Interview with Ruth Ware

June, 2018
Ruth Ware
British author Ruth Ware keeps good company. Her mystery and thriller novels have been compared to Golden Age crime writers like Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Her previous novels—The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark Wood, and The Lying Game—riff on classic mystery templates, with women who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ware's new book, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, is another celebration of the delightfully grim. Or perhaps the grimly delightful. Our twentysomething heroine, Harriet "Hal" Westaway, makes a living, barely, by reading tarot card fortunes on the local tourist town boardwalk. When she discovers that she's in line for an inheritance, things seem to be brightening up nicely. The only complication? Hal isn't actually related to the recently departed. In fact, she has no idea who she is.

But why sweat the details? Hal jumps a train and heads out for the reading of the will, to be held at the proverbial manor on the moors. Events get complicated.

Speaking from her home in England, Ware talked with Goodreads contributor Glenn McDonald about winter boardwalks, creepy old mansions, and the benefits of reading several books at once.




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Goodreads: Tarot cards play a significant role in the new book—how did that element come into play?

Ruth Ware: I had written three books about people who stumbled into situations—people in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wanted my fourth book to be different. I wanted to write about someone who brings events down upon themselves. Someone who deliberately walks into a situation and sets out to commit a crime. Someone who was prepared to deceive other people for money.

So Hal's job is a way to get to that. She's a tarot reader, but she's a cynical tarot reader. She doesn't believe in the power of the cards. She doesn't believe that they have any magic or any occult significance. She's basically doing it because it's the only way she knows how to make a living. She's deliberately using psychology and her knowledge of other people to tell them what she thinks they want to hear.

She's someone who's made her living by reading other people—by being a cold reader, essentially. And that was a deliberate decision because I knew she was going to go into a situation where she was going to deceive others, and I wanted to give her the tools to do that.

GR: That's interesting, so it was ultimately a practical storytelling concern. It sets the tone nicely. I was hooked right away, just because I was really into tarot cards growing up. I was a spooky little kid.

RW: [Laughs] I never quite went through that phase. I'm fascinated by the cards, but I never owned a deck until I started writing this book, and then it was researching from scratch. Yeah, that's been an interesting learning curve. They're endlessly fascinating just to hold in your hands and look at, and I hope that comes across in the book. They're art objects in and of themselves. Even if you're not a superstitious person, and I'm not, you can still find tarot cards genuinely useful as a means of self-reflection, because ultimately they force you to ask questions. And so I think they're useful, you know, in and above any superstitious belief.

GR: The new book has a great classic title: The Death of Mrs. Westaway. And it's got a very sturdy and reliable setup, with the reading of the will and the scary old manor on the lake. There's an old-school vibe to the whole endeavor. Was that a deliberate choice, to play around with these mystery story traditions?

RW: On some level, yes. All my books come to me, first of all, as a character in my mind and as a story that I want to tell. But how you tell that story, there are definitely some deliberate decisions involved. I'd written two books quite heavily influenced by Agatha Christie—unconsciously, in the case of the first one. In a Dark, Dark Wood, I never set out to write a sort of Christie-ish locked-room mystery.

But The Woman in Cabin 10 was written while the reviews of the first book were appearing, and people were making comparisons to Christie. So she was definitely in the forefront of my mind. As I've done more interviews and talked more about the Golden Age books—and other books that have influenced me—I came to realize that Christie is really only a part of the picture. There's so many other writers I love, like Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith.

So some of the classic elements in this book are perhaps an attempt to pay homage to these other writers I love. Certainly the setting is heavily influenced by my love of books like Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. You know, the gorgeous Gothic settings and rambling Cornish country houses.

GR: When you build a location like Trepassen House, the manor in the new book, do you work from any specific imagery? Are you recalling memories, or do you actually go to places for research?

