Saturday 3 June 2017

Close to Home...Jan Ruth

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern writer

Jan Ruth

Hi, Jan and welcome back to Jaffareadstoo. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author?

The real story began at school, with prizes for short stories and poetry. I failed all things mathematical and scientific, and to this day struggle to make sense of anything numerical.

My first novel - written in 1986 - attracted the attention of an agent who was trying to set up her own company, Love Stories Ltd. It was a project aiming to champion those books of substance which contained a romantic element but were perhaps directed towards the more mature reader and consistently fell through the net in traditional publishing. Sadly, the project failed to get the right financial backing. Many years later my second novel, Wild Water, was taken on by Jane Judd, literary agent. Judd was a huge inspiration, but the book failed to find the right niche with a publisher. It didn't fall into a specific category and, narrated mostly from the male viewpoint, it was considered out of genre for most publishers and too much of a risk. Amazon changed the face of the industry with the advent of self-publishing; opening up the market for readers to decide the fate of those previously spurned novels. I went on to successfully publish several works of fiction and short story collections and after a brief partnership with Accent Press in 2015, I’ve returned to the freedom of independent publishing.

Your books are written in North Wales - how have the people and the Welsh landscape shaped your stories?

In a word: completely!

Snowdonia kick-started my stalled obsession with writing in a very positive way. In the main I’ve used real places, and I do love the mix of historical buildings as a backdrop to a modern tale. Links to Welsh history and heritage are unavoidable in Wales and it’s the visible remains of quarries, castles and farmsteads which give the area a strong sense of the past. And there’s richness in the landscape here which has certainly inspired my writing. Some of the area is chocolate-box pretty, a lot of it isn’t. The struggle to make a living in this community is mostly based on farming or tourism, although the mussel industry is alive and well.

North Wales Landscape

The only historical event I can remember with any accuracy is good old 1066 and The Battle of Hastings. At school I was hopeless at dates, in fact anything to do with numbers, but I used to love history because sooner or later it usually involved writing essays. Now though, I suspect there may be more to it. The longer I live and the more places I visit in the world, the more connected I feel to my roots, or more specifically my spiritual home, Snowdonia.

Twenty years ago we moved from Cheshire to North Wales. Although Cheshire has its history and pretty rural surroundings aplenty, Wales is far more extreme in both aspects. The castles and the rugged hillsides strewn with stone settlements, druid circles and Roman roads bring out the historical muse in me. To think that I am treading the same path as someone who lived in the Iron Age, is both fascinating and humbling.

Conwy Castle

All this whimsical talk of the past makes me sound as if I write historical-based fiction. Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very much rooted in current times and my work reflects a lot of my own life experiences. But this is where I find the two ideas merge a little because I am most certainly inspired by this Ice Age landscape. What has gone before certainly shapes what we see today, but does it shape what we feel, too?

There’s no doubt I’m in my creative comfort zone tramping up the hills on a moody day. There’s no better way of busting that plot. Dedicated to a 6th century prince, the tiny church of St. Celynin (sometimes known as Llangelynnin) is a great find for historians, spiritualists, all kinds of artists, and a certain weary walking writer.

This church is also mentioned in the Wild Water series and I’ve spent many an hour soaking up the atmosphere. It’s quite a climb, some 900 feet above the village of Henryd, but sheltered from the Irish Sea by the comfortable bulk of Tal-Y-Fan. It proclaims to be the most remote church in Wales and due to its location on the Pilgrim’s Way, it is actually better accessed on foot or on horseback, but that’s just me wearing my whimsical hat again. I guess you could ride a quad bike or get a 4×4 along the green lane (originally the coffin path) up from the village, but that would spoil the experience considerably. The centuries of men’s hands on the same stones put the feeling into a place. I can relate to this and there’s no better way of making that connection than scrambling over those very same walls and finding a way across the hills. Even the names of the mountains are laced with enough magic to fuel the effort.

I love the way ancient history here is often blurred by myths and legends, shape-shifters and superstitions. Rich then, in history and romance and easy enough to blend both, with a touch of fantasy and suspense. Especially so when the winter sun is low in the sky, sending out early shadows to creep across the crooked stones of derelict homesteads and graves. And late sunsets in summer, when the scudding clouds floating in a fiery sky take on the shape of dragons and rearing horses. Or maybe, when the druid’s circle is shrouded in mist and… can you hear something? Like the clink of marching armour and the clash of swords…there’s something moving out there, or is it just my imagination?

As a writer based in the North, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

I don’t think author location makes any difference in these days of global marketing, via the internet. As for locations in books, then yes, there are certainly settings which are currently more fashionable, (dictated by commercial trends), such as Cornwall or France.

If you were pitching North Wales as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

Do you know, I’m not sure I’d pitch North Wales as an ideal place to live or work! It’s not for everyone, but it works for me. It might work for other writers because of the available solitude. On the other hand, not all writers seek such isolation. It works for me because I’m inspired by the landscape and the characters who live here, both historically and otherwise. I guess it fits my persona. 

In your research for your books, did you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?

In a word: All of it!

I’ve been able to soak up the atmosphere of Snowdonia simply by living here. I can always tell if an author has simply visited somewhere or researched on the Net rather than delved beneath the surface. I’m a strong believer of writing what you know – and I say this in a mostly spiritual way, not one of facts and figures.

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

It is solitary and one must be incredibly self-disciplined. Social networking has brought me in touch with lots of authors, local ones too, and we do meet from time to time. 

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

My local library and my local bookshop in Conwy have been tremendous! They’ve bought my books, stocked them, sold them, invited me to do readings and signings, and generally got behind me as a local author. I do think it helps that my novels are very much set in the area.

You can find out more about Jan and her writing on her website 

Visit on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @JanRuthAuthor

Jan also takes the most amazing photographs of the North Wales landscape which you can see on Flickr

Warmest thanks to Jan for being our very welcome guest today and for talking about her writing and for sharing her love of North Wales with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature

Coming next week : Helena Fairfax



Thanks for taking the time to comment - Jaffareadstoo appreciates your interest.