Interview with self-published author Ruth Barrett
It is with great awe and pride I present to you today author Ruth Barrett and her novel Base Spirits. Only superlatives jumble through my head trying to explain to you why Ruth is such an exceptional writer. Maybe the best hommage I can bring her is saying that reading her work has silenced me. If you don’t know the distinction between reading matter and literature – and you would like to know – pick up Base Spirits and your answer is there. Quality, quality, quality! In the writing, the story, the characterisation, the pacing, the dialogues, the setting. You name an aspect of writing, Ruth is in charge. I actually like coming across a writer who is my superior. It feels comfy. Trusting the writer’s craft so wholeheartedly that you can simply disappear in the story knowing you will not be disappointed.
Two months ago Ruth also did a guestblog here on my website about the self-publishing route. Here’s the link: http://www.hannahwarrenauthor.com/?p=1488
Where do you live (town, country)? Were you born and bred there?
I live in lovely Stratford in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. I chose it as my adopted hometown: it’s the perfect mix of small-town friendliness and yet with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival on my doorstep, the world is here visiting all summer. It is a creative and culinary hub bursting with actors, writers, visual artists and musicians. I was born in Pointe Claire, Quebec, but my parents moved to Barrie, Ontario when I was an infant, so I grew up there. I love England and have lived there twice: in Leeds during a university year abroad, and in London when I studied acting at LAMDA.
What kind of food do you like? Are you a good cook? How important is food to you?
Good food is vital to me. The community of Stratford is very much interested in locally produced food, and we have an excellent farmer’s market and local market co-op store, as well as some amazing restaurants and a chef’s school. I love cooking and wine, and have a particular fondness for Italian and French cuisine.
Do you do any sports? How often? What does exercise mean to you? Any other hobbies?
Sports? Nah. I could care less– though I’d watch lacrosse over hockey any day (that’s the *real* Canadian national sport!) I am not an athletic type, but I enjoy walking around the Avon river and use a T-zone exercise machine that makes me feel healthy and spiffy. With my acting background, I love theatre, and adore classical music– I find ways to attend live performances as much as possible.
Do you have kids?
No kids. I enjoy them, but I’ve never wanted any. I have two nieces, four nephews and a great-nephew, so the family bloodline is taken care of with no pressure on me.
Do you like travelling? Where do you go then?
I do love returning to England whenever possible. Bad health and finances kept me from going anywhere for years, but I had a wonderful three week visit to Britain last September. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet some on-line writer pals face-to-face. I adore the history and culture of England, and could happily spend every vacation there and not be bored. York is a particular favourite city of mine.
Do you have another job apart from writing? For how many hours? How do you feel about the ‘other’ job?
Happily (and after years of crap day jobs) I do get paid to write for a living. I write descriptive narrative scripts for film and TV, so that visually impaired folks can listen to what essentially sounds like a radio play when they tune in on television. On occasion, I also do the narration– I had to describe the Royal Wedding live-to-camera in April. That was amazing- but unfortunately, I was in a Toronto CBC studio and not in London.
How do your family/friends react to you being a writer? Have their opinions changed since you became a published author? Which remark from your surroundings has stuck most with you?
I don’t think my family knows what to think of me most of the time! I’ve always been the artsy weirdo. I don’t think it affects me either way. My mom has been supportive my whole life of all my creative ventures, and I know she’s proud and happy that the book is now ‘out there’. I dedicated it to her. My friends are particularly thrilled that I’ve persevered. My best friend told me I was one of his heroes because I’d found myself and followed through with my artistic calling. That’s the best remark I’ve had about the writing– or me in general.
Would you call yourself a social human being? Do you have time for going out and spending time away from the writing desk?
I am a gregarious lone wolf, if that makes sense. I love people and they seem to love me back– I enjoy getting out with friends, or just wandering around town randomly running into familiar faces for a chat. But I spend long hours alone as I write my work projects as well as my own writing and marketing, so there are days I never even get outside. I regret not spending more time with friends and sometimes feel badly about it. I hope they understand that it’s definitely me and not them!
Which character trait do you like best about yourself and why? Which trait would you rather do without?
I take things to heart at times, and can feel wounded by people’s reactions to me (or lack thereof). I can get angry and impatient, but I manage most of the time to keep that to myself. It’s too exhausting to get riled up. I’ve learned to calm down over the years.
Can you describe the place where you write + the view?
I work on the top floor of my two-level flat in a Victorian building in the heart of downtown. I sit at my grandfather’s old Arts and Crafts desk in a room lined with books. A long, narrow sitting room runs the length of the flat overlooking the main street, so I often take a break and gaze out over the town from the window. The sidewalks can be teeming with tourists, but in the wintertime you can shoot a cannon up the street and all you’d hit would be a pig truck heading to a slaughterhouse.
Is there something you always need to have near you when you work (beverage, cigarette, mascot, music, quote, etc)?
I MUST have coffee first thing. I grind my own beans and have a fresh-brewed pot at my side in the mornings, and then shift to tea in the afternoons. I have the book cover for Base Spirits up over my desk, and a photo of me with my best friend by the computer.
What genre(s) do you write in? How did that develop?
I tend to write quirky, mixed-genre stuff– usually with a body count. A number of my short stories have been published and a majority of them have a spooky air about them. The novel- Base Spirits- is a supernatural thriller with a historical core. I read a lot of King and Straub as a teenager, and I’ve always enjoyed books set in different time periods, so I suppose I came by it honestly. The next planned novel is a Victorian ghost story set in England, and after that I want to write a darkly-comedic mystery series set here in Stratford.
At some point you decided to self-publish. Can you tell us how that process developed?
