I’m thrilled to have Jan Ruth on the blog today. I reviewed Jan’s ‘Wild Water’ for Rosie Amber’s blog earlier this month. I loved ‘Wild Water’ and can wholeheartedly recommend it. In case you missed it, my review follows Jan’s interview, as does an excerpt from another of her books, ‘Midnight Sky’.
Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?
Inspiration? Moving from Cheshire to Snowdonia, twenty years ago kick started my writing obsession.
This ancient, romantic landscape is a perfect setting for fiction, although I write contemporary stories. I’d have to describe them as mostly about people, with a good smattering of humour and drama, dogs and horses.
I’ve written all my life. Winning prizes at school is my earliest memory (I was the book nerd in the corner) and then about 30 years ago I wrote a novel called Summer in October. Amazingly, I was picked up fairly quickly by an agent who wanted to try something different, but she failed to get financial backing and it all came to nothing. The entire experience was a learning curve though – a lesson in patience, how to re-write and edit, and develop that essential thick skin. Some years later, my second attempt – Wild Water – was again picked up by an agent, which again… came to nothing! Various publishers did ask to see subsequent books but my work was ‘between genre’ and anything new and difficult to pigeon-hole was considered a risky investment, so that was that.
I continued to write; and then Kindle happened and changed everything. I’ve since self-published five novels and two sets of short stories with a third set of Christmas stories due out very soon. My books are in print too, in a local bookshop and across Welsh libraries. This sounds like an easy success story and in some ways yes, self-publishing can bring rewards but there are downsides. I think the industry is in a massive state of flux. The volume of books for sale is now overwhelming, a teetering slush pile. How to find the gems without resorting to the powerful gatekeepers of traditional publishing, is something of an obstacle for both authors and readers alike.
How did you come up with the title of ‘Wild Water’?
‘Llyn Gwyllt’ is a lake which features in the book: meaning wild water. Once I had this title in place, Midnight Sky, White Horizon and Silver Rain followed quite easily; I think it’s important to build a theme or a branding across your work. The sequel to Wild Water, Dark Water is my latest title. Now I’m wondering about a third… Silent Water?
What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing ‘Wild Water’?
With my first novel I went through several entire re-writes. My strengths are character development, pacing, and dialogue. My weakness had always been over-explanation, something which has been rigorously worked on. Less is more. Subtle is actually more powerful, and it was understanding the confidence to write in this way and never to underestimate the reader. I’m not great with punctuation either!
What are you working on now?
A sequel to Midnight Sky, which is currently titled Palomino Sky. The cover image and some plot outlines are in place but it’s very early days, but it’s good to have something on the go. (MIDNIGHT SKY is currently on sale at 75p)
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes… I wrote a funny blog post about this called The Wisdom of Hindsight.
Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?
At the moment I’m really enjoying Clare Chambers. I love her British sense of humour, those coming of age observations about adults and relationships. Her books tend to be set in the seventies and eighties, around the time I was a teenager too. Her style is wry, witty.
Wild Water – My Review
This is a thoroughly enjoyable read that, at times, I found hard to put down. Jack is forty-something, successfully running the Wilmslow branch of the family’s estate agency. He has it all, the big house, the Aston Martin, and is still good-looking and charming. But beneath it all, his life has reached a crisis – his wife is behaving strangely, his daughter is craving his attention, and his teenage son is struggling with school. Then his dad suffers a heart scare, and Jack travels to Wales to look after the office there, where he finds one of the clients is his childhood sweetheart, Anna.
Everything comes to a head at Christmas, and Jack has some tough decisions to make in this charming, funny, at times heart-breaking novel. You’ll find yourself willing Jack to make the right decisions, and really caring that he finds the happiness he deserves.
Jan Ruth manages to make you care for her characters, and skilfully contrast upmarket Wilmslow with the ruggedness of the wild Welsh countryside, bringing both to life. The relationships between Jack and his children are well-drawn, particularly between Jack and his youngest daughter Lottie – their conversations will make you laugh and cry.
Recommended – I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
‘Midnight Sky’ is available now and is definitely on my TBR list. Here’s an extract to whet your appetite:
Her biological clock had started it. Before it sounded its alarm, Laura had been perfectly content. Maybe she should have taken the battery out a bit sooner, but it was more likely it ran on hormones, and they could be tricky.
She drove much too fast along the M56, recklessly even.
The mobile phone on the passenger seat took message after message from Simon. She glanced at it from time to time, then finally switched it off and threw it on to the back seat, where it lay silenced, buried under sample swatches of wallpaper and fabric.
She was already running late because of their argument.
