Very pleased to say that an extract from my script MRS BRYANT, a tense and twisty psychological thriller about a marriage where all is very much not what it seems, has been shortlisted and highly commended for this year’s BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum. Of course I would have loved to have been one of the three writers whose work will be performed at the event in April, but I am very pleased to have my script recognised by being shortlisted. I’m hoping to attend the event to see the selected pieces performed and look forward to seeing what the industry panel went for!
There’s currently an opportunity to submit sitcom scripts so if you have something up your sleeve in that genre you can find out more here: http://www.rocliffe.com/
I wrote this at the end of last year for Sali Hughes Beauty – http://www.salihughesbeauty.com – and meant to put it up here but forgot. My wish list of new books is growing by the day – as I race to finish my own novel I’m piling up the stuff I want to read when I’ve done it – I can’t read fiction while I’m writing a first draft, so when I’ve got it out of the door for a couple of weeks I’m planning a binge. New additions to the growing pile by my bed/my amazon wishlist include:
Jojo Moyes’s The One Plus One
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Son by Philipp Meyer
Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood (everyone is raving about this)
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
What were your best reads of last year? And what are you loving and looking forward to this year?
My notable books of 2013
Much of my reading last year was either research for stuff I’m writing, or board books I read to my toddler, and I’m not going to include a long list of books on addiction, psychopaths, forensic science or PANTS (though if you’re looking for a present for a small child, Homer the Library Cat has been one of my daughter’s hits of 2013…)
But I did manage to squeeze some fiction in around the edges, and here are some of the novels I found most interesting.
I loved Marisha Pessl’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and was really looking forward to this. It’s a clever, creepy tale in which the daughter of a Kubrick-esque cult film director is found dead in a warehouse, and journalist Scott McGrath’s obsessive journey to find out what happened to her. Pessl tells the story using all sorts of ephemera and different techniques, and pulls it off brilliantly. Someone should have taken a red pen to her colossal overuse of italics, though.
This is an excellent portrayal of sisterhood, with all its gulfs and its glory, told via the relationship between Kate and Violet, two very different sisters who share a skill – they’re both psychic. This is one of those books where the author manages to pull off that difficult thing – sustaining a compelling narrative without a huge amount happening in the way of plot. Astute and emotionally accurate.
Based on the real life story of her own brother’s battle with – and death from – obesity, this is an unusually constructed novel that has much to say about our relationship with our bodies and the culture of fat and thin that we all live within. One to make you think.
Italy in the 60s, film stars and sets, lost lovers and long hidden secret hopes – Beautiful Ruins is a slow, sun-drenched book that stayed with me long after I’d finished it. It’s hard to categorise because it has various different parts, each with their own individual tone – there’s satire, romance, comedy… It’s a divisive book, and not one that I’d be confident everyone will love, but if you’re on for something a bit different, it’s well worth a try.
Talking of books where not much happens, this isn’t out till next March but it’s completely brilliant and my hot tip for next Spring. It’s nostalgic, touching, funny and wonderfully written, full of characters who you fall in love with and who keep you reading till the very end. It’s about growing up, friendship, the mistakes we make along the way and the people we keep coming back to – it’s about home, and it’s just lovely.
This is my book of 2013, it’s both an amazingly gripping psychological thriller and a literary novel of serious weight. Not many writers can combine both, but Louise Doughty has managed it. The story of a female scientist on trial for murder and the events that led her to that point is brutal and pulls no punches, but it was so worth the emotional trauma that I suffered while reading it. It’s about obsession, shame, regret, passion, marriage – it’s about more things than I can sum up in a few lines. Do read it.
And a peek into my amazon wishlist – some I’m looking forward to in 2014:
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh: Lots of people are talking about this, and the cover is pulling me in…
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I know it’s already out, but it’s so incredibly long that I’m saving it for the Christmas break so I’m counting it in next year’s lot. The Secret History is one of my all time favourite novels, so I have high hopes for this…
The Ties That Bind by Erin Kelly: Very excited about this one, Erin Kelly writes absolutely cracking psychological thrillers, so even though there’s no info available about this one yet, I know it’ll be worth pre-ordering.
