RUTH WARE is a seasoned and internationally bestselling British crime writer whose books sell millions of copies. Although she is constantly compared to Agatha Christie, a comparison which she says is a great compliment, there is a notable difference.
As her latest book, The It Girl, is released, KAREN WILLIAMS caught up with the author for a fireside chat.
‘My books are equally balanced between resolving the mystery or crime and the emotional journey the characters are on,’ Ruth Ware tells me as we chat over the phone. ‘I am inspired by both Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier in particular. The core to writing a bestselling crime novel is having a central character you and your readers really care about.’
Part of the inspiration for her latest novel, The It Girl, came from an earlier experience she had on jury duty when she felt the full responsibility of returning a correct verdict. That experience always weighed on her mind, along with a few questions. What if the case was more serious and someone’s life hung in the balance? What if you were the one who gave the crucial evidence that lead to a conviction … and you were wrong? This idea is played out more fully when the heroine of her story begins to question her memory and the truth of what she saw. It makes for a spine-chilling story that is intensified by Ruth’s clever ability of always giving the readers a reason to turn each page.
The nub of The It Girl lies with Hannah, a character whose fears and vulnerability draw you stealthily in. Brought up by a single mother from a working class background, she is a bright student winning a place at Oxford University where she is propelled into a very different and privileged life. The action flits back and forth between Hannah’s college days and the present as she decides, against her husband’s wishes, to investigate the death of her best friend, April.
The story starts in modern day Edinburgh with Hannah, a bookseller, who is living with her husband, and expecting their first child. When Hannah receives a call advising that the convicted murderer of April has died in prison she knows his death should bring closure. But Neville’s death forces Hannah to re-examine some elements of the trial that had always troubled her. Things that she never allowed herself to admit to or face. Did her own preconceptions and prejudices influence her evidence? Did she indeed make a mistake? As Hannah reconnects with old Oxford friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realises everyone, including April, had something to hide.
‘If I had made a mistake of the magnitude of Hannah’s, I couldn’t let the investigation rest. In the book, Hannah had to get to the bottom of the matter because being a principled person she couldn’t get on with the rest of her life. Hannah knows it is her last chance to resolve the question before the baby, and before she can get on with the rest of her life.’
I was curious as to why she named the book The It Girl.
‘I wanted to call the book The It Girl because it keeps April, the victim and the central character, at the centre of everything. Often the murder victim is totally forgotten about.
‘I am also fascinated by the grossly unfair way people are put in boxes. April was portrayed by social media as a beautiful, indulged rich girl who had an endless number of relationships. I wanted to write about a very complicated character who wasn’t so easy to pigeonhole but who meets a tragic end.’
Ruth said she always wanted to be a writer since the age of five or six and counts herself as incredibly fortunate that this is her real life job. She tells me her house is full of books, including her office that has bookshelves filled floor-to-ceiling with foreign editions of her books and hundreds of crime novels that had been sent to her to read or comment on. This is the place her carefully crafted stories are honed.
Her debut thriller, In a Dark, Dark Wood, is about a woman who attends a hen’s party, which takes place in an isolated glass house in the woods and takes a turn for the worse. By the end of the weekend someone is dead and everyone is a suspect. This book launched her into the bestseller lists and she has stayed there ever since with each book released.
When I asked her what the secret was to being a successful crime writer she laughed and quoted Ian Rankin.
‘He said that the secret of a long-term career in publishing is to get lucky and stay lucky.’ But for an author of so many internationally successful books there is certainly much more than luck at play here.