Thrillers are my jam in the summer and today I am sharing a very special interview with my new favorite thriller writer, Ruth Ware. In a Dark, Dark Wood was the book that I selected this month for my local book club and we all loved this one for a fun escape this month. I was thrilled to get to share her interview a little early with my fellow book club members as we gathered in my dark, dark wood for a fun night out.
Leonora, a reclusive writer, receives a surprise invitation from an old friend inviting to her to a weekend away as one last hurrah before she gets married. Set in a glass house in the woods, the four acquaintances share revelations and begin to realize their party is not alone. Forty-eight hours later, Leonora (Nora) awakes in a hospital bed knowing that someone is dead. Nora desperately tries to piece together what happened, forcing her to revisit times in her past that she would rather leave buried.
I’m pretty picky when it comes to thrillers and this one delivers beautifully. The pacing is perfect and reads like a great whodunit mystery. Enjoy the ride and then get ready to see this one brought to life on the big screen by Reese Witherspoon’s production team.
You can read more of the fantastic books I have read this month over in our must-reads post.
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a fun chat with Ruth Ware this morning!
I understand that the idea for In a Dark, Dark Wood came to you when a friend said, “I’ve never read a thriller set on a hen night.” Did your wheels immediately start turning when you heard this? What did your friend think of the story?
Also, as an American, I had no idea this is what these were called! Thanks for educating this naïve reader!
Yes, it was like a little light bulb went on in my head! I immediately started thinking of characters and settings and I knew this story was begging to be written. And yes, my friend has read the book and loves it.
One of the fun things about writing the book has been finding out all the different bachelorette traditions around the world and how they vary. Rights have been sold everywhere from Sweden to Indonesia and as you can imagine, the local hen party traditions are very different – sometimes it’s small stuff, like I had no idea that Americans don’t use L-plates as part of their bachelorette celebrations, whereas in the UK, they are an essential part of the bride-to-be’s outfit (L-plates are the signs that learner drivers put on their car to show they are not experienced road-users. I have NO idea what they have to do with weddings!). Sometimes there are very wild and weird traditions – in Sweden brides are often “kidnapped” for their hen party, sometimes in a worryingly realistic fashion! However differences aside, I think it’s a surprisingly universal celebration – most countries have some kind of pre-marriage send off.
You created a hen night in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, in a glass house, with no phone reception. Hello, nightmares! Why did you decide to put these poor people in a glass house and did any books or movies help inspire your scary premise for the story?
Actually, initially the glass house was very different, when I wrote the first few chapters the setting was a tumbledown cottage, much closer to the croft that Flo’s aunt demolishes to make way for her modernist house. But then, a few chapters in, I started to realise that one of the themes of the book is about having your public persona stripped away and people seeing the real you, and the idea of not having anywhere to hide from scrutiny. So I thought how much more interesting to make the house an extension of that?
I was definitely inspired by watching too many scary movies as a kid – there’s something so vulnerable about a house with a lot of windows where the inhabitants are being watched without knowing it!
How challenging was it for you to switch between your two plotlines? Did you write each plotline in its entirety or were you just able to alternate between the two when carving out your story?
I wrote it almost exactly as you read it – swapping back and forth as I wrote it. Many people are surprised at that, I think, but it’s the only way I know how to write – I find it too hard to keep up with what the reader knows if I write out of sequence. I need to keep pace with their experience as I write, or I get the tension and the moments of revelation wrong.
source: reese witherspoon’s ig feed
Your book is a New York Times bestseller, a Sunday Times bestseller, and was optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon’s production team. What has this experience been like and what has surprised you the most about the success of this novel?
Oh – I mean, just insane. I honestly have no words for how much this has gob-smacked me, and I’m not a person who’s usually lost for words. I would have been delighted if a few hundred people in the UK bought my book – the fact that it’s sold in America, let alone places like Thailand and Estonia… I find it very hard to remember when I’m walking the kids to school or loading the dishwasher!