RW: I don't normally research in any kind of proactive way. I tend to draw more from places that I've already been. Although sometimes, if I know I want a novel to go in a particular direction, I will visit somewhere to make sure I get the details right. But in the case of Trepassen House, there is a very beautiful place near where I live in Sussex called Standard House. It was donated to the National Trust, and they've dressed the house as it would have been in the 1930s.

It's quite melancholy, especially if you know the history of the family that lived there. It has the feeling of a lovely family home, but one that also perhaps had some sadness in it as well. That was definitely a significant inspiration. But there are also little nuggets from places like Manderlay and holidays that we used to go on as kids.

GR: The other setting that I really loved is that sad winter boardwalk. We get to see this happy summer holiday destination in the off-season.


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RW: Well, Brighton is my hometown. I went to school there. And as anyone who is a year-round regular in a seaside town knows, it's radically different in the winter. And to me, it's fascinating. It's more beautiful in the off-season, you know—it's got a kind of melancholy that it just doesn't have when the sun is shining and there are hundreds of tourists around.

It feels like a sort of private place, actually. So I guess having set three books in quite exotic locations, I wanted to start work a little bit closer to home this time.

GR: I'm always curious about this element with mystery novels: When plotting out a story, you need to carefully disclose information to keep the story moving, but you also need to stay a step ahead of the reader. Do you have a particular system or strategy when you outline a book like this? I've read that some writers use piles of note cards or digital tools.

RW: Yeah, I know, I always feel like they're the proper writers. One of my friends has this amazing technique that she does with a roll of wallpaper. She unrolls it, and there's the whole plot of the book.

My guilt is that I don't really outline. I know roughly where the story's going, but I don't put anything on paper unless my editor forces me to. [Laughs]

The destination I'm getting to is all in my head, and the way it will unfold just happens on the page. So I write it in the same order as you read it. Ninety percent of the time, things are in the same order. Occasionally one of my editors will say, "Maybe this should come up front." But the vast majority of the book is exactly as it is in my first draft. For me, that's the only way I can keep up the game with the reader of how much they know and how much I know.

Of course, when I hand it in, I rely on my editors to say, "Oh, I had him pegged from page one" or "I never suspected so-and-so." In that sense, I get a second opinion. But first and foremost, I just rely on the idea that my experience of writing it will be similar to the reader's experience of reading it.

GR: Can you talk a little bit about what your writing process looks like? What's a typical writing day for you?

RW: Well, I have kids. Not very little, but they're still small enough to need to be taken to school and picked up. So that kind of bookends my writing day. I take my kids to school in the morning, and I get back to my computer. If the writing is going well, I plunge straight into my document and pick up where I left off. So I read the chapter that I wrote the day before—or sometimes the paragraph I wrote the day before—and I just carry on from where I left off. On a good day I can do several thousand words. But, you know, not every day is a good day. [Laughs]

The other thing which has been wonderful, but also has its own problems, is that the more my books are translated—and the more they come out in other countries—the more I'm getting these fantastic invitations to go to places like Denmark and Italy and Hong Kong. Which is wonderful, but it's all time away from the desk. There's preparation and visas, all the paperwork that goes along with that.

I used to work part-time and squeeze the writing in around my day job. And when I gave up my office job, I thought, "Right, I'll be able to write two books a year now because I've got twice as much time." But it's just not true. Your procrastination just expands into the available space. I find the truth is that I would write the same amount no matter how much time I had.

But I find picking up the kids really concentrates the mind. The fact that I have to squeeze writing into a certain number of hours tends to concentrate the mind. So I basically just sit down, and I get to spend two or three hours inhabiting this imaginary landscape. I feel grateful for that every day.

GR: What's the best book you've read recently?

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RW: I read this last year, but I really enjoyed it and I've recommended it all over the place. Erin Kelly: She's a British writer and had a book called He Said/She Said. It's very cleverly constructed but hard to explain without giving away the twist. It's kind of a book that you want to go back and read again, just to see how she did it. I think from a craftsmanship point of view it's just brilliant, and it's also a really cracking story.

