Interview: Kate Simants on the publication of her winning novel, A RUINED GIRL

Happy publication day! What do you have planned and how does it feel to see A RUINED GIRL out in the world?

It is SO exciting to send the book out into the world after such a long time: between planning it, writing it, editing, finding a publisher and then editing again, it’s been a long old road! What I’m looking forward to most is actually seeing someone reading it – that’s been a proper ambition of mine. I’ll try to just quietly enjoy the moment rather than running over and screaming ‘I wrote that!’ but I can’t promise anything.

Unfortunately because of obvious restrictions I can’t really have the sort of launch I’d really like to host – I’m going to have to make do with a few little zoom celebrations and a lot of happy tweeting. I’m staying at a friend’s holiday house on the coast this week so I’ll round off the day with fish and chips and a bottle of champagne on the beach, too. Not so shabby!

Our readers tore through A RUINED GIRL. Any tips on how you make your writing so unputdownable?

I’m brutal with myself these days! My early writing was all about thoughts and feelings, and even though I thought I was being dead clever, it made for dry, kind of boring reading. The majority of people don’t read for your philosophical commentary: they want to be entertained. So I make sure that each scene has a clear trajectory, and that motives are clear and characters are active. Vonnegut says every word has to advance the plot, and I try to remember that advice – everything you do has to develop the story or deepen character, and if it doesn’t, it’s likely to make it drag.

It’s such a cleverly plotted book with multiple viewpoint characters who keep the reader guessing to the very end. How did you construct it?

I often ask myself the same thing! I’m always fairly surprised when it all comes together at the end. That said, I do use spreadsheets – who knows what and when, what happens in each scene, who it’s told by etc. Works for me, and it’s satisfying to colour the blocks in green when they’re done!

What was the spark for writing A RUINED GIRL?

I wrote A RUINED GIRL when I was doing an MA at the University of East Anglia – I was in the very first intake of their Crime Fiction course. My first priority was to write something entertaining – I wanted it to be pacy and thrilling with characters you really cared about, but also with an underlying theme that carried some weight.

So the book was informed by an investigation I’d worked on for Channel 4 some years ago, about the care industry and the children living in children’s homes. I worked undercover in several homes, looking at things like neglect, issues with safeguarding, and the risk and reality of abuse.

What struck me most was the financial side of it: that care is an industry, and organisations and the individuals in charge of them can make huge amounts of money, while the actual care staff are on minimum wage and the kids themselves can end up being processed by a system that doesn’t really care about their futures.

It was pretty heartbreaking to be honest. We were investigating a broad spectrum of issues within the children’s home sector for a Dispatches documentary, and I worked undercover at homes across the country to unearth the kind of bad practise that has blighted the industry. At the heart of it was the profiteering – it costs more to keep a child in a children’s home than it does to send them to Eton, and people can make huge amounts of money from exploiting that.

Children’s homes are pretty much the last resort for kids who, for whatever reason, can’t be brought up by their families, and that’s inevitably going to take its toll on their self-worth, which will go on to affect their choices in life, and their futures. Children with these disrupted backgrounds aren’t going to be the confident, well-mannered kids who get the breaks or the benefit of the doubt in life, and I wanted to explore their stories and  go behind the scenes and illuminate some of the personal challenges they can face.

A lot of the young people I met were challenging – happy, stable children simply don’t often end up in state care – and by creating the characters of teenagers Luke and Paige I wanted to explore what might be going on behind the angry, uncooperative, often violent exteriors of young people who felt abandoned. I also wanted to contrast that with a sense of family, of hope and love and redemption.

My favourite books are the ones with characters I can remember long after the plot has faded (I have a terrible memory for plots!) because it’s the humans that make the stories really alive, after all – so I’m hoping that with Luke, Paige, Wren and Suzy, that’s something that comes across.

Photo credit: Emma Seal

Kate Simants lives in Bristol and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University and another in Crime Fiction from the University of East Anglia where she was the recipient of the UEA Literary Festival Scholarship.  

 

A RUINED GIRL is out now with Viper Books and you can order your copy at: 

Amazon    |    Waterstones    |    Foyles    |    The Guardian

On a dark night two years ago, teenagers Rob and Paige broke into a house. They beat and traumatised the occupants, then left, taking only a bracelet. No one knows why, not even Luke, Rob’s younger brother and Paige’s confidant. Paige disappeared after that night. And having spent her life in children’s homes and the foster system, no one cared enough to look for her.

Now Rob is out of prison, and probation officer Wren Reynolds has been tasked with his rehabilitation. But Wren has her own reasons for taking on Rob as a client. Convinced that Rob knows what happened to Paige, and hiding a lifetime of secrets from her heavily pregnant wife, Wren’s obsession with finding a missing girl may tear her family apart…

Reviews:

‘A tense, unsettling and emotionally engaging whydunnit that grips from the first page’ – Sophie Hannah, The Sunday Times bestselling author of Haven’t They Grown

‘Gritty, tense, superbly plotted and the run up to the end left me breathless and a bit of an emotional wreck. It’s really good’ – Harriet Tyce, Richard and Judy bestselling author of Blood Orange

‘A complete triumph. An intelligent and deeply satisfying thriller with such vivid characters it’s impossible to believe they aren’t real’ – Elizabeth Haynes, bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner

‘Superb. A rare combination of stunning twists and exceptional prose makes it the perfect read’ – David Jackson, bestselling author of Cry Baby

‘Layer upon layer of secrets, making for a perfectly paced page turner. Past and present are woven together beautifully, and all tied up in an ending that I genuinely did not see coming’ – Robert Scragg, author of What Falls Between the Cracks