Introducing the very talented Jan Ruth
Well friends, once again I have been lucky enough to have the pleasure of talking to yet another extremely talented author, Jan Ruth.
Her work has been described in many forms as you will soon find out. But one word I will use is... Brilliant.
Let’s here about Jan!
Jan was born in Cheshire and moved to North Wales in 1998, although she has always maintained a strong connection with the area from a much earlier age. Her feel for the Welsh landscape is evident in all of her work.
The real story began at school, with prizes for short stories and poetry. She failed all things mathematical and scientific, and to this day struggles to make sense of anything numerical.
Her first novel - written in 1986 - attracted the attention of an agent who was trying to set up her own company, Love Stories Ltd. It was a project aiming to champion those books of substance which contained a romantic element but were perhaps directed towards the more mature reader and consistently fell through the net in traditional publishing. Sadly, the project failed to get the right financial backing.
Many years later Jan’s second novel, Wild Water, was taken on by Jane Judd, literary agent. Judd was a huge inspiration, but the book failed to find the right niche with a publisher. It didn’t fall into a specific category and, narrated mostly from the male viewpoint, it was considered out of genre for most publishers and too much of a risk.
Amazon changed the face of the industry with the advent of self-publishing; opening up the market for readers to decide the fate of those previously spurned novels. Jan went on to successfully publish several works of fiction and short story collections. Jan is now pleased to announce that throughout 2015, she will be re-published with Accent Press.
What Jan says about her books.
Fiction which does not fall neatly into a pigeon hole has always been the most difficult to define. In the old days such books wouldn’t be allowed shelf space if they didn’t slot immediately into a commercial list. Today’s forward-thinking publishers - Accent Press being one of them - are far more savvy.
As an author I have been described as a combination of literary-contemporary-romantic-comedy-rural-realism-family-saga; oh, and with an occasional criminal twist and a lot of the time, written from the male viewpoint.
No question my books are Contemporary and Rural. Family and Realism; these two must surely go hand-in-hand, yes? So, although you’ll discover plenty of escapism, I hope you’ll also be able to relate to my characters as they stumble through a minefield of relationships, family, working, pets, love ...
I hesitate to use the word romance. It’s a misunderstood and mistreated word in the world of fiction and despite the huge part it plays in the market, attracts an element of disdain. If romance says young, fluffy and something to avoid, maybe my novels will change your mind since many of my central characters are in their forties and fifties. Grown-up love is rather different, and this is where I try to bring that sense of realism into play without compromising the escapism.
And so the interview begins.
So Jan; it has been said that you write contemporary stories about people, with a good smattering of humour, drama, dogs and horses. Somehow I think there is a bit more to you books than this. Tell me more about them, especially your book Wild Water.
My books have always fallen between genre but if they have to have a label then I think they sit most comfortably with contemporary family-saga. I write about the complications of relationships rather than romance, and a lot of the time I write from the male point of view. I think this trend started with my first title, Wild Water, some 20 years ago. The viewpoint of the wronged male in divorce wasn’t especially championed - I think the Child Support Agency was still quite new - and I wanted to show a different side to the story. Rather sad that I wrote much of the book from personal experience but I guess this is the raw nub that makes something work.
Wild Water attracted an agent early on, but as is all to often the case, most publishers thought I was too much of a risk for a number of reasons - one book, and that male voice - which wasn’t popular 20 years ago. Now of course, anything goes.
How would you describe your writing?
Real. Reflective. Relatable.
We all know that one of the many ingredients a good story needs is good characters. What are the back-stories for the main characters and will we see them again in future novels?
I have so many characters! Since we began talking about Wild Water, I’ll stick with Jack Redman. He’s the ultimate middle-aged alpha-male with a big heart. But he frequently get’s it wrong! His ex-wife won’t let go quite so easily and his future is constantly hampered by a historical trail of secrets and skeletons in several wardrobes. Dark Water, (part two) is now available, and I’m currently working on a third. Part Two is quite different to the first book; there’s a strong crime element and the writing is much tighter and darker. I think it’s important to keep any series moving forwards, and although the characters are the same, I’ve brought in new elements to keep the storyline fresh. I’m currently writing part three, so yes, you will see them again!
Out of all the books you have written, what’s your favourite? Oh and tell me what you love; or hate about the characters.
