Ruth has just published her first novel, “27: Six Friends, One Year.” It was the first book I downloaded onto my new kindle and I’m looking forward to settling down with it. In the meantime, Ruth has come to Tea Stains again to talk about her book.
Welcome Ruth. Tell us a bit about your book.
"27: Six Friends, One Year" book was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2012, I was a winner of the Next Big Author Competition in September 2011 and I was shortlisted for the Brit Writers Awards in 2010.
Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse. Janis Joplin.
They died at 27.
Six friends reunite in London. From the outside their lives are enviable; from the new father, to the rich entrepreneur to the carefree traveller. But underneath their facades they are starting to unravel. Dave is made redundant, Renee’s marriage is crumbling and Katie is forced to return home to her parents after six years abroad. In a world fuelled by social media and ravaged by recession, the friends must face up to the choices they must make to lead the lives they truly want to live.
So, your novel 27 is about a year in the life of six friends ages 27. Is it based on your own life and your own friends?
Yes and no. I wanted to write a book that featured ordinary people leading ordinary lives in modern day London. So some of the situations the people find themselves in are very real, and will be real to a lot of the people reading: redundancy, the breakdown of a relationship, getting married. However, although the situations may have happened to my friends and I, no character is based on anyone in particular. Instead, the characters are a mash-up of everyone I know. So no-one I know is exactly like Dave, but he might be a combination of 6 or 7 of my friends.
Six friends, one year is an interesting concept. What made you think of it?
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to write about the drama of ordinary lives. But the nature of life isn’t linear like a story; it ebbs and flows and everyone changes at the same time. Although we all like to believe we are the central character in the world, the most interesting thing about us is the relationships with have with the people around us.
By taking a year in the characters’ lives I was able to capture the complexity of everyday life within a structure, whilst telling each character’s story. But I also wanted to capture that sense of continuity; the characters lived before the book began and they will continue to live afterwards.
Some readers have compared the book to One Day by David Nicholls and I think that’s a good comparison. His story is also time-defined; revisiting the characters on the same day every year. And in his story you also get the sense of continuity, that regardless of painful events, life goes on.
Who’s your favourite character in 27?
When I’ve collected feedback on 27, most people say their favourite character is Katie. I think she is the least selfish of the characters and is therefore the most likeable. It’s hard for me to choose my favourite, but I think in real life I’d probably be friends with all of them, and like the others, I’d be jealous of all the success that has come to James. He seems to have it all, but underneath the surface he is battling real demons.
Some authors plan, others just write. How do you write?
That’s an interesting question. When I wrote my first (unpublished) novel, I planned meticulously. I had a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet that listed out what happened in every single chapter. I started writing and I stuck religiously to my structure. It took me a year to write and I’m still editing it now! I think part way through I started to lose some of the enjoyment of writing and the structure limited my creativity. However, without the structure I’m not sure if I’d have got to the end at all.
When I wrote 27, I really did just write it for fun. I just had a vague idea to write a year in the lives of ordinary people and I didn’t plan at all. I just wrote the most poignant scenes that came into my head; the everyday dramas of ordinary lives. Then I started to structure a story about them and the inter-relationships between the characters. I enjoyed every moment of writing the book.
Some people say there’s a right way and a wrong way to write a book, but I really don’t think that’s true. You have to write in the way that feels most comfortable to you.
Some authors say that after a while their characters start to come alive on the page and have ideas of their own about the plot. Did that happen to you?
Yes, I think it did. When I started writing the book, I had no idea where it was going. After a while the characters started to have minds of their own and they drove the plot more than I did. Sometimes I had an idea where I was going to take the story, but the characters just wouldn’t allow it. They wanted to do something else. For instance, one of the characters wanted to sleep with someone completely unsuitable... By the end all the characters had really clear voices, and I had to go back and change some of the storylines at the beginning because I realised they just wouldn’t have behaved like that.
How long did it take you to write 27?
Actually, it didn’t take me very long to write the first draft at all – only about a month. But the editing has been a real killer. That took eighteen months. I kept taking the book to beta readers thinking it was finished and I just kept getting more and more feedback. So I kept rewriting. After I finished writing the first draft, it took me another 18 months to get the book to a place where I was happy with it.
What did you think of the writing scene in Bangkok?
I was pleasantly surprised when I came to Bangkok and I realised how big the English language literary scheme was. I had imagined being isolated in my apartment with my computer writing away, but the support network in Bangkok was brilliant. There’s a huge expat community. While I was there I met many, many writers and belonged to two excellent writers’ groups: The Bangkok Women’s Writers Group and the Bangkok Writer’s Guild. There’s also the lovely Neilson Hayes Library, a colonial-style building which houses many English language books. I was lucky to be asked to speak at the library last year at the Bangkok Literary Festival, alongside Stephen Leather and Christopher G. Moore.
What inspires you to write?
People. I love people-watching; observing the subtleties in relationships. You can overhear so much if you just listen: arguments on the tube, groups of friends in a bar gradually getting louder and louder, couples maintaining polite small-talk in a restaurant. Conversation is about so much more than the words; it’s about the things that aren’t said as well. If you watch and listen for only a very short time, you can start to see signs of the undercurrents beneath the surface. 27 is about those undercurrents: the differences between the public face people present to the world and the reality behind it.
I’m planning a sequel to 27, set a few years later. I want to meet the characters again when the dust has settled and see where they are and whether they have found happiness. I’m pretty sure things won’t be quite as they imagined and there will be the usual ups and downs of life. I have lots of ideas for that, but I haven’t started writing yet.
I have another two novels currently on the back burner – one is a story of a doctor-patient relationship. That’s the one I’ve already written that one and it’s locked away awaiting further editing. Another is about an expat couple in 90s Bangkok. I’m about a quarter of the way through the first draft of that one. I actually have too many projects – it’s hard to decide which ones to pursue first!