Where were you when you heard THE ENEMY INSIDE had won?
I was in the place I’ve spent so much time this past year – hunched over a laptop at home. I knew the announcement was due on Twitter any moment, and when it appeared I think I stopped breathing! It was an extraordinary feeling – utter joy mixed with disbelief.
How have friends and family reacted?
In this year of all years, with everyone struggling through a pandemic, I would have completely understood if people barely reacted. But I’ve been blown away by how wholeheartedly my family and friends have rallied round – they properly get how much this means to me. I loved the wave of messages, and flowers and excitement that came my way. Yet a win in lockdown reminded me how hardwired we are to be together at big moments. I wanted to get down the pub and dissect the news with friends! But I am really thankful to live with people I love. It was wonderful to jump around the kitchen with my sons, and my husband produced a bottle of prosecco he’d been chilling just in case!
Award judge Stephanie Thwaites described your novel as “Accomplished, assured and gripping” and “a magnificent story full of action and suspense, depth and drama.” How did you feel?
When you’re someone like me who wrote in secret for years, it feels dizzying that anyone has even read the whole novel, let alone made comments like that. It was wonderful to realise that Stephanie and the junior judges had been swept along by the story, and it’s given me a much-needed confidence boost.
You were unrepresented when you won. What’s happened since?
I have an agent! It still hasn’t sunk in. I knew that BNA has an amazing track record for seeing listed writers go on to find agents, but somehow I hadn’t let myself believe that I would be one of them. Stephanie and her assistant Izzy Gahan had arranged to speak to me on the evening the prize was announced. I thought it was going to be a congratulatory call, and that I might squeeze in a couple of questions for advice on next steps. Instead I found Stephanie was offering to represent me!
How did you know Stephanie was the agent for you?
I took some time as I was nervous about choosing an agent over Zoom – it’s one of the many stages of this process that would have been so different in another year. I can’t wait to meet her in real life. But what it came down to was how she spoke about the novel – as it is now, and things to explore before we show it to publishers. Nothing she suggested made me wary she didn’t get the heart of the story. In fact her notes made me properly excited and energised to get editing again – no mean feat in lockdown 3!
Describe THE ENEMY INSIDE…
THE ENEMY INSIDE follows the story of Anna Demarco, an Italian girl living in London in 1940. She’s alone and desperate after her father’s arrest, so when she receives a mysterious offer to travel to Oxford on someone else’s identity, she plunges in. But Oxford is not the sleepy backwater she was led to believe. One minute she’s trying to convince her hosts that she really is ‘Annabel Gale’, a rich British schoolgirl. Next minute she’s caught up in solving a mystery of swapped suitcases and a German gun, helped by her new friends. But things take a desperate turn when one of the suspects turns up drowned in the river Thames…
What sparked the idea for THE ENEMY INSIDE?
In the first couple of months of 2020 I had lots of ideas swirling round – a girl with a stolen identity, a train journey, a shocking discovery in a suitcase. I’ve long been fascinated by World War 2 – not so much the major military events, but how the pressures of war shaped peoples’ lives. All sorts of people had a really hard time in Britain during the war because of their identity. Anna slowly came into focus: an outsider who feels she’s got nothing left to lose. Oxford seemed the perfect place to put her to the test – it’s much more than a university town. One of its great strengths is that people from all walks of life live there, and there was some fascinating stuff going on during the war, from Cowley’s aircraft repair and manufacture to secretive organisations taking up space in colleges.
The Junior Judges had great fun eliminating suspects and loved how you made them feel they had time-travelled to WW2 Oxford. Any tips for any children’s writers on nailing historical mysteries?
The Junior Judges are such a wonderful part of this competition, and it’s brilliant to imagine them puzzling their way through the story! There are some fantastic historical mysteries in bookshops at the moment, and I think the key thing is to get the period backdrop right without making it the focus. As part of my research for ENEMY I loved reading about Oxford at war and different communities’ experience of war. But what really matters is crafting a strong, satisfying mystery – if you can do that, you’ll find that your period detail falls into place.
You’ve been longlisted previously with an earlier manuscript. Does that make this win all the sweeter?
Yes! My previous novel shares some DNA with this book, and when it was first long-listed in 2016 I began to believe that writing could become something more than a private passion. It was such a treat to be shortlisted this time, and (as you may have gathered!) I was over the moon to win. There’s something truly special about BNA because of the way it’s judged. This win has let me know what industry professionals AND my core audience think about the book, and that is gold dust.
Where and when do you write?
I wrote a lot of ENEMY in short bursts in a dodgy greenhouse in our garden – 2020 was that kind of year. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have been given a little hut now, and as the weather’s getting better I’m really looking forward to being able to shut myself away in there. I love writing in daylight, and although I’ve learnt that I can write anywhere in any fragments of time, I can’t wait to have longer stretches of time to play with.
Any plans for the £3,000 prize money?
I hope it will buy me more time to write, somehow. I also bought a rug for the shed to keep out the draughts!
You wrote THE ENEMY INSIDE during lockdown – do you think it would have been a different book if written during less unusual times?
That’s a fascinating question. I found the writing of it a real lifeline while so much was upside-down in the world. One of the great gifts of writing is that when you get properly absorbed, everything else falls away. Maybe that intensity gave something a bit different to the story? I can’t imagine that I will write the final scene of a future book while crying in a greenhouse!
You have an MA in Creative Writing – where did you study and what was the best thing you learned?
I finished my MA last September. It was at Oxford Brookes University and I studied part-time over a couple of years to fit around work and childcare. The best thing I learned is how valuable it is to find yourself a writing community. Before the course I’d barely told anyone how much I loved writing. Now I have a pack of brilliant, dedicated writing friends and their feedback and support made all the difference in 2020. Before the course went online due to COVID I loved writing live in a workshop and having my words praised or torn to shreds – it was exhilarating and toughened me up a lot. It was also amazing to have my work read and prodded by a couple of fantastic visiting tutors, Patience Agbabi and Simon Mason. Their challenges and encouragement at just the right time convinced me I wanted to fight on with the story.
So would you recommend that people do a writing course?
I’m really glad I did the MA, but all of those highlights are possible to find in other ways. Writing community, feedback and encouragement are the things that made the difference for me, and you can get those through lots of channels. Competitions are a great way to venture out, and lots now are offering sponsored entries if that’s what you need.
Any tips for any children’s writers working on their first manuscript?
Yes – work, work, work and don’t give up! It takes a phenomenal amount of work to create a story that people will want to read, and it seems that the really hard work comes at different stages for different writers. Some people find the first draft is painful but then editing is fun, others are the opposite. I’m somewhere in between – I do love dreaming a scene up out of nothing, but it’s daunting. Once a draft is done I really enjoy the process of scraping away at the text to make it strong.
What’s next for you?
Once my sons are safely back in school I will have two days a week to write. I’ve already started editing again in spare minutes, and it’s so good to be back in the story. Once that draft goes back to Stephanie, I am fizzing with new ideas, not least the next book in the series. Anna’s story is not neatly packed away at the end of ENEMY, and I can’t wait to get started on what comes next…
Interview by Caroline Ambrose
RUTH MOORE has a degree in history, an MA in Creative Writing and has worked as a teacher, in theatre and at a Norman castle. When she’s not writing or working, she loves running by the sea and going on camping adventures with her boys. She is newly represented by Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown who judged the shortlist chosen by Junior Judges aged 7 to 17. Read the opening of The Enemy Inside and all shortlisted manuscripts. Read the full winner and listees announcement.