GR: There seems to be two camps on this next issue: Do you read one book at a time, or do you ever read several books at once? My wife contends that reading multiple books at the same time is insanity.

RW: [Laughs] Well, I can't speak for other people, but I think it's perfectly normal. I do it. For me, there are several reasons. One is practicality, because often I have a book on the go for research and a book that I might be reading to blurb, so that's a kind of work book, too. And then I'll have a book on the go for pleasure, and maybe I'll have something else that I'm reading for completely different reasons.

But the other reason is that I grew up as a child who used books as my drug of choice, for want of a better term. Books are kind of mood-altering, in a benign way. I have different books that I want to read if I'm having a terrible day and I'm feeling depressed. Or this is the book that I want to read when I'm in the mood for something mind-bending and exciting. And so, yeah, I like to keep different books on tap depending on how I feel.

GR: All three of your previous books have now been optioned for film or TV. Do you know where things stand with these right now, or is there anything you can talk about yet?

RW: Well, they've been optioned, and that's all I know. In a Dark, Dark Wood has been optioned for film with New Line Cinema, and Reese Witherspoon is attached to produce. Which is incredible. She's my heroine. The Woman in Cabin 10 is with CBS. The Lying Game has been optioned for TV, which I think would be so much better, actually, because it's a much bigger, sprawling story. I think it would be impossible really to tell that with film.

But the more I hear about the film and Hollywood world, the more I realize that I know nothing about what's going on. I keep getting these updates about extended treatments and script writers, and I honestly haven't got a clue. I'm very happy to wave goodbye to them and hope that something fabulous comes out the other end.

GR: Is there anything else you'd like to highlight or discuss about the new book, anything you want to say to fans waiting on this new story?

RW: Hmm, I don't know. I'm always slightly resistant to telling people what a book means or what my message is, because I don't think that's really my job. It's up to the reader to decide what they find there. All I can tell you is, you know, why I wrote the book and what it meant to me.

So in this case, it's going back to my original thing. I've written three books about women who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I love all those brilliant antiheroes, like Tom Ripley. What I admire very much about Highsmith is a way that she presents this unabashedly awful character yet enables you to find him sympathetic. How you find yourself reaching for him even while he's absolutely horrific.

I don't think I've created a Tom Riley—Hal is very different. But I found myself liking her as the book went on, making more and more excuses for her behavior, rewarding her bad habits. I hope people enjoy reading about her as much as I enjoyed writing her.



Comments Showing 1-37 of 37 (37 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Pcenicni I can’t wait to read this one!!!


message 2: by Marc (new)

Marc Bougharios A great book and a great interview. Waiting on her next novel!!


message 3: by Carrie (new)

Carrie Jones I am so excited to get to read this book!! Ware is an amazing storyteller.


message 4: by Kim (new)

Kim Looking forward to reading the new book.I hope the movies and miniseries do the books justice. GR keep the interviews coming love to hear from authors and the answers to your questions.


message 5: by Nichole (new)

Nichole  Rodriguez Reading "The Death of Mrs. Westaway" now! Keep it up Ruth!


message 6: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Krausnick I have this new book on my stack of summer reads. Can’t wait! I enjoyed hearing about her writing process. Thanks GR’s!!


message 7: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Sim I can't wait to read her new book!


message 8: by Muschicktang (new)

Muschicktang I read this book in less than two days. Couldn’t put it down. Her best yet. Highly recommended. I don’t give out a lot of 5 stars but this one made the cut.


message 9: by Kim (new)

Kim I cannot wait to read The Death of Mrs. Westaway.
Thank you Ruth Ware!


message 10: by Amanda (new)

Amanda York I’m so excited for the books to come to life on film/tv! I love Ruth Ware and am excited to read The Death of Mrs. Westaway. Thank you so much Ruth Ware!


