly paranoid.  Perhaps not as much as my characters, but there are many shared themes in their lives and ours.

I am definitely a list person, and always have been.  I keep multiple to do lists at all times, each with different time horizons.  Otherwise the world would be too overwhelming.

What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer? 

Two crime fiction writers who influenced my book are quite different from one another: Patricia Highsmith, whose pacing is slow and menacing, her technique literary and psychological, and Steig Larsson, who is all action, action, action, with complex and dramatic storylines.

I started reading Highsmith years ago, and though I would not dare compare myself to her, she sparked my interest in crime fiction.  I love how she follows the progression of the criminal mind, usually making the reader complicit with the perpetrator, living out the story from his or her point of view.  For my book, I wanted to flip her formula on its head and give the victim’s perspective, so the reader would be intimately involved with the crime and its impact on the psyche, not just trying to solve the who, where and what of it.

Only in retrospect did I realize that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy had such a huge impact on my book.  On the one hand, I love his fast action and over-the-top plotting.  Anything can happen in his books as long as it propels the story along, and that’s liberating for a writer.  On the other hand, I think my approach to violence is in stark contrast to his.  I read (and love) a lot of Scandinavian fiction, and as with Larsson’s, the violence is often explicit and raw.  I believe in uncovering this dark side of humanity—I think that’s a healthy way to cope with it—but I prefer to use suggestion rather than elaborate, graphic detail.  I think that technique can be quite effective because the reader personalizes the terror, drawing on his or her own worst nightmares to fill in the blanks.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan out the story first?

I knew from early on how the book would begin, how it would end, and generally how the characters would develop.  Those elements formed the outline of the book for me, and the rest fell into place as I wrote it. I never wrote an outline.

My actual writing process was driven by necessity. When I was writing The Never List, I had one hour a day to write, from 5 am to 6 am.  After that, I had to get the kids to school and go to work.  I set myself a minimum word count of 500 a day, five days a week.  And I had an incentive plan:  if I hit 10,000 words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off.  I kept finishing earlier an earlier each month.

Now that I’m writing full-time, I still stick to my early morning writing routine and the word count requirements.  I’m conditioned to write in the early mornings now, and I love starting my day with my word count done.

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST was an outstanding debut, and one of my favourite reads of 2013. What was your route to publication?

I was quite lucky. My husband is a writer and so when I’d finished a draft of the book, he mentioned it to his agent. I wasn’t quite ready to show it to anyone—no one had read a word of it yet, but his agent wanted to see it and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.  It turned out that they liked it at the agency, so I was pretty over the moon about that.  They gave me some notes and we worked on it a bit, and then we took it to publishers. The day we sold it was certainly one of the happiest of my life. There were plenty of tears and celebrations in my house for at least a week.  I’m still pinching myself.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

I am writing a second book now–not a sequel, but a different stand-alone book.  I continue to be interested in the same themes:  power, psychological disturbances, dealing with a dark past.  My goal is to write a book that builds suspense but also deals with complex issues.  I hope to finish it up this spring.

 

That’s definitely a book I’m  looking forward to reading.

A huge thank you to Koethi Zan for popping by the CTG blog.

THE NEVER LIST is out on 30th January in paperback. You can read our review of it here: https://crimethrillergirl.com/2014/01/27/ctg-reviews-the-never-list-by-koethi-zan/