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Author Interview: Ruth Hogan

This month I am spotlighting Ruth Hogan, author of The Moon, The Stars, and Madame Burova

A few years ago, I was growing disenchanted with reading. Whether it was exploring something historical or falling in love, I wasn’t getting the fix I was hoping for. Books bored me. I couldn’t remember one from the next, nor did I care. Many I never even finished. I was growing weary of the book world. 

Then I found Ruth Hogan’s, The Keeper of Lost Things. She breathed life back into reading for me. This little book, her first, was a heartwarming story of a quirky man who lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée the day she died unexpectedly. Broken-hearted, he seeks consolation in rescuing lost objects over the years, imagining the stories behind them. As he grows old, he looks for someone to continue his mission­–his unsuspecting assistant, leaving her his house and all his lost treasures. And thus, the story begins. I won’t tell you more because there is too much to tell with clever twists, synced storylines, and even a ghost! 

Ruth has a knack for creating fascinating characters that are relatable all the same. We have seen these people from a distance–the ordinary we dismiss, the quirky we double take, and the eccentric we are curious. She takes the lives of the mundane and reminds us how extraordinary and purposeful each person is, in stories that are charmingly memorable. 

I don’t forget the people and places of Ruth Hogan’s books!

She has gone on to write many more books with her latest, The Moon, The Stars, and Madame Burova. I hope you enjoy my interview with Ruth Hogan, and discover the author who continues to enchant the reading world with her storytelling. 

You started your career with the book The Keeper of Lost Things–which was my favorite book of the year when it was published. Was this the first book you wrote

No. I’d written one previous complete novel, which after a fair bit of re-writing ended up being the third book I had published–Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel. In its first incarnation, it was called Black Velvet Band.

I love all your characters. They are unique, quirky, and out of the box, which made me fall in love with your books. Where do your characters come from? Fantasy? Observation? People you know?

Generally, my characters are people I would like to know! I always describe people in my novels as being cracked in the kiln in some way. I love writing about people who are on the edges of mainstream society, people who don’t give a damn what other people think of them, or people who are damaged or different in some way. I simply find these characters more interesting. I’m not always sure where they come from, but I am a great people watcher and some of my characters are inspired by people I’ve seen on the street or met briefly. Madame Burova was named after a wonderful woman I know who is an absolute force of nature, and her character was in part inspired by a real-life tarot reader and clairvoyant who worked in Brighton on the seafront for many years called Eva Petulengro. Her booth is still there.

What writers inspired you and your style of writing? Who and what do you read?

The book that made me want to become an author is a little-known novel called Morning’s at Seven by a British author called Eric Malpass. From the first page, he created a world where I wanted to live and characters I wanted to meet and spend time with. I felt as though I was part of the story. To be able to create such an immersive experience through storytelling is a magical talent and one that I constantly aspire to. I also love the work of Charles Dickens for his rich and exquisite prose and his memorable characters, and Jane Austen’s novels for their social history and subtle humour. These days I mainly read early proof copies of other authors’ work, but when I do get a chance to read purely for pleasure, I like quite dark fiction–crime and psychological thrillers.

I write upmarket fiction, but I have a thriller sitting in my head. What other book genre would you dip your toes in? 

Ooh! Good question. I would love to write a really chilling ghost story.

A little history about you…how long have you been writing, and what inspired you to finally put a book into the world.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books. My parents were both great readers and my mum taught me to read before I went to school. I became a member of my local children’s library as soon as I was old enough and my parents read bedtime stories to me every night. It was therefore no surprise that I inherited their passion for books and reading. But if you’d asked me when I was about six what I wanted to be, I would have said a vet. I had no talent for or interest in the sciences that were required, and no understanding of the years of study it would take. I just loved animals and wanted to make them better.  As I grew older and wiser and developed an intense dislike for my chemistry teacher, I moved on to plan b. From my love of reading, came a love of writing and I decided that I would do something with English. I would be creative and mysterious, henna my hair, and wear strange and exotic outfits. And I did. For the whole three years that I was at Goldsmiths College studying English and Drama. Then I came home, married, and got a ‘proper’ job. My career in local government took off, and I was rapidly promoted. But then, in my early thirties, I had a car accident that left me with chronic back problems and unable to work full time. I eventually came to realize that the accident had given me the opportunity to resurrect the dream I’d had at university of ‘doing something with English’. I got a part-time job to pay the bills, and I began to write with the serious intention of trying to get published. 

For the writers out there, were you a writing prodigy, or did you get many rejections before obtaining publication success.

I still keep the file full of rejection letters and then later on emails as a reminder to myself of how lucky I am. Rejection is part of the process, and it taught me some very useful lessons. As an aspiring writer, you have to be tenacious. Every rejection is hard to take, and it never gets any easier – but it comes with the job. The best piece of advice I received in a rejection letter was that publishing is ‘a business of opinions’ It only takes one agent and one publisher to love your book to get you a publishing deal. My debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things, was rejected by agents and publishers alike. It went on to sell in 32 territories across the world and become a Sunday Times Bestseller.

If you couldn’t write, what would be your dream career? 

I’d be an actor in musical theatre and run an animal rescue sanctuary.

And last, I always like to ask what is unusual about a writer that readers would never know. What’s your hidden passion, or that is unusual about Ruth? 

Most of my readers already know that I’m a magpie and love collecting weird and wonderful curios, and that I love seaside piers, cemeteries and funfairs–and potatoes! But I also enjoy photography. I took a course at night school and learned to develop my own prints. I also have a huge number of photography books and often use photographs to inspire my writing. Some of my favorite photographers are Diane Arbus, Doisneau, Martin Parr, Tony Ray-Jones and Oscar Marzaroli. Another passion is architecture, and in particular, abandoned buildings. I always feel that they hold so many stories within their walls. I have a fascination for the supernatural and yes – I do believe in ghosts!

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