The Writing Life of: Ru Pringle
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Ru Pringle. Ru will be sharing with us details of his writing life, telling us all about his latest book ‘October Song‘, which was released on 3rd November 2018 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Ru Pringle has written for a living since his late teens, beginning with regular features in numerous magazines and newspapers. His critically acclaimed early short fiction was published in Interzone.
After several years as a touring musician, his first two books were published in the summer of 2018: A Time of Ashes and Hunting Gods, the first parts of the fantasy / SF epic Fate and the Wheel. A dark near-future thriller, October Song, followed in October 2018. He is currently editing a centuries-spanning two-part space opera for publishing in Spring 2019.
Ru Pringle lives in the southwest Highlands of Scotland.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
Yes – I wanted to be a wildlife cameraman, but realised fairly quickly that I lacked the patience to capture the kinds of images I was seeing on TV programmes like the BBC’s Life on Earth. Work experience in nature reserves in my early teens showed me that while I enjoyed being outside, running around putting out heath fires and stuff like that, I’d get frustrated tied to one place doing only practical work. I knew early on that I wanted to study environmental science at university. My degree proved sobering – for example, my director of studies was involved in finding the so-called ‘smoking gun’ – the molecular marker directly linking the carbon increase in the atmosphere to fossil fuels.
My dad had got me into photography at around the age of eleven, and to help me through university I started writing and taking photographs for mountaineering magazines. Practical conservation proved a career dead-end, so after a couple of years involved in postgrad research, I became a full-time freelance photojournalist. That morphed into travel journalism, particularly ecotourism, which occasionally dipped back into science. Not quite a ‘dream job’ – the pay was terrible – but I had some great experiences. When I could find time, I wrote short stories and worked on my first novels.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
I read J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit when I was about eight, thought (hilariously, in retrospect) it was a bit childish, then began reading The Lord of the Rings – and it blew my mind. It’s still my favourite book, the one I tend to judge everything else by, and the only one I’ve read more than three times. Ironically, I only appreciated The Hobbit as an adult, picking up on all the dark undercurrents that I’d missed as a kid.
I also loved Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough – both knew how to spin a good yarn, with the benefit that the yarns were both extraordinary and true. I went through a serious Willard Price phase: basically fictionalised Gerald Durrell for kids. I’m a little embarrassed at that, looking back, but I found them very engaging at the time, and they probably helped shape my view of the world.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
Yes, quite early. I wrote (and illustrated) short stories in the first half of my teens, including quite a few which had nothing to do with schoolwork. I never gave any thought to publishing anything, but looking back I’m surprised by some of my early efforts. Unfortunately, SFF wasn’t seen as a ‘proper’ genre by any of my teachers, so I got completely discouraged until my mid-20s, when I finally thought ‘I can do this.’
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
There isn’t really a typical writing day. I’m a musician too, and a few other things, so writing often has to be fitted around other commitments. Also, there are periods where I’m just not in ‘the zone’.
When I am, I’ll get up at around 10am, make myself a hot chocolate, and still be writing until the small hours next morning. I can be focused for weeks like this. I don’t fix a schedule: my aim’s generally just to get as much writing (or editing) done in as short a time as possible. Afterwards, I’ll watch Netflix just to try and wind down, go to bed – and then do the same next day. Some days I’ll write ten thousand words. Others I’ll barely manage five hundred.
Editing’s what I find hardest: I keep kidding myself that half the work’s over when I’ve finished a draft, but editing a book into shape takes easily eighty percent of my time. I’ve been known to take more than a day editing a couple of paragraphs if they stubbornly refuse to get into shape.
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
I’ve written six books so far, three of which are published. I’m currently doing final edits for a two-part SF epic which will hopefully be out next year.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A combination. I don’t like plotting too tightly because I feel characters are crucial. It’s easy to write them into corners where they’d have to act out of character to serve the intended plot. I’ve had highly regarded authors yank me right out of a story they’ve written because their creations behaved in ways that made no internal sense: for me, it’s more jarring than a plot hole.