Before We Met – Lucie Whitehouse: I enjoyed her debut, The House at Midnight, and this sounds intriguing.
Hello – sorry for deep silence around here. I’m up to my ears in various things – writing a new novel, working on various TV drama projects and my teaching and editorial work. I’ll be back when I have news on the book or anything else, but for now, wanted to let you know that spaces on my next beginners’ novel writing course are filling up fast. It starts on March 25th and you can find full details and book a place here:
Do drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Thanks to Bel Mooney for these lovely words about The Lies You Told Me:
“I was blown away. A terrifically crafted novel, populated with characters who haunt your imagination, full of period detail, not to mention tantalising twists and turns – and making you wonder (in the end) what you know, not just about those you love, but yourself. I couldn’t stop reading. ‘Gone Girl’ was a great hit, but The Lies You Told Me is just as gripping,more complex, and more true.” Bel Mooney
Actually, ‘the pram in the hallway’ is misleading; you can tell it was surely a man who described the particular challenges of writing with a baby in this way. If only it were that simple.
For, as those of us who write around babies know, it’s not the pram in the hallway that’s the problem (apart from when you’re tripping over it on one of your hundred and five trips up and down the stairs) – it’s the baby strapped to your chest, ready to wake at the too-heavy hit of a finger on keyboard or a shift slightly in the wrong direction in your seat, trying to get your leg to come back to life. It’s the baby at your breast, holding on to you with grabbing, fat little hands, pinching your flesh between their fingers and pulling your attention back to them lest it should dare to wander. It’s the baby on the video screen of the monitor, blurred and slightly pixellated in the night vision camera, turning their head and sighing in their sleep – are they waking? Or merely murmuring?
It’s baby brain – but not what people usually mean by that, the confused, key-losing new mum wandering around the supermarket staring blankly at the shelves, trying to remember what baked beans are. It’s the baby in your brain. It’s her presence ever-hovering at the edges of your consciousness, her image blurring with those of your characters as you dream them into being. It’s shouts from the TV and the call of a seagull and the whistle of a kettle that meld into a question mark of – is that her cry? And the tug on your whole being as you are jerked back by it, back from the world you are trying to create into that of the one you have created.
So, that is the problem. Or, because it feels a bit wrong to call your beloved baby a problem, that is the challenge. What, then, is the solution – if there is one?
Here is mine – how I have approached things thus far.
When she was tiny I wrote with her in a sling, strapped to my chest, as I sat mostly on one of those big inflatable balls, bouncing gently in an attempt to keep her sedated by movement for as long as possible. This worked pretty well for a number of weeks – I was editing my fourth novel when she was 3.5 weeks old, going through copy edits at the 3 month mark, checking proofs a while later. Once I had started writing, I couldn’t stop – I wrote a spec TV script, two short stories, two book proposals, two more TV outlines… It churned out of me in an urgent splurge. The time I had to write in felt so compressed, the need to achieve something pressing. I walked, for miles along the seafront, the wheels of the buggy trundling along, coaxing her to sleep and my brain into action, emailing myself notes on my iphone as I began to plan and plot a new novel. I read on my kindle, and then on the kindle app, as I sat up in bed at night feeding her.
Then, as newborns do, she woke up. And suddenly she could no longer be relied upon to sleep, folded up like a sheet of crumpled paper on me. She wanted to look around, explore, pull hair and earrings and gaze up, smiling in that most distracting way. Out went her fourth trimester and with it, my peaceful hours of time to think and write. Now when I pushed her along the seafront I could not focus on the characters clamouring for attention, because she was craning her neck up at me and her need was greater and more beguiling than theirs. I could not read at night because I was busy walking up and down the bedroom floor, counting to a hundred once, twice, five times before I could risk laying her back down in her cot and praying that she would stay soft and floppily asleep. I couldn’t lay her in a swing chair to gurgle contentedly up at a dangling toucan for half an hour at a time, as she was straining at the harness and kicking her little legs determinedly. She turned into a little owl, her head swivelling around to almost 360 degrees, following me wherever I went.
