The Treachery of Beautiful Things, Ruth Frances Long
Ruth Long looks cool and unruffled as she walks into the Egg Restaurant in Avoca clad in impeccable white linen, a pair of sunglasses perched casually on top of her titian locks as she trails the faintest shadow of Chanel No. 5 in her wake…
Actually, no she doesn’t. Not because she’s not gorgeous, but because she and I never actually got to meet to have this conversation. Despite our best efforts, sick children, emergency vet visits, hospital appointments and GAA matches plonked themselves firmly in the way of our attempts to grab an hour and a coffee to talk about Ruth’s fantastic new book, The Treachery Of Beautiful Things.
This isn’t a new scenario to Ruth, who somehow squeezes a successful writing career around family life and a day job working in a specialised library full of rare and unusual books. When we give up on trying to meet and settle down to have our discussion via email (in between recitations of the six times tables with Ruth’s daughter) I’m actually quite glad she can’t see me, because I’m rather green at how effortless she makes it all look. I ask her how on earth she does it and where she fits in her writing.
‘Whenever I can! It’s all a bit of a balancing act I suppose. It’s really important to make myself do some work every day, whether that’s writing, editing, blog posts or emails. A bit of everything. When I’m seriously trying to get a draft done I set myself a daily word limit of 1000 words. I’m a little more relaxed when I don’t have a deadline. But I try to make sure I get something done every day, in order to keep those writing muscles exercised.’
This might all look less impressive if Ruth had taken the easy road to publication, but she’s gone about her writing journey in a rather more convoluted way than most. She has been both traditionally published and self-published, in both ebook and traditional formats, before getting her current publishing deal with Dial (a hardcover division of Penguin) for The Treachery of Beautiful Things.
In 2006 she transitioned from short stories when she wrote The Wolf’s Sister. It was too long for a short story, so she submitted it to Samhain Publishing as a novella. They bought that story and brought it out as an ebook in 2007. They also published the sequel The Wolf’s Mate as well as Ruth’s fantasy novel The Scroll Thief and the paranormal romance Soul Fire. She then self-published the final part of her Tales of the Holtlands series, The Wolf’s Destiny. ‘While all of this was going on I was working on a slightly different story, then called May Queen. I was lucky enough to find an agent with this book, the fabulous Colleen Lindsay, and then a book deal with Dial. It was an incredibly exciting, nerve-racking time. May Queen was retitled The Treachery of Beautiful Things, and is out in August. I’ve had a wonderful time, and the experience has been great every step of the way. I’ve learned so much.’
Treachery is Ruth’s first novel for teens. It wasn’t a conscious decision on her part to write a YA novel, but the main character, Jenny, popped into her head and wouldn’t go away. It was only later, preparing it for submission, that she realised it was a YA novel. Now that Ruth has begun writing for teens, she intends to continue writing for both teens and adults.
Ruth believes that the main challenge of writing for teens is getting the voice right, with the pacing of the novel being a close second. Teens, she says, are discerning readers; if a book doesn’t ring true to them or doesn’t keep them entertained, they won’t keep reading. ‘Being a teenager means experiencing so many things for the first time. There’s a sense of wonder in that, which is wonderful to write and read about.’
Given that Ruth has had broader experience of the world of publishing than many writers, I was dying to know what experiences gave her the most satisfaction and whether traditional publishing (seeing your book on a shelf in a bookshop) or self-publishing (calling the shots and being your own boss) would win out for her. She thought about that for a while, but ultimately picked experiences that could be part of either publishing journey.
‘I think the pleasure of working with an editor who really gets your story, really loves it as much as you do and understands where you want it to go is probably my favourite thing — I’ve been lucky enough to encounter it twice so far. It makes such a difference and it is fantastic to see your story develop with that kind of expert guidance.
‘Getting the cover for a book is always special, and when it’s as close to your imagination as the covers for The Treachery of Beautiful Things, The Wolf’s Destiny and Soul Fire were, it’s magical. With The Wolf’s Destiny, which was self-published, it was interesting as I had lots more input with the designer. We discussed what was needed and ways to tie it in with the previous books, but it was still unique and she did a terrific job. When I got the cover for Treachery I couldn’t believe my luck. I think I had two suggestions to add to it, both of which were included in the finished image. I love it so much.’
With a body of work that features fantasy, speculative fiction and paranormal romance (no, they’re not all the same thing!) it’s clear that Ruth has many influences. She admits to loving Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and Stephen King among many many others. I was interested to know where else she draws her inspiration from.
‘So many things. Music, mythology, folklore, history from any era… I read lots. I watch tons of documentaries. I listen to all kinds to music. Plotbunnies spring out of anything. I love exploring different components of stories, and putting different things together to see what happens… I love ghost stories and urban legends. I love Tudor history, the middle ages and pre-revolutionary France. Anything that might spark a story.’
That’s a pretty rich melting pot of inspiration and interests. Of course, Ruth is surrounded by rare and unusual books in her day job, too. I wondered if Ruth’s job had influenced her as a writer without her even realising it. Ruth believes it’s the other way around.
‘My love of stories led to a love of books which led me to a career in librarianship. I’m kind of obsessed with rare books too. I do think my current job gives me the time I need to write which is super. I previously worked as a computer programmer and by the time I got home in the evening was often too exhausted to put pen to paper, or needed to work from home as well. I still kept writing, but not to the same extent and it was only after I changed jobs that I was able to really set my mind to publication.’
The world of computer programming’s loss is definitely our gain. Long may Ruth continue to work surrounded by rare books when she’s producing works of rare beauty like Treachery.
Ruth’s eagerly awaited debut YA novel The Treachery of Beautiful Things is a dark, addictive story that blends romance and suspense in an eerie faery world where beauty is not to be trusted… It is published by Dial in August 2012, and these are some pre publication reviews by some big hitters in the book world:
“Entrapment in a faerie forest has never been so delectable…A worthy, memorable read (with movie potential).”(Kirkus Reviews )
“A dazzle of strange creatures, unknowable motives, and threat….Each scene is vividly, often horrifically imagined.”(Publishers Weekly )
“A heady atmosphere of folk tales, suspenseful terror, and passionate romance.” (VOYA )
(c) Jane Travers May 2012
Jane Travers is the originator and compiler of Tweet Treats, a collection of 140 character recipes in aid of Medécins sans Frontiéres. She has also written women’s fiction and is working on a paranormal novel for teens. She lives in Kildare with her husband and daughter and is the chief minion of two dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @janetravers or check out www.tweettreats.org