My favourite book is always the one I’ve just completed, so that would be Palomino Sky. I’m a horsy girl and this series is rather self-indulgent for me. I love my main character, James, as he’s a self-made man of the soil. I don’t especially hate any of these characters. I’d have to go back to the Wild Water series for a couple of really obnoxious people; Patricia Redman plays an especially selfish Cheshire wife, although there are more layers to her than you might think. My challenge for Silent Water is to have the reader perhaps understand her a little better. My real baddie is of course, Simon Banks. As with all good characterisation, there are reasons why he behaves the way he does. It was certainly a challenge to write from his point of view.
Now for everyone that hasn’t read any of your books. What would they gain from reading them?
My aim is always to entertain and inform. If the reader finds a shred of enlightenment or inspiration in there too, I’m very happy.
Are there any themes or messages in your books?
This will sound cheesy, but my underlying themes tend to be those old favourites, love and honesty. It underpins the family saga genre and I don’t think you can write about marriage, family or relationships without a strong core of morality. That’s not to say they are romanticised and fluffy, far from it.
What are your future plans as a writer?
I’d like to write a third book in the Midnight Sky series, then I’d like to try something quite different and write a historical time-slip. I’ve already got a title and a vague outline, so we’ll see! I’ve also had a hankering to write a children’s book…
You are now published with Accent Press. I believe you once described them as forward thinking and far more savvy. Tell me a bit more about Accent Press and what makes them so special?
Accent Press are a small independent publisher sited in Cardiff, and this makes them a great match for me since I live in Wales too and all my work is based in Snowdonia. I’d say they are forward-thinking for the simple reason they don’t try to force authors into a specific box. They are also quite prepared to work with previously self-published authors, recognising that a good percentage of them are producing quality fiction, have steadily improved their craft and built a brand.
Now I know this is a common question for writers but tell my why do you write and what made you start writing in the first place.
I’ve no idea why I started writing but I’ve always been passionate about reading, and I think this is where it must germinate, plus I’ve always had something to say.
Another common question. Where do you get your ideas?
My inspiration comes from reflecting on personal experiences, those tiny day-to-day happenings that strike a chord or make me laugh and of course, the magnificent landscape of Snowdonia.
When you first started writing any of your novels; did you plan them first or did you just get straight into the writing and if you do plan ahead do you use something like Scrivener or have you sticky notes plastered all over your desk?
I never plan anything. I rarely make notes and my desk is devoid of pens and paper. There’s nothing on it except a Mac computer and a glass of wine.
If for any reason you were unable to write; what would you do?
No idea! I used to go out to proper work, but now I’m retired from all that nonsense, I enjoy the luxury of writing full-time, punctuated by hill-walking and horse-riding.
Ok, Imagine this scenario. If you were just about to set off on a long train journey and realised you had left your book back home on the kitchen table. Now a stranger sitting opposite offers you the choice between to books to read. He describes one book as having a great plot with lots of twists and turns. The second book is described as full of interesting characters and very descriptive. Which book would you choose?
Oh, the second choice. In an ideal world, the book would be a blend of the two! I think this is something I try to emulate in my writing although I’m careful with description. Less is always more.
What other books do you enjoy reading?
I like plenty of character, so I enjoy Clare Chambers, Deborah Moggach, David Nicholls, Mary Fitzgerald. Mostly contemporary but I do occasionally dip into historical. I recently enjoyed Under the Skin by Michel Faber, which was out of my usual comfort zone but the writing, the characters and the sense of place was totally compelling.
What do you think of the Grammar Police?
If we’re talking: ’I liked this book but there was a comma in the wrong place on page 56,’ tiresome! I think using correct grammar and punctuation is incredibly important, of course it is, but I don’t like to see a good story - and story is everything - getting bashed over the head for a few inconsistencies. On the other hand, there are some novels out there which are well below the standard acceptable for general consumption.
You now live in Snowdonia in Wales. You’ve made it quite clear in your writing that you love the place. Do you ever think you’ll leave to pastures new?
That was a quick answer and for some reason or other the one I was expecting. I understand you travel quite a lot. What is the most interesting place you have visited and does this place feature in any of your novels.
No… I’m not a fan of travelling. A couple of years ago I did a long trip to Singapore, Auckland and Sydney for a family wedding (more fodder!) Travel is not something I crave. Although the trip was a wonderful opportunity and, as with most writers some of those experiences found their way out through the written word. I did use a New Zealand setting for a couple of chapters in Silver Rain, but as a rule my work is firmly rooted in Wales.
And the last question. E-Reader or real books. What’s your preference?
I think I have to say real books, although you can’t beat an e-reader for sheer practicality.
Jan that was a fantastic interview, thank you very much and the very best of luck for the future.