message 11: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Rowlands I really hope the Reece/Ruth team comes off! Cannot wait to pick up the new book (and read it alongside 3 other books...!)
Thanks for the interview GR.


message 12: by Patricia (new)

Patricia Moren I am very much on Ruth Wares' mindset. Have thoroughly enjoyed all of her books that I have read.


message 13: by Liz (new)

Liz Hanes Can't wait to read this one!


message 14: by Namirembe (new)

Namirembe Sylivia Am so excited!!! Cant wait to read this book. GR thanks for emailing me this interview


message 15: by Patty (new)

Patty Rice I have this book on my Nook library. It's the next one to read on my list.


message 16: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Hock I am waiting for the next one and i am also going to get In A Dark Dark Wood as I have not read it yet.


message 17: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Hock I am waiting for the next one and i am also going to get In A Dark Dark Wood as I have not read it yet.


message 18: by G.H. (new)

G.H. Eckel It's always great to hear an author talk about their work. I liked Mrs. Westaway better than the Lying Game and about as much as I liked my favorite novel of hers, the Woman in Cabin 10.


message 19: by Saralyn (new)

Saralyn Richard Enjoyed the interview, and I know I will enjoy the book.


message 20: by Trish (new)

Trish Won this one on the giveaway and I'm really enjoying it. Loved her previous books as well.


message 21: by Robin (new)

Robin Soule My cousin Rachel was such a lovely sad book although a bit devious Rachel was an interesting character loved to hate her!


message 22: by Ann (new)

Ann Lewis Great interview. Looking forward to reading this one!


message 23: by Marcia Scott (new)

Marcia Scott This interview is very good. I enjoyed hearing the author describe the process of writing. Can’t wait to read!


message 24: by Luciana (new)

Luciana Babocci I have loved Ruth's other books & I can't wait to read this one!

Great interview! Thank you for sharing!


message 25: by Lauren (new)

Lauren After reading this interview, more excited than ever about having put on my TBR list... She was just in my area making an author visit. Now wish I had gone to see her!


message 26: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer I found myself hooked after the first page. I can't wait to read what's coming.


message 27: by Tracey (new)

Tracey Campton Can’t wait to read the book. Good to read about how an author works


message 28: by JoAnn (new)

JoAnn Schittulli Thank you for the interview - it is actually fascinating hearing some of the background about writing this book. I read this interview after picking the book up this past Saturday and reading. Ruth Ware does it again - thoroughly enjoyed. Really feel for the main character, Hal (Harriet) and her struggle to make ends meet after the death of her mother and how other people try to take advantage when you are down on your luck I admire Hal's personal strength and what draws her down this path to remedy a difficult situation but something is very wrong and she tries extricate herself.


message 29: by Dywane (new)

Dywane Awesome That's Good Book?


message 30: by Delmarie (new)

Delmarie Smith I am really excited about this new book, can't wait to read it! Just pur chasing it!


message 31: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Moore Brilliant!! I devoured the book (it’s excellent), and I’m so excited to meet Ruth Ware herself, in just 2 days here in Seattle. I can’t wait!


message 32: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Looking forward to the book! Thanks for the interview, it was an interesting read.


message 33: by CalifCat (new)

CalifCat Looking forward to the newest book!! Really enjoy reading this interview!


message 34: by GA (new)

GA Lowrey Fascinating interview. Sounds like my kind of author. Adding "The Death of Mrs. Westaway" and others to my ever-burgeoning must-reads list.


message 35: by Sílvia (new)

Sílvia Baltazar I am so excited to get to read this book! I'm looking forward to read it! Loved the interview, it was an interesting read.


message 36: by Leila (new)

Leila Goreil I love Ruth Ware's writing and am looking forward to reading this one! Ordering a copy this week! :)


message 37: by Heather (new)

Heather Riley Enjoyed reading the interview ! Really looking forward to reading this one too.


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