I'd like to welcome you to my interview with writer, Ruth Hatfield. Enjoy.
Hello Ruth, can you please introduce yourself?
I'm Ruth Hatfield and I'm based in Cambridge.
How long have you been writing?
Probably since I could write. It’s something I’ve always done just for my own pleasure.
What first got you interested in writing?
I don’t really know! I’ve always liked inventing stories, so I think it’s just a natural extension of that.
Do you attend a writing group?
I attend the Cambridge Writing for Children group, which Chris Buckton started in 2009. I’ve been going since 2009, for the first year or so it was just the two of us!
I guess that's nice to be able to build a trustworthy relationship with another writer, in order to get (and of course, give) constructive feedback. Why do you attend a writing group?
I find it helps to listen to other people’s criticism of my work, in order to understand what is strong and what is weak about the stuff I’ve written. Also I find that critiquing the work of others helps a great deal with my own work, particularly picking up on the traps we all fall into…
You mean like never ending a sentence with a preposition ... What is the most valuable thing you have taken away from your writing group?
What genre(s) do you write?
I write in different genres, for both adults and for children, short and longer stories. Anything that takes my interest, really. At the moment the main story I’m working on is an adventure story for children with a slightly philosophical background, and the comments from my writers group have helped me in my attempt to construct a strong narrative story over the more complex background. Writing in new ways always appeals to me – trying to use my writing to discover something new that could not have emerged without the construction of a story and characters.
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
I don’t write fantasy or science fiction, although my writing does sometimes have slight elements of fantasy or magical realism. I think that I don’t like to write traditional fantasy because I don’t like to read it!
I'm with you on that one. What types of things do you write?
All sorts of things. All of the above, at various times, though definitely with differing degrees of success! The song lyrics were awful…
Have you ever had anything published?
I’ve had a few short stories published online as the result of winning or being placed in competitions. I’ve recently been signed up by an agent who liked a children’s novel of mine, so it’s a possibility that the published thing might happen at some point.
Ooh, that's exciting! Have you sent your work off to a lot of agents?
Yes – I’ve attracted the interest of a few people over the past 3 years, and have received several rejections as well. I have only sent work to agents, never direct to publishers.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
I’d consider it, but at the moment I’m preferring to try the print publishing route. I’m not very good at putting my work forward and I think I’d be very bad at having to entirely self-publicise. For me it would take the enjoyment out of writing – I find it stressful and quite tedious trying to get things ready for submission as it is, and the more time I have to spend doing that kind of thing and then trying to convince people to read my stuff, the less enjoyment I get out of writing! I’d prefer to keep on enjoying it rather than have much publishing success – I know that might sound a bit disingenuous, but it’s true.
I can understand that. There's not much point in doing something if you're not enjoying it. Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Other books of course, and many things in the world around me – I travel a lot for my job and so get to talk to a lot of different people. I’m always interested in the similarities and differences between the culture that I know and these other ones that I’m less familiar with, and a lot of my writing is (very) loosely exploring the theme of how societies shape people into things that they sometimes can’t be.
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
First names I tend to steal from someone I know or have heard of, other names I make up because they sound good (or in the case of non-human characters, reference something interesting to me). Personalities – that’s more a case of having the character in my head and then thinking, how would they react in this situation, given who they are? I don’t ever consciously make up a character from the beginning, it’s much more organic than that.
Personalities tend to grow as stories develop. Do you have a writing routine?
I write when I get the time – in an ideal world, with no job, I’d write in the morning and give up by about 3, because I’m pretty useless in the afternoon and early evening.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
Sometimes one, sometimes the other. I used to be dead against planning things before I wrote them, thinking it would stifle my creativity and enjoyment. Then when I tried writing to a plan, it was surprisingly good fun. A bit less exciting, but fewer of those ‘hit the buffers’ moments as well.
Do you have an editing process?
I read aloud to myself, iron out anything that sounds awful, then put it away for a bit. If I want to do any more with it, I might give it to someone to read. Nothing very structured.
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
Not quite sure how to answer that question… it’s really just something I do, these days. I don’t like not doing it! Having to edit something for the seventieth time is very hard. But I can’t say I don’t like that – the story is a world that I’ve made myself, and if I’m having to re-edit it for the seventieth time, then that’s because someone else thinks it’s worth reading. Which might be one of the best things of all.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
I do like to share my writing, because I think I can only know how to improve with the comments of other people. And of course it’s fantastic when other people like it and ask to read more. But I also write lots of stuff that I never intend to show anyone at all, mostly just drivel about ponies…
That sounds interesting. Are you sure you don't want to share the drivel?! Perhaps at an open mic night? Speaking of which, have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
No, I’d like to attend one but I’m not sure about reading at one. At the very least I’d turn puce with awkward embarrassment.
What is the best piece of writing advice you've been given>
Sit down and write!
That's the best way to start! What advice could you give to a new writer?
Just have fun… please have fun.
Yes! Definitely. Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
I love horse riding and cycling. I read a lot, and I like very much going to the pub and having a few beers, though that’s more a lifestyle than an interest…
What types of things do you read? Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
Anything and everything – the last two books I read were an archaeological murder mystery by Elizabeth Peters, and a book about recent Russian history by Jonathan Dimbleby. I don’t think my writing reflects that at all, I tend to get obsessed with the same ideas…
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Probably The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov.
Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
What are you working on at the moment?
Two children’s books and a short story, and possibly my own archaeological murder mystery…
Thank you very much Ruth.