So I changed things again. For a while I stopped, my focus directed on getting her to sleep, nap away from me, gently attempting to slip her into a sleep in a cot rather than my arms, a sleeping bag not a swaddle, a pink rabbit to hold as she drifted off in place of a breast. Easing her from a world with no edges and no corners into one where things happened at certain times and she was expected to learn a new way of living. A routine, where before there had been simply her, and me, and her wants, and her needs.
And now she is almost 9 months, has almost been out of me for as long as she was in me, and she is gradually moving further away from me still, happily rolling across to the other side of the room in great swirls of movement – though she is not yet efficient enough to reliably work herself back, so frequently strands herself under the sofa, or too far from my side where she flaps her hands and demands rescue. She naps in the morning and again at lunchtime, and though the sand of the timer is always slipping through my fingers as I do so, I write, turning on Freedom and pushing the internet aside so I can power through words, challenging myself to write faster – can I get 1400 down in an hour? 1500? Can I push it to 2000, if I run downstairs as soon as she is asleep, and I don’t make a cup of tea before starting and the dishwasher remains unemptied as my bladder?
I have discovered the advantages of planning. Whereas in my previous four novels I have worked to a vague road map, a collection of ideas and a sense of the structure, this time I have become rigider in my approach. Before I started writing proper I spent a month in front of a spreadsheet, fitting scene outlines into little boxes, setting up columns to track locations and dates and characters and themes, so that when I sit down and open up the document I can pick up from where I left off the day before easily, so that I know exactly what I am meant to be writing in each session. It’s not inflexible – at the end of every day, semi-brain dead in the evening (usually in front of some recorded drama or DVD I am watching for research, the sort of thing I would have previously allocated to the slow afternoon work slot but which now gets pushed into the evening and dinner and downtime), I amend the spreadsheet, adding in what I have written that day, altering what is to come next accordingly. I make lists, I read in the bath, on the train, on my phone as I feed her still. I continue to send myself emails with hastily typed ideas for plot twists and scenes as they occur to me while walking along the seafront. I thank the Gods of technology for all the things that allow me to work in this way – Freedom and Scrivener and Apple and occasionally even a pen and piece of paper, or more usually the back of a receipt I should be saving for my tax return. I walk, and I write, and I watch as the baby in front of me grows and the baby in my brain shrinks a little, and I weep for the day that she will one day turn from me and I try to remember that before long I will long for these hours of holding her close to me in the still of the night to return, and that I will have long forgotten the feeling of being constantly pulled down two opposing paths, always in more than one place, never quite able to mentally be entirely present anywhere, and I will remember only the soft fuzz of her hair rubbing against my cheek, and the pull of her fingers and the soft little sighs of her turning in her sleep.
The Lies You Told Me is published on kindle today – I’m afraid it won’t be out in paperback until early June, but for now, I really hope that those of you with e-readers enjoy it. Do get in touch and let me know if you do. Click here to download it.
Here’s what some people have had to say about it so far:
The Lies You Told Me, a tense family thriller from British novelist Jessica Ruston, ensnares you from the offset. A book to get lost in on a cold winter’s day.” Net-A-Porter Fashion Fix
“Ruston debuted with the Shirley Conran-esque Luxury, three years ago, but is now heading towards Rosamund Lupton territory, which suits her clear-sighted depiction of family dynamics. The Lies You Told Me sees a daughter starting to doubt everything her father told her about her dead mother. Unnerving.” The Independent
“Addictive reading.” Woman and Home
“Not just a family whodunnit, but a tight, compelling study of love, obsession and breakdown. I couldn’t stop reading.” Jojo Moyes
“A gripping, moving, beautifully unwound story about family secrets and dark deeds done in the name of love. I couldn’t put it down.” Erin Kelly