Ruth Ware
Mystery Scene|Fall #161, 2019
Ruth Ware
I believe at bottom we’re all unreliable narrators—whether by accident or choice,” Ruth Ware said.
John B. Valeri

“We are fallible, with memories that recast events for better or worse—either in the light of what we wish had happened, or to fit with our belief system, or because what we fear looms large in our imagination. And we all have an agenda—which I don’t mean in a sinister sense, but we all have a particular way of looking at the world and we present narratives that reflect that.”

Ware’s agenda is simply this: To write stories, regardless of who reads them.

“I truly think it’s innate. I was telling stories long before I could read or write…that initial urge came from somewhere deep inside me,” she said. “Even if civilization collapsed entirely and the publishing industry with it, I think I would still be the person sitting around the campfire trying to make sense of our new reality by creating fiction out of it.”

Fittingly, Ware, who studied English at the University of Manchester, wrote devotedly while working a series of day jobs—including positions within the book trade—and raising her two young children. She didn’t seek publication until her thirties, when she realized she no longer had the time to continue treating writing as a hobby.

“Writing is rather different from publication—and it took a change in circumstances to make me knuckle down to the business of trying to get published,” she said. “Before that I did want to be an author, but only in the same way as I quite fancy being a concert pianist—not to the extent of really trying to do very much about it.”

The eventual commitment to craft as career resulted in the release of five young-adult books under the pseudonym Ruth Warburton between 2013-14. This was followed by the publication of her adult debut, In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015)—an instant bestseller on both sides of the pond that was optioned for film and earned Ware her first comparisons to Agatha Christie.

And while one might be tempted to credit Ware’s emergence as a consequence of her work within the trade, she found that those experiences proved to be as daunting as they were advantageous.

“The biggest drawback was probably a huge attack of stage fright. I think it’s easy, as a punter, to walk into a library or a bookstore and see the huge number of books published and think, “there must be space for me,’” Ware said. “However when you work in the industry you realize this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the huge number of excellent books that don’t quite make that final fence for whatever reason—or do get published and don’t get the attention they deserve.”

“Working behind the scenes didn’t give me any shortcuts on that score, and I was too self-conscious to submit to anyone I knew, so I went via the slush-pile route, subbing only to agents I had never met,” she said.

“However, I think it did give me a really good road map to navigate the submissions process and ultimately the experience of being published. A lot of publishing decisions can seem crazy to outsiders. If you understand the thought process, it takes away a lot of the frustration and mystification that I think many debut authors feel. It was certainly really valuable on that score.”

Ware followed the runaway success of In a Dark, Dark Wood with the internationally bestselling novels The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway, all of which stand alone.


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Fall #161, 2019