Ruth Ware in Conversation at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival
By Sarah Morgan
They may spend a lot of time alone, sitting at a desk putting their characters through terrible things, but crime writers are, by and large, a cheerful bunch.
Take Ruth Ware, for instance. She’s clearly a nice person, who, despite missing out on the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award (her book The It Girl was among the nominees), is just thrilled to be in Harrogate at all.
“I remember when I was invited to take part in my first panel, it felt as if I’d arrived,” she says. “So to be back as a special guest is amazing.”
She’s hugely popular around the world, having been translated into 40 languages, and is currently publicising her latest novel Zero Days, a thriller focusing on Jac, a woman with a rather unusual job.
“She’s a pen tester, which is short for penetration tester,” laughs Ruth. “But I wasn’t allowed to say that in the blurb because goodness knows what it would do to Google’s algorithms – I’d probably get a whole new audience!”
If, like me, you’ve no idea what a pen tester is, Ruth explains they test security systems to make sure places can’t be broken into.
“I wondered what kind of person would become one, because you’d have all that knowledge, all those skills and tools at your disposal. You’d have to be a dual-edged person to go that far into the criminal world and then use that knowledge to make people safer.”
“Writers can be horrible people”
Following one particular job, Jac’s husband Gabe is murdered and she becomes the prime suspect. This leaves her with two options – hope the police realise their mistake or solve the mystery herself. She opts for the latter.
“Writers can be horrible people,” she explains when asked where the plot came from. “Having created this formidable person, I knew I had to challenge her in some way. So I thought about how awful it would be to lose my husband, the love of my life, and then to be accused of killing him. So that’s what I put Jac through.
“Most of my books come from my fears. You work through your anxieties by writing about them.”
Ruth reckons her regular readers may be surprised by Zero Days: “I guess it’s different to my other books which usually have an Agatha Christie-style plot, a locked room or something. But here, Jac goes on the run; all she cares about is finding who killed Gabe. She doesn’t see any point in anything else.
“I think what will keep readers interested is if Jac’s going to come out of it alright. So there are two thrusts – what Jac wants and what we want to happen.”
Ruth Ware is already working on her next tale, which she promises will be different to what she’s done before.
“I’m always writing against the previous book in a sense, but it’s still quite thriller-ish and fast-paced. I think I’m in a high-octane mood!”
She adds: “I’m always superstitious about talking about what I’m working on, but my character is dragged reluctantly onto a couple’s version of Love Island, where everything goes wrong.”
Sounds intriguing… but hopefully it won’t spawn a spin-off from the reality show. But even if it does, Ruth Ware will probably simply smile and move onto her next project – and who knows where that will take her, or us.
Main image: Gemma Day