It hadn’t started as an argument; it had started as a discussion. Before she knew it, Laura was fighting her corner again. The discussion was all about family, to start with. It was different for Simon; he had loads of relatives, while Laura only had her sister. It was unfair of him to moan about her spending so much time with Maggie, when the demands of his ex-wife and kids were at times off the Richter Scale.
The forty-minute drive from Chester into North Wales led her off the dual carriageway and through the tiny village of Rowen. She sped past The Farmers’ Arms, its smoky dimly lit windows just visible in the January dusk. She turned left at the crooked chapel, where her mother lay beneath the dark stars and the shadow of Cefn Bach. Laura shivered but not with the chill of the evening. Although brought up a farmer’s daughter, Laura could never decide if it was habit or a desire to understand her dislike of it, which brought her back to her rural birthplace. It certainly wasn’t sentiment, and yet this time she felt an unexplained stirring of hope.
She was forced to slow down and concentrate; the turning for Hafod House was easily missed on the narrow twisting lane. Seconds later, she was pulling up outside the Victorian property, where her elder sister Maggie lived with Pete and their daughters. Before she announced her arrival, Laura opened the car window and lit a cigarette, but Maggie had heard the car and trotted across the forecourt, wearing a typical combination of tracksuit and a plastic apron with love spoons on the front.
‘Happy birthday!’ Laura said, but Maggie ignored this and peered sideways through the top of the window. ‘Where’s Simon? Is he coming on later?’
‘No. Sorry he’s got to work, bit of an emergency,’ Laura lied, grounding out the cigarette and avoiding her sister’s knowing eye.
‘Oh, that’s a shame,’ she said, pulling a face. ‘Eleven is an odd number. I wanted him to meet the Morgan-Jones’. Could be loads of work in it for you. The brother took a lot of persuading to come at all.’
‘Well, they’ll just have to meet me instead,’ Laura said and even managed to turn a bright smile in Maggie’s direction.
Once in her room, Laura scanned through the messages from Simon, then deleted them all and cried in the noisy privacy of the shower. Why was he so stubborn? He was the same in his business affairs, but that was different, attractive even. Sometimes he only saw it from his side of the fence, but that was why they made such a good team. Laura always put the client’s feelings forward, and Simon saw the black and white business plan. Somehow they all came together in the middle, and everyone got a deal.
Dragon Designs was their joint venture. Five years ago, they had purchased a rundown riverside apartment in Chester, and with the help of Simon’s father, had transformed it and sold it for twice as much as its original worth. Encouraged by the property boom, they went on to purchase two more apartments in the same block, with the same success. Simon, more or less gave up his job as a surveyor to work alongside his father’s building yard, buying run down houses in the right area and getting them up to scratch.
Laura was the creative head of the team. It was her job to dress the finished shell, to use all her skills as a designer to give the property a new identity. Dragon Designs was born, and financially, they’d never looked back.
Peering at her reflection in the gloomy mirror, Laura dried her shoulder- length hair. An almost natural dark blonde, helped along a little with subtle highlights every now and again, Laura was blessed with a classic face and a generally well-behaved complexion. Although it was slightly spoilt now with puffy brown eyes, she concealed the worst of it with carefully applied, mostly neutral make-up. Pleased with her appearance, but feeling unsettled and miserable inside, Laura knew she’d have to work hard to hide her angst from Maggie, and keep herself together enough to talk shop.
Simon was good at mixing business with pleasure, gently filtering in the right information, so subtle, the recipient didn’t feel pressured or monopolised. Laura had no such skill. She found her way into the impressive dining room, and the buzz of pride it gave her lifted her spirits. Designing and helping to furnish the dining room had been Laura’s gift for her sister’s thirty-ninth birthday last year. Laura had ripped out the sixties era attempt at modernisation, and restored it back to its original style, with cream walls, ornate cornicing and a rich mahogany floor. To complement all the dark furniture they’d found in local junk and antique shops, Laura had handmade the soft furnishings in a combination of powder blue, cream and white. The effect was quite dazzling, especially when there were logs roaring in the massive fireplace and the chandeliers lit up the silverware on the huge table.
Pete passed her a glass of wine. They exchanged the usual pleasantries, but Laura struggled to make conversation with Maggie’s husband. He had fairly set opinions about most things, and the only time he became animated was when the subject included football or council business. Dinner was late because Maggie was hopelessly disorganised with everything and Pete never offered to help. Well not properly, he always pretended he’d been thrown out of the kitchen and shambled in with a hangdog expression and another six-pack. Eventually though, Maggie materialised with the starters, and everyone took their place.
‘This is my sister everyone!’ Maggie said, loading Laura’s plate with prawn and olive salad. ‘I know she doesn’t look related to me because I’m fat and forty, and she is so obviously not.’
