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We spoke to best-selling author Ruth Hogan, whose latest book, Queenie Malone's Paradise Hotel, is out now. She talks about her brush with death, reveals which British city inspired her books, and explains what finally inspired her to take the plunge and become a novelist...
Ruth Hogan lives in a rambling north London house with her husband and two rescue dogs. It sounds like a very normal existence, but her phenomenal success in the literary world is anything but normal.
In 2017 she published her debut novel The Keeper of Lost Things. The book has so far sold a whopping 800,000 copies and continues to climb the best-seller lists. Her newest novel, and her third overall, is Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel. The book hinges around mother/daughter relationships, and centres on Tilly, who returns to her seaside home after being exiled many years prior…
“I wanted to write about mother and daughter relationships – there are several in the novel – and how, sometimes, the least conventional are the most successful… The central mother and daughter relationship in the novel is complex and often heart-breaking, but it is an illustration of the fact that mothers will often do anything, sacrifice everything for the love of their child.” explains Ruth.
We spoke to Ruth Hogan to find out more about her latest book, her amazing journey into publishing, and the life-changing events that lead to her career (she overcame cancer and a car accident that left her unable to work!)…
What inspired your latest book?
Firstly, Brighton! Oh, how I love the seaside and especially Brighton. It is an absolute joy, as a writer, to set your novel anywhere you please. My Dad was born in Brighton, and I eloped there with my fiancé in 2016, got married in the Pavilion and romped down the pier in my massive meringue dress to ride on the carousel of galloping horses, so Brighton is a special place for me. It’s colourful, slightly bonkers and a place where differences are accepted, even celebrated, and this made it an ideal location for Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel.
My novels are always character driven and I prefer to write about people who are flawed in some way, living on the edges of so-called ‘normal’ society or just completely barking. Queenie Malone’s characters fit the bill perfectly.
“And, it was inspired, in part, by relationship with my own Mum, who struggled with mental health issues when I was a child but did everything she could to make sure I had the best possible chances in life.”
What was it about your debut novel, in your opinion, that captured the attention of so many readers?
I wish I knew! If I did, I’d make sure I put it into all my books. I think perhaps that one of the things that resonated with readers was that most of us have lost something precious and would love to get it back. Often the things that mean the most to us have a sentimental or emotional value that makes them irreplaceable if they are lost. I also think that at a time when doom and gloom (and the dreaded B word!) are so prevalent in the news, people need a sense of hope and redemption. A book is a great world to escape into and if it leaves you feeling hopeful and uplifted, so much the better!
You have spoken before about the car accident that left you unable to work, and your cancer treatment in 2012. Do you think overcoming those things influenced your writing style in any way?
I’m not sure that they influenced my style of writing exactly. They certainly motivated me to get my butt in gear and get on with actually writing my books. I think my attitude towards both these events and to life in general had more of an effect on the way I write.
We are only here for so long and so we need to squeeze every ounce out of life while we have it. It’s so much better to try and be positive and hopeful and enjoy what we have, than worry about what might happen or mourn what we no longer have. I have bad days like everyone else, but I try to live my life like that.
Writing seems to have helped you through difficult times. For others in similar situations, what else helped you?
See above! You can’t always control what life throws at you, but you can always choose your attitude towards life. Find something you love doing (for me, that was always writing) and try to lose yourself in it. Writing was a wonderful distraction, particularly when I was having treatment for cancer. It’s easy to become completely focused on your illness, but through writing I found an escape.
Tell us about your journey to being a published author – why did you start writing?
I always wanted to be an author, and I’ve always written, but until my car accident it was usually other people’s speeches for weddings, funerals and leaving dos. Being forced to stop working full-time was the catalyst that made me finally take writing seriously and begin work on an actual book.
It’s been a completely surreal experience and for the first year I was like a rabbit caught in some very bright headlights! I submitted my manuscript for Keeper [The Keeper of Lost Things] to literary agents in the usual way and was lucky enough to be signed by my brilliant agent. I was over the moon when I got my UK publishing deal, but foreign deals quickly followed and I was in shock for quite a while I think. It was so much more than I expected.
Keeper was then selected to be part of WH Smith’s Fresh Talent Promotion and friends began sending me pictures of me and my book on posters in UK airports. It was selected by Richard and Judy for their book club and then went on to win the readers vote. The icing on the cake was when it became a Sunday Times Bestseller. Even as I write this it still seems hard for me to take in. It took me about eighteen months to truly appreciate what had happened and actually start enjoying it properly, and by that time my second book had been published!
How do you write your books?
I am lucky enough to have a writing room at home. I usually write the first draft chapter by chapter in longhand. Once a chapter is complete, I transpose it onto the laptop and print it off. Then I leave it for a bit, read and edit again and then move on to the next chapter.
At the end of a first draft written this way I rarely edit it much more. I describe myself as a ‘method writer’ – much like a method actor. I surround myself with pictures and items related to the book and create a little world where I live until the book is finished. I even create a soundtrack for each book!
Tell us about three books that changed you and your outlook on life…
Morning’s At Seven by Eric Malpass was the book that made me want to become a writer. He conjured a world where I wanted to live, and I loved the magic of being able to do that with words on a page.
George Orwell’s 1984 frightened me to death and made me realise how much I take our freedom and democracy for granted.
And Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style proved to me that if I wish to continue wearing crazy shoes, frilly tutus and pretty much whatever the hell else I like, however old I am, then I certainly won’t be the only one. Fashion and fun are not just for the young!
What’s the best and worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I’ve been given was in a rejection email for Keeper from a literary agency. It said that although the book wasn’t right for them, I should remember that publishing is a ‘business of opinions’ and that another agent might love it.
The worst advice I’ve been given was ‘Get a steady job and settle down’.
Ruth Hogan will be in conversation with w&h books editor and author Isabelle Broom later this month. The event takes place on Wednesday the 24th of April in London.
Tickets are £10 and include a welcome drink, nibbles and a tote bag. Please arrive from 6:30pm for a prompt 7pm start. The event will finish at 8:45pm. You can buy tickets for the event HERE.
We hope to see you there!