I keep being surprised how characters in my own stories won’t behave. Minor characters demand attention you hadn’t planned, while important characters turn out to be more comfortable in the background (or killed off!). I think you need to be flexible. That said, there are definitely times when I’d have given anything for a plot carefully detailed in advance!
Concerning your latest book:
Pages – 451
Release Date – 3rd November 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-1730779190
Format – ebook, paperback
COIRA KEIR is a long-serving police officer. Abrasive, but respected by her peers, she has an enviable track record. When a bomb explodes outside the North British Council Building at Holyrood, Edinburgh, dozens of bystanders are left dead. Among the critically wounded is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, whose safety was Keir’s responsibility.
Now Keir is missing.
Army veteran Sebastian Blakeslee is an operational advisor for MI5, the domestic security agency of the United Kingdom. Lorna Ainsworth is the agency’s territorial chief. Together, they find themselves leading a joint police and MI5 taskforce. Its mission: track Keir down before more bombs go off. What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase towards the front of an intensifying war – along a wild coast where thousands of desperate boat-borne refugees are hiding. Meanwhile, someone seems prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to stop Keir being found.
With elements of police procedural, spy novel and political action thriller, October Song is both a darkly gripping roller-coaster ride and a blistering reflection on a world on the edge of collapse.
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
I began just writing what I knew. It’s set in Scotland (or what Scotland becomes in two decades time), and I know most of the places described fairly well. A lot of the geographical descriptions involved trawls through my photo library, and I found Google Earth an invaluable tool for getting detail right. It’s – in part – a political thriller, and the political landscape is a best-guess projection from events happening in the UK and the world right now, though, again, I had to refine a lot of detail using mainly online sources. Things are so volatile (and grimly fascinating) here right now, who knows what will happen?
The same goes for the physical world the characters find themselves trying to survive in. That came largely from my scientific background studying the interplay between humans and the biosphere and atmosphere, updated via scientific journals and magazines. I also read up and watched videos on stuff like trends in IT and military hardware.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
This one was unusually quick for me: the first draft was finished in around four months, and that was mostly in the evenings after building work I was doing during the day. I think I write better after a bit of hard physical work. As always, editing took much longer. I was nibbling away at that over a couple of years.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
It cropped up early on. There’s a key scene where one of the main characters is listening to an old song by Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band, whose title and lyrics seemed to sum up the flavour of the story. Like the book, there’s humour and even some joy, but ultimately it’s about an autumn of things.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
Not much of one, without spoilers! One of the leads has become the subject of a manhunt after a terrorist bombing. She’s quite a dark character, with a far from happy past, but, as the story goes on, she finds she’s more of a survivor than either she or her pursuers might have believed. She has a fierce personal sense of right and wrong, even if some of the things she does are questionable.
One of my favourite characters is one of the intelligence officers charged with trying to track her down – ferociously intelligent, kind of mysterious, and utterly relentless, at times beyond reason.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
A painful one! I had editors lavishing praise on the book … before saying it didn’t fit their catalogues. One said it was beautifully written, but too dark for her. After discussing with my agent, I took the difficult decision to self-publish. So far I’ve been amazed at the response – it’s had entirely 5 star reviews on Amazon in the UK, with comparisons to Iain Banks (which I’m delighted about – he’s one of my favourite authors). But marketing self-published books is very hard.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
Once the forthcoming two books are finished, I’ll be working on screenplays. The first’s for a film called ‘The Cello’, which I’m very excited about, as a known actress is already interested in the lead. The second’s a feature-length adaptation of ‘October Song’. Early next year I plan to start writing a far-future SF epic. This’ll be about a woman with a murky CV and some surprising abilities who’s appointed herself guardian of a remote planet.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
For the day? The power to extend a day indefinitely.
2) Do you have any pets?
Not living ones (make of that what you will …).
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
Oh *$&%. Not Again!
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
The Prime Minister. Exploding.
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Somewhere I’ve not been before.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘Darling … I told you those mushrooms you put in the lasagne weren’t Boletus.’
I would like to say a big thank you to Ru Pringle for sharing with us details of his writing life and for a wonderful interview.