Interview with Ruth Jacobs, author of Soul Destruction
1. What inspired you to start writing?
My grandmother was a writer and I think that made me want to write. I was in a great deal of emotional pain, and from the trauma came poetry – not particularly good, but it was a release for me.
2. Tell us about your background. How has your own life experience influenced your writing?
Since I began writing at around thirteen, trauma has pervaded everything I’ve written. I lived a colourful life until I settled down and had my children in my late twenties, so that’s given me plenty of material for stories.
3. You deal with gritty issues in your writing. How do you research your material?
Nearly everything I’ve written I’ve lived, but I should clarify I haven’t murdered anybody. I still research though as I want what I write to be accurate. So, for example, when I needed a house with a basement in Ladbroke Grove for my novel, Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, I called an estate agency to make sure I chose a road with houses that do have basements.
4. How important is research to you? Is it simply a means to an end?
For me, I think being a perfectionist means I have to research whether I want to or not, but because of the subject matter, it’s mostly been researched in the field. I do like learning though and research can be interesting.
5. When you're writing do you know exactly where the narrative is going or does it take unexpected twists and turns?
When I wrote my last novel, I had every scene plotted out. Then the characters went and did something different and I had to start over again. Thankfully, that didn’t happen too far in, and I wrote a new plot. My characters didn’t stick to that either, but I think having the plan gave me focus and somewhere to head to, and when the characters took me off in different directions I followed them and not the plot. I love it when that happens though; it’s like they’re their own people, making their own decisions, and I am just reporting on what’s going on.
6. How do you create your characters? Are they based on real people or complete fiction?
Most often my characters are based on people I’ve known either in some of their qualities or defects of character. Then as I write the story, they become their own people. Having said that, at other times, I’ve had a voice in my head who’s told me the story and I’ve just written it down, getting to know her as she speaks. God – that makes me sound slightly insane.
7. Are you a disciplined writer doing so many hours/words a day? Tell us about your writing schedule.
My schedule is a complete mess at the moment. I write, but I procrastinate far more. I used to be more disciplined and write every evening and most of the weekend too. Some days I can write 3-4,000 words, but I rarely have days like those. More often, it’s much less and that’s usually due to distractions and other obligations and also my own indecision over what I should be writing.
8. Which crime writers inspire you, or do you prefer to read genres other than the one in which you write?
I enjoy reading crime but I am not sure other writers inspire my storylines or characters, but perhaps more my style of writing and the voice. For example, my last short story, Life, was inspired by Ian Ayris’s novel, Abide With Me. Shortly after I finished his book, a woman started talking in my head following a phone call with my ex. More recently, this summer, after I finished JT LeRoy’s novel, Sarah, a new voice came to me and she spoke lyrically. I am not sure I can carry her on for a full novel, but I’d like to try.
9. It must be difficult to write both fiction and non-fiction. How does your approach to each differ, and do you have to focus on one at a time?
I do find it easier to have one writing project, but with my activism, it’s meant recently the focus has been non-fiction. It’s also hard to escape into my characters’ world when I am so deeply entrenched in the real world, concerned about the safety of real women. I think with both though I like to know what I am writing before I begin. But having said that, sometimes I just write. There’s a voice that starts speaking and I have to get the words down. Sometimes that voice is me, and it’s non-fiction, and sometimes it’s a character, and I really don’t know where they appear from, but it’s lovely when they do.
10. What's next? Tell us about your current project.
I began writing Soul Destruction book two and that was my current project, on ice until things with my activism – currently pushing for the Merseyside hate crime model to be made UK wide - have quietened down. However, I have been approached by an agent to write a memoir, so now I don’t know what will be next for me.