Celebrating and be inspired - an interview with Ruth Leigh by Tracy Williamson
Hello everyone! It’s me again after a 3 months gap. I had to take time out because of being very behind with the MS of my new book a Devotional/Prophetic/Teaching book which thankfully has now been submitted! A huge thanks to the lovely writers who stood in for me since August, your blogs have been a joy to read. I’m also enjoying some of the amazing new novels recently released in our group and decided to start my blog up again by interviewing the wonderful Ruth Leigh about the release of her 3rd book in the Isabella M Smugge series. This interview is both to celebrate the book itself and to look more deeply into what inspires and enables Ruth in her writing, in the certainty that we too will be inspired in our own writing.
Ruth its been wonderful to celebrate with you the release of your 3rd book in the Isabella M Smugge series. The Continuing Times of Isabella M Smugge. Having thoroughly enjoyed the first 2 books, The Diary of and The Trials of Isabella M Smugge, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one and it certainly lived up to all expectations as I could hardly put it down!
As someone who hasn’t yet written a novel but would love to start that process, I find it really inspiring that the simple idea which led to your first book, The diary of….has now evolved into 3! Did you plan from the outset to write a series and if so, do you envisage that there will be more to come?
Thinking more along the lines of planning, do you describe yourself as a great planner? Isabella herself seems to love to really plan out her time and her diary, although now she is a single mum of 4 with the youngest being her unplanned baby son, it seems she’s having to let that planned regime go quite a bit. Would you say that’s true for you too?
Ruth I always say that Isabella is the opposite to me - rich, posh, skinny. I am a pantser when it comes to writing but I am becoming a bit more a fan of planning, just as Isabella is going a bit more hippy dippy and not being such a control freak. Interesting ....
The Trials of Isabella M Smugge ended on quite a fraught note for Isabella with the birth of her 4th child and the need to take her very difficult mother in to live with her while she recovers from a stroke. Did you resolve then that you would make the following book an exploration of life shaping events because that’s what seems to happen in The Continuing Times …? In fact, what is your guiding aim in The Continuing Times? Is it, for example, for the various characters to develop in their self awareness? Is it that they’ll become more spiritually aware and that you can show the reality of God’s presence in our lives, through this medium of a story? Is it a means of exploring how buried hurts and childhood traumas can shape and sometimes cripple us? Has there been an overriding passion in your heart that’s led you to write it in the way it is? Its probably a mix of many such strands but did you find yourself surprised at all at how things evolved? For example, the way Isabella and Mother gradually opened up to each other or Lavinia’s revelations of relational hurt from her dad?
Ruth I knew that Continued Times would deal with the difficulties of having Issy and her mother under the same roof, and her struggles with being part of the sandwich generation. Yes, I want everyone to evolve, but I think my over-riding aim is to show that everyone, even the horrible characters like Lavinia, have a back story and there is a reason that they behave as they do. A reviewer commented after Trials that it was fairly unlikely that Lavinia would still hold a grudge after 30 years, so I wondered if there might be some other reason, and indeed there is. I do love showing how God is working in Issy's life and how the way she's changing is affecting those around her. This thread will certainly continue. Also all the stuff about relational wounds resonates with me, particularly at the moment, and I really wanted to explore it in this book.
One part I find deeply moving is when Isabella’s inner walls suddenly begin to crumble when she hears a certain hymn being sung in church. Her subsequent helpless tears and memories of loss and trauma resonated deeply with me. Buried hurts and wounded emotions are a strong theme in this book and many would gel with those themes. I tackle them myself in my teaching/devotional books but have really seen the impact of exploring them in a story like this. It has so many characters that are having to face deep issues - Issy herself, her mother, Sofija, Amanda, Silvia, Claire . . . Would you say that this was one of the reasons you started writing this book and series?
Ruth Yes, me too. I wanted her to face up to some of the terrible trauma which has been visited on her, but which she has buried so successfully for years. I also love the thought that she finds people in a little Suffolk church who are so wise and ready to counsel her. That's an interesting question. I didn't set out to do it, but as time's gone by, I have done it more and more.
I love your combination of humour, pathos and self-realisation in this book. I often found myself laughing out loud at one moment then in tears the next. Isabella’s infatuation with all that is ‘so now’ is exasperating and yet its hugely endearing that she starts to let go of the need to be perfect, even embracing hairy legs (so long as they can’t be seen!) Do you see yourself or someone close to you in her need to be perfect and successful? For me, who’s never mastered the art of being ‘on trend,’ I found it hugely comforting that ‘perfect’ Isabella was realising her need both to step back and step down. Was that a message you deliberately wove in?
Ruth Thank you! Yes, I knew that Issy would stop waxing and I wanted to make that funny but also a stage in her journey of self-realisation. I've always pushed myself and held myself to ridiculously high standards so in that respect I'm like her. But I liked the notion of a woman who makes her living by pretending to be perfect taking a long hard look at why that is, hairy legs and all.
Another key message seems to be forgiveness. God’s forgiveness of us, ours of those who have hurt us and of ourselves too. How important is this message to you?
Ruth Massively important. I've spent so long thinking, praying and talking about it and it is never "done". I wanted it to be a key theme in all the books. It's powerful stuff.
Ruth I would love to explore so much more with you, in fact I’d love to sit at the island in Isabella’s lovely kitchen and drink a posh coffee (or in my case a tea!) together while discussing many more of the amazing strands that you have woven into The Continuing Times . . . But space won’t allow for that, so I just want to ask - is there anything you can say to those like me, who have never yet written one story let alone 3 and who feel daunted at the thought of starting. How to create character, how to plan an authentic plot? Can you encourage us?
Oh listen, we need to do that! I always say, "life is copy". Look into your own life, remember funny stories, think about people you've met and start to sketch out ideas. For me, the discipline of writing a monthly blog really helped me with creative writing. Read, read, read. Devour books by people you admire that work for you, investigate why you like them so much, make copious notes and apply to that to your own writing. Also, remember that when a story is ready, it will come out naturally. You don't need to force it.
Thank you so much Tracy.
Tracy williamson is a (rather slow) writer and (somewhat verbose) speaker whose passion is to see people becoming wholly what God made them to be. Tracy, who is deaf and partially sighted lives and shares ministry and fun with her great friend Marilyn Baker, sharing a home in Kent with their 2 assistance dogs Arlo and Bailey. Tracy has just completed her 9th book (Title yet to be decided on) and as well as writing Tracy loves, (amongst many other things) boating on rough seas, chocolate, being with friends, reading novels, red wine and helpless laughter.