Sunday, April 1, 2012

Interview with Ruth Barrett

Tell us about you.
I am a Canadian gal who has always been knee-deep in creative activity from my earliest days. I trained as an actor at LAMDA, U.K. and studied English Literature at Trent University and the University of Leeds. I make my Mom proud and worried in equal measures by being keen at the sorts of things it's hard to make a living at: writing, acting, music, visual arts etc. Practical things like accounting and office jobs give me hives. I am one of those rare creatures who does manage to write for a living: my 'day job' is writing described video scripts for TV & film so that visually challenged folks can get a more full experience of the media. The big moment in that part of my life was April 2011 when I provided live-to-air, off-the-cuff description for the Royal Wedding (unfortunately from the CBC broadcasting centre in Toronto and not from London!) 

Tell us about your book.
'Base Spirits' is a supernatural thriller with a historical core. The plot encompasses two sets of characters and time periods: Clara and Scott, a modern couple visiting an old Hall in Yorkshire cross paths with the past residents. Calverley Old Hall was stained by the blood of its ancestral family in 1605 when a nobleman went on a murderous rampage. Ghosts are raised. Mayhem, possession and deadly trials and tribulations ensue...

An editor once called it 'a cross between 'Possession' and 'The Shining'. That's very kind. I'll take that!

What inspired you to write this particular story?
The story is rooted in true events of 1605, when Sir Walter Calverley of Yorkshire lost his fortune and decided to murder his family rather than live in penury. As he was married to a well-connected London noblewoman, the scandal spread far and wide... and Shakespeare's King's Men theatre company presented 'A Yorkshire Tragedy' to cash in on the juicy gossip. I enacted the role of the wife in a production, and had a chance to visit Yorkshire during rehearsals. I found Calverley Old Hall was still standing, and met a local historian. The idea that it can be rented as a guest house excited my imagination and a ghost story was born.


What can readers expect when they open your book? Give us something that isn't on the book blurb.
The reader feedback has been excellent. Most people tell me it's a page-turner that kept them up at night jumping at sounds, which is high praise when you write a ghost story! I've had a lot of great comments about how well I set the scene in both time-periods, and I did take pains to do historical research so that it feels authentic. If you enjoy ghosts, atmospheric horror and Ye Olde England, you will like 'Base Spirits'. Some of the more squeamish among you may find the historic violence a bit much. Be warned.

How old were you when you started writing?
I've been telling stories all my life. I was read to by my Mom from day one, and started writing down my own stuff when I was 7 or 8. I use a Mac now and not crayons.

Do you stick with one genre, or have you branched out to others? Which ones?
I've dabbled with most genres, but my overall taste leans toward the dark side. I've written horror, urban fantasy, darkly comic stories and even some erotica (though not under my real name!) 

Do you think you would ever branch out into another genre? If so which one(s).
I have an idea for a character-driven mystery series, which is not a huge side-step from thriller/horror type writing. It's still dark. There is still a body count. That's my comfort zone. I like high stakes.

Where do you get your ideas?
A bizarre muse lives in my head. Some ideas drop fully formed out of nowhere, and sometimes I see a news story or an image that triggers the basis of my fiction. I've even used dreams to develop into stories.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished the first of Stant Litore's 'The Zombie Bible' series, 'Death Has Come Up to Our Windows'. I'm not a fan of gore-splatter 'braaaaiiinnz' type stuff, so this was a real discovery: eloquent and lyrical. I'm now starting 'The Anatomy of Ghosts' by Andrew Taylor.

Who are your favorite authors?
That is like choosing a favourite child. Off the top of my head-- Shakespeare, Dickens, Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan, Emma Donoghue, Timothy Findley... Stephen King and Peter Straub were early influences.

What is your current project?
I am reworking a few short stories for anthology submissions and will make these available in e-format before long-- I promise! For more major work, I'm dancing between a Victorian ghost story or getting started on the mystery series next.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
'Base Spirits' was a lengthy, twisted labour of love, and I am proud of it.

Have you experienced any setbacks for your writing along the way? If so, will you share with us. 
The usual demons of self-doubt and rejections by publishers and agents. Life tends to get in the way of the best-laid plans, and I've had to battle some life-and-death health issues. Health-- or the lack thereof-- trumps everything else.

How did you overcome these setbacks?
I managed not to die. As for the traditional publishing route, I went with the newer options now out there for indie authors. Life is way too short to fuss with the slow-grinding wheels of the old way of doing this. Trust me.

Do you believe in writer's block?
I believe that there are natural ebbs and flows in creative output. I also think that if you are feeling the strains of real life, that it is difficult to produce good work. When you are panicked about little things like not making the rent or whether or not the latest health crisis will be mortal, it kind of kills your writing mojo.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?
Write the first draft top to bottom without giving in to the temptation to go back to edit and rework it as you go. If you start second guessing or fiddling with details, you may never do more than write the first 40 pages over and over. It's a discovery draft: just let it flow and go off on tangents. You never know what you may find. When it's done, don't show anyone else because it will be a mess. Use it as your starter dough.

What is more important to you, plot or character?
They both matter. The plot can be full of surprises, but if I don't care about the characters involved, it is all just smoke and mirrors without a heart.

Tell us 5 random things about you the person, not the author:
1. : I am a sucker for all things British. Well, maybe not mushy peas...
2. : I'll wear any colour so long as it's black.
3. : If you're pouring wine, I'll take red.
4. : I am fiercely political. Don't get me started.
5. : I am a highly-social introvert. Very few are allowed to see me down to the core.

Where to connect online

What format does your book(s) come in?
e-book and paperback 

Where to buy: