Ruth Ware first hit the bestseller list in 2015 with her debut thriller, In the Dark, Dark Wood, and she's put out a book a year since to great success. Her newest psychological thriller, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a twisty story about a young woman named Hal who has taken over the tarot reading kiosk on Brighton Pier after her mother, who has taught her the skill, is struck by a car and killed. Hal quickly runs into financial troubles and borrows money from the wrong people, who have lost their patience for repayment. Hal's desperation and a strange letter lead to a secret that changes everything she thought she knew about her family. It's a complex web of a story that kept blowing my hypotheses as I read it. Love that. Ruth Ware was in Seattle last week and joined a group of us at a local watering hole for a mocktail and a chat about her books, what she's reading, and her most unusual book event question so far.
Her protagonist may be a tarot reader, but Ware is a self-professed skeptic when it comes to the psychic arts and knew nothing about tarot when she started writing the book. She wanted her character Hal "to be someone who was pretty deft at deceiving people and quite comfortable reading strangers, and telling them what they want to hear, so she needed a profession that would fit in with that. Making her a cynical tarot reader seemed like a way to give her the skills that she needed. And it was really fun to research." Ware's research included not only books and meeting a variety of people in the profession, but she also got her cards read by a man on Brighton Pier, where her character Hal resides in the novel. Did any of it change her view? Not really, but she did come out feeling like "tarot is quite a useful tool for self-reflection, because really all the cards are aspects and expressions that we all experience in everyday life."
Ware was here as part of her multi-week U.S. tour for The Death of Mrs. Westaway, and we asked her what the audiences have been like compared to the British audiences she's used to meeting. British audiences, Ware said, are much more reserved and no one wants to ask the first question, but in America people's hands shoot up as soon as the Q&A starts. The best question she's had so far? It came in St. Louis, from a reader who asked, "If you were to fall under a bus, who would you want to finish your book?" Well, as it turns out, Ware doesn't outline her books. So because of that, she didn't really answer except to say that she doesn't take notes so that might be difficult for anyone.... No outline, but Ware is already thinking about her next book as she's finishing the current one. She just doesn't commit anything to the page until she's actually telling the story.
When asked what it's been like to keep hitting the bestseller lists, Ware said, "It feels surreal, to be honest. I think when I was writing In a Dark, Dark Wood, I kind of thought it was this weird little British book about a hen party. But no one else really knew what that was, and no one really gets it, so when it sold to America I was like, Are you sure? But apparently lots of people want to read about toxic bachelorette parties!"
We always want to know what authors are reading, so we asked Ware, What she was reading right now? Sarah Vaughn's Anatomy of a Scandal. She was enjoying it quite a lot and had a long flight home to the the U.K. coming up, during which she hoped to read the rest. As is often the case with genre authors, Ware doesn't read thrillers while she's writing because "it's like trying to listen to one song on your headphones and singing another." She's already working on her next book but says it's going really slowly this time around with all the events and touring she's been doing in the U.S. and Europe. She's set to deliver the manuscript to her editor in November.
Ware was so much fun to spend time with, and we're hoping the next book will bring her back to our neck of the woods. Tick-tock, Ruth...we can hardly wait to see what you've got in store for us next!
*The Death of Mrs. Westaway is one of our editors' picks for the Best Mystery & Thrillers of the Month
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