Interview with Ruby Norman Curran: Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Ruby’s Bio:
Ruby is an award-winning copywriter and storyteller from Oxford, England. In 2015 she won The Moth StorySLAM in London, and this year her copy has been recognized by the Lovie Awards and The Drum Awards for advertising. This is her first foray into flash fiction.

She studied English at Exeter University, and credits Kerry Ryan’s outstanding ‘Write like a grrrl’ course in London for giving her confidence in her own voice (and the advice, “Ladies, next time someone asks you what you do, tell them you’re a writer. You know every man who’s ever even thought about doing a podcast calls himself a writer. Why can’t you?”)

Her greatest ambition is to find, and forcibly befriend Stevie Nicks.

It’s important to have goals.

If you’ve haven’t read it already, follow the link to Ruby’s award-winning story “Half Sure.” Then return here for a chat so that you can learn about Ruby’s writing process.

WOW: In Half Sure you’ve created a character and a situation that feel immediate and real. What was the inspiration behind this story? What made it the one you had to work on next?

Ruby: It all started with the café. Cafes in books and films tend to be romantic places, and I wanted to show one that reflected the kind of cafes I’ve always known – the slightly rubbish, hippy ones that someone probably started up from their living room way before it was cool to be vegan. I was in the process of moving jobs when I wrote “Half Sure,” a lot of clandestine café meetings were involved, so I was being consistently reminded of the almost ritualistic importance of food and drink as a catalyst for social interaction, and from that starting place the themes of food, and control, sort of spilled out organically.

In my first draft the characters had no redeeming features. My boyfriend read it and said “Babe, maybe give people something to root for…?” which I’m not sure I took very graciously at the time, but he was right. I completely rewrote the story after that. I explored their motivations more.

The weird thing about writing is how your characters start becoming their own people. They start saying things you wouldn’t expect or acting in a way you yourself never would. They surprise you. They’re alive, and once characters are alive you tend to think of them differently – you yourself also want to know what they’ll do. That’s when you know it’s the piece that you’re going to finish next. You want to get to the end as much as everyone else.

WOW: That’s so true about getting to know your living characters. Let’s focus now on flash fiction. So much of writing flash fiction is choosing what to include and what to omit. What informed these decisions for you?

Ruby: I had a whole other part of the story that I cut in the end. I realized that if I was canny, I could tell both stories, through the actions of the characters. The words told one story the actions another. A theme I’ve noticed in my own life.

When I was younger I had a boyfriend who said the right things, but started sleeping with his back to me. It felt wrong. But I couldn’t say “Your sleeping position is making me feel weird” without sounding quite mad, so I ignored the instinct. When I found out he’d been seeing other people behind my back the action came back to me. Another language. I was reading it, but passing it up for what was being overtly said. What he said and what he did - the stories didn’t match. It gave him away.

And that has always fascinated me; the way people deceive, self-deceive, and reveal. I guess elements of that ended up in the story.

I also ended up writing my ending about half way through – if a line didn’t take me towards that conclusion in some way it was cut.

WOW: Now you’ve got my wondering about my own work-in-progress. How long will it be if I cut using that rule? You are also a copywriter. How do your skills in writing copy come into play when you right fiction?

Ruby: I spend a significant amount of my day editing my own writing. In copywriting it’s usually about cutting something down to its purest form, making it snappy and an instant get – like, how can I get an idea across in a three-word slogan? It’s very disciplined, which probably isn’t who I am naturally. Doing it every day keeps me sharp, and helps when it comes to editing my own fiction.

It also teaches you how to deal with rejection. I write pieces that get rejected every day in work. It’s just part of the job. When you write fiction it’s like giving a slice of your real self away. It’s very uncomfortable. But working in an industry that consumes creativity allows you to see it as a piece of work, not a bit of you.

WOW: Good point. In your bio, you talk about finding your voice. What advice do you have for readers who are still trying to find their voice?

Ruby: The first hurdle is starting. Just start.

If you end up sounding like someone else, try and listen to how the people around you speak. Then try and learn to write in other people’s voices, it’ll make you very suddenly aware of your own.

I also think learning to edit your own work is important. Write something you quite like. Edit. Edit again. Let people read it. Try not to throw up as they give you feedback. Edit again. Accept it will never be perfect. Send it anyway. Get rejected. Fuck them they wouldn’t know good writing if it hit them in the – drink a gin and tonic. Do some research and send it to people who are more likely to publish your stuff. Send it again. Don’t stop.

So much of art is personal taste. If your piece isn’t accepted straight away, it doesn’t mean it was bad. It just means it wasn’t to one person’s taste.

Which brings me on to advice - listen to all of it, but don’t take all of it. It’s easy to assume that someone else who is more experienced is inherently ‘right’ about your work. But it’s your work. Take heed or totally ignore as you see fit. And you happen to be a London based lady who wants to write check out Kerry
Ryan’s unparalleled ‘Write like a grrl’ (not a typo. Like Riot Grrl). It taught me good habits and is hands down the best course out there.

WOW: What are your long term writing goals? Where can Muffin readers look for your work in the future?

Ruby: I have a website where some of my writing can be seen, it’s inventively called and contains a few of my creative endeavours.

At the beginning of the year (so close to the beginning I was still drunk from NYE) I made a rash promise on Viktor Wynd’s Instagram to write a novel in 2019. I’m not sure it’s a promise I can keep, but hey. Everyone starts somewhere.

WOW: Thank you, Ruby! Your advice is going to help move so many of us forward as well as encouraging us to try new things.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Thanks for posting this interview and the link to Ruby's story.

Ruby--The way your character spoke through their actions was amazing. As far as your goal of writing a novel... If you think characters take on a life of their own when writing a short story, wait until you write a novel. They become quite brazen, and take the story off into different directions you never dreamed of.

Good luck with the novel (take your own advice--"Just start it") and with Stevie Nicks.

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