The idea had been floating around for a year or so- I kept an eye on the developments in the publishing world, and saw that a lot of self-publishers were doing well, producing decent work and keeping control of their creative path. The old, stinky stigma of self-published=talentless hack is happily fading fast. There are still a lot of people out there producing terrible self-published work, but the now readers will be the ones to weed out the good from the bad. Instead of trying to woo an agent or a publisher to just have the chance to be read (in 18 months AFTER I get that all-important ‘yes’), I can put my stuff out there and let
readers decide if they like me or not. I was heartily sick of the merry-go-round of query letters and polite rejection after months of waiting.
How do you feel about self-publishing now? What are the advantages, disadvantages, pitfalls, etc.?
I don’t think it’s for everyone. It makes for a very long day, so if you work a ‘real’ day job or have family obligations it would take a lot of juggling. You have to be disciplined and push yourself to present the best book you can without editors pestering you. Just because it isn’t produced by one of the ‘Big Six’ doesn’t mean that your book should be shoddy. People are still going to pay to read it and they deserve the best product you can give them– both in content and presentation. That means hiring an editor, not just having a buddy scan it over. I also paid for proper formatting and hired a cover artist. I know there are cheap/free ways to do it all yourself, but I wanted it to be as close to perfect as it could be. After all– that’s my name on the cover. Now I have to figure out all the twists and turns as I market myself.
So far, I’d have to say I like self-publishing. I see the result of my hard work. I’ve met lots of great folks on-line (like Hannah!) who are happy to help with things like guest blogs and reviews, and other authors have been extremely supportive and full of good advice in general. True, I don’t have a Random House marketing machine behind me– but unless you are a top bestseller, no publisher will be pushing all that hard. They expect their authors to Tweet and blog and Facebook etc… all while grooming them to toe the company line instead of letting them use their authentic voices while they take most of the book’s profit. And there
are NO guarantees. I read an article recently that said that about 80% of
traditionally published books fail to live up to their promise. Of course,
there are no guarantees when you go it alone either, but at least I can control my content and my image and not have to answer to anyone.
Are you in a network of Indie authors? How do you market your own book?
I’m just starting to get involved with groups I’ve seen on Twitter– like Indie Book Collective– and approaching review sites and blogs to get the word out. I Tweet, but I’m probably not as good at it as I could be. I still know a bunch of writers from the Authonomy days. I just had an article in a local on-line arts magazine, and have what I hope will be an awesome cross-promotion coming up with a successful indie author. I won’t jinx it by talking about it until it’s a ‘go’!
When was your first book released and how did that make you feel?
Base Spirits was up on Smashwords and Amazon Kindle at the end of August. It was kind of numbing and exciting at the same time. I just got my proof copy of the paperback version, and that finally made it feel real. Holding a physical book in my hands with
Neil Jackson’s perfect cover and my name on the front felt vindicating and transformative.
Can you tell us some background information on
the book? (How did you get the idea, how long did it take you to write and edit it, is it part of a sequel, how does the published book make you feel now?)
The core history of the book is based on the play ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’ that I performed in back in the ’90s. It’s a piece Shakespeare’s King’s Men players put together in 1605 to ‘cash in’ on a scandalous case of a Yorkshire nobleman who gambled away his fortune and tried to murder his entire family. I discovered that the hall where the killings took place is still standing in a village near Leeds, and that one wing is available as a holiday let. There are local ghost stories, too– so I got to thinking about what would happen if an unhappy couple checked in and somehow awakened the hall’s dark past. I started scribbling in 2000 or so, and picked it up and put it down a few times. Life gets in the way when you
let it. Due to bad luck with health issues, I nearly died a few years ago (and again at the start of this year!) and that puts a different perspective on what is important. I’ve learned to stop putting things off.
What are your writing habits? (every day, number of words, etc.?)
It depends on what I’m working on. I have to do the paid stuff first so I can make my living, and if I’m working on my own fiction at the same time I can put in 12 or 14 hour days. I go in fits and starts. Sometimes I won’t write anything new for months. I’ll take notes and let ideas ‘cook’ in my mental crock-pot before I tackle them. Once I get going, I can write drafts quite quickly. I set myself deadlines and stick to them.
Who’s been your biggest inspiration and why? Since when?
I have many favourite authors and artists of all disciplines who inspire me. Any creative type who sticks to it against all odds and makes a life out of what they love makes me strive to work for the same goals. Late Canadian author Timothy Findley was a friend and mentor– like me, he’d started life as an actor and morphed into a fiction writer. His life partner Bill lives just up the street from me, and is full of anecdotes and support. The more I see and learn about the lives of those I admire, the one thing is made clear: there are no excuses. Feeling sorry for yourself or allowing distraction kills your creative spark. Get on with it.
Where do you see yourself in 5-years’ time?
I very much would like to be only writing my own words and be done with the contract descriptive video work. Not that I dislike it, but who doesn’t want to purely do their own thing for a living? I’ve started my own Spirited Words Book Co. In five years, there will be at least a few short story collections and the second novel ‘out there’, and the ‘Dead Drunk’ mystery series in progress.
Thanks, Hannah– I also hope I can travel to see my international writer friends and host them here when they visit Stratford!
Ruth Barrett has a blog outlining the self-publishing process. http://ruth-barrett-spiritedwords.blogspot.com
Her first novel Base Spirits is available as an e-book on Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/84640
and Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Base-Spirits-ebook/dp/B005L38G8E/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1315163319&sr=1-1
and the process is in place for a paperback version (stay tuned!) If you’d like to stay in touch, please ‘like’ the Spirited Words Book Co. page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spirited-Words-Book-Co/101014656667433 or follow Ruth on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/LadyCalverley.
THANK YOU SO MUCH Ruth!!