Everyone made polite laughter, and Laura made the usual token protest. Her sister was always running herself down, but Maggie wouldn’t be shushed, ‘She’s an interior designer so if you want one of those make-over jobs she’s your woman.’
After a few moments, the woman seated opposite Laura said, ‘I believe you did this room for Maggie; it’s just so beautiful. Really complements the house.’
‘Oh, thanks,’ Laura said, and pushed some food around her plate.
‘I’m Liz by the way, Morgan-Jones.’
‘Laura Brown. My sister said you had some cottages you wanted to renovate,’ Laura said, trying her best to be professional and not let the opportunity pass.
‘Well, I think so. Nothing this grand though,’ she said, glancing at the swag and tail curtains, then leant in more discreetly across the table. ‘I’m afraid my brother doesn’t agree with my plans, and he has the majority share in the business.’ She inclined her eyes to the left, and Laura looked across the table at the exact second Mr Morgan-Jones did. He looked to have been in conversation with Pete, but met Laura’s curiosity with a blank stare. Liz said something about her brother being unsociable, and the elderly male guest sat at Laura’s right butted in, ‘James is a genius, he’s allowed to be unsociable, if that’s how he feels.’
‘Yes, but not all the time, surely?’
Laura took in Liz’s outdoor complexion and the strong-looking hands, no nails and the no-nonsense outfit. From what she could ascertain, without staring, the unsociable majority shareholder was wearing a barely ironed shirt, with the sleeves pushed up; and favoured the same dark weathered look. Farming, or horses she thought. Great. Just about the most uninspiring combination she could possibly think of. She missed Simon’s clever banter. He would know what to say.
The downside of that skill was his ability to make her feel crushed; he could defeat her with his logic as if she were a business problem and it could all be subtracted away with a calculator. Well, this one wasn’t going to be solved with hard fact. Sometimes life happened without prior warning or planning, and that was when Simon struggled to cope.
Suddenly, aware of staring at her plate, Laura speared a prawn and looked back at Liz.
‘What is it you do?’
‘Horses. Private liveries and teaching is the main bread and butter, and that’s mostly what I do,’ she said, glaring at the old gent, and began to butter her bread roll briskly. ‘Anyway, I’m getting too old to be working outside. A menopausal woman shouldn’t be expected to stand shouting in driving rain.’
‘And, your brother, what does he do?’
‘James? Oh, a multitude of side-lines,’ she said with a tired smile. ‘No, to be fair he looks after about forty acres of land. His real time is taken up with training and specialist teaching. Only he prefers the more dangerous stuff,’ she went on, ‘you know, horses destined to be shot because they’re loopy, or half dead. He loves nothing better than resurrecting a lost cause. All very commendable, but have you any idea how long these projects take? And you can’t get rid of them because of their history.’
The man next to Laura vacated his seat and a woman with overpowering perfume slid into his place. ‘Excuse me, but are you talking about Indiana Morgan-Jones?’ she said smoothly, wine glass tilting.
‘Why do you call him that?’ Laura said, unsure whether to laugh.
‘Because he has a big leather whip for one.’
Laura did laugh then, but Liz said, ‘Oh, leave it out, Carla! Laura, this is Carla. She’s had about three hundred riding lessons with my brother, with the sole intention of seducing him.’
‘It’s true! He’s one of about, oh, let me see, two, eligible men of this parish. I’ve even bought a bloody horse off him,’ she said. ‘I’ve got thighs like steel and I can mount without stirrups.’
Liz rolled her eyes in Laura’s direction. ‘Carla is the queen of double entendre on the yard.’
The roast minted lamb arrived with jugs of red wine jus, and Laura was a bit disappointed when Carla went back to her seat and the old man returned.
‘Help yourself everyone,’ Maggie said, plonking down huge silver platters of roasted vegetables between the candelabra.
‘For goodness sake sit down and start enjoying yourself!’ Laura said, but Maggie just wiped her brow with her napkin and flapped it vaguely at Laura’s glass. ‘I am, I am! Why is your glass empty? And have you met Liz? I’m taking Ellie up there for a riding lesson tomorrow, why don’t you come?’ she said loudly.
‘Could you?’ Liz said, unfazed by Maggie’s total lack of discretion.
‘I could take a look,’ Laura said slowly. ‘To be honest all the initial estimating is my partner’s territory.’
‘Oh, I only want ideas at this stage,’ Liz said, ‘you know, something to entice James round to my way of thinking.’
‘Did someone say entice James?’ Carla said.
Find Jan’s books on Amazon and check out her author page here.