The thing that feels most surreal is probably the film stuff. I used to work in publishing so it’s a world I feel pretty comfortable in. Whereas I know absolutely nothing about the movie business – that really does feel like something that happens to other people, not my little book!
You were one of the first of three books to be published under Scout Press which I can only imagine was such a huge honor. Do you think that signing under them helped in the promotion and success of your book?
Scout have been indescribably amazing to work with. I actually didn’t know the whole deal about the new imprint when I signed up with Simon & Schuster, and I remember when I found out I had this butterflies-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach moment where I suddenly realised they were putting so much trust in my book, making it one of their launch list.
Publishing a book is a sort of weird experience because although writers often compare their books to babies, the truth is, you create this thing, but you’re not really responsible for sending it out into the world – that’s down to the publisher. They decide the look, the way it’s marketed, often even the title. And I’ve worked in this business long enough to know how painful it can be when a writer has radically different ideas about what their book is, compared to their publisher.
But from the moment I saw that incredible cover that Scout produced, I just knew I was in safe hands and I couldn’t have been more right. They’ve been amazing to work with.
follow Ruth Ware on FB!!
There is so much bravery in putting your work out there since writing, I find, is very personal. Did you struggle with this at all and what would you say to another writer who is struggling with unleashing their work out into the world?
I did struggle with this – I wrote a lot of books growing up and in my early twenties, and they all went under the bed because I was basically too chicken to show them to anyone. But in the end, I just got to a place where I realised that however bad I might feel if I failed, I’d feel worse if I didn’t even try in the first place.
I don’t know what I would say to another writer because I didn’t have the magic confidence pill back then, and I still don’t. Ultimately I think I wrote a book that I couldn’t bear to shelve.
But maybe… maybe my advice would be baby steps. Share your book with a trusted friend – someone who knows you well enough to be honest as well as supportive, the kind of person who you’d take clothes shopping and trust to say “you know what, that dress isn’t flattering on you.” Or if that’s too scary, find a writing group online.
And above all, try not to take it personally. Writing is personal, it has to be, but rejection rarely is.
I understand you are actually terrified of reading scary books. What is the scariest book you have ever read? Do you feel more in control of things, writing your own scary book, or did you end up terrifying yourself?
Yes, I’m a terrible coward! I’m getting sent a lot of books to blurb now, and I’m realising that there’s a whole swathe of crime that’s just waaaay out of my comfort zone in terms of horrible things happening to people.
It’s mainly prolonged violence and torture I find I can’t read – I skipped over all the Theon chapters in Game of Thrones, for example.
For plain scariness… maybe Black House by Peter Straub and Stephen King, which I read while on holiday in a very remote Dorset village, and it scared the daylights out of me. We were staying in a converted church, a fairly spooky location in itself, which probably didn’t help.
Two of my favourite scary books are The Haunting of Hill House and The Woman in Black which are my kind of scary – nail-biting but nobody gets locked in a basement and tortured.
But yes, it’s very different writing my own books – so much of scariness is suspense, not knowing when the curtain will get ripped back, so it’s very difficult to scare yourself to the same extent, I think. The element of surprise isn’t there.
We never give away spoilers, but how hard was it to craft the ending of your book? Did you try different endings out or did it all come together easily?
This is really hard to write without spoiling, but I had the ending in mind right from the beginning, but it slightly changed in the way it played out. And certain characters who were going to die, didn’t, and vice versa.
What can we expect from you next? Any involvement in the film writing? Are you working on your next book or taking time to savor the success of this first one?
No-one’s asked me to write the film, but that’s probably a good thing since I know precisely zip about screenwriting! However I am not good at sitting on my hands, and I find the only cure for pre-publication nerves is writing another book, so I am hard at work on book three at the moment. (My second thriller, The Woman in Cabin 10 is already written and comes out this summer.)
You can connect with Ruth Ware on her website and on Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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