If asked to describe an author of novels about murder and cannibalism you could be forgiven for conjuring an image of an intense and slightly sinister character. So, it’s rather a shock when I meet Ruth Dugdall, the award winning author of ‘The Woman Before Me’ and ‘The Sacrificial Man’. I’m greeted by a petite red head with a warm smile and a personality to match. So, where do her dark, disturbing stories come from?
Ruth Dugdall was born in Yorkshire but moved to Suffolk as a young child and, until her recent move to Luxembourg, lived in the coastal town of Felixstowe. She studied English and Theatre Studies at Warwick University and always enjoyed writing but never thought that she could be ‘a writer‘.
‘I didn’t think you could be a writer as a career. It certainly wasn’t something the careers department offered. They had creative writing groups at university but I didn’t join them. They were all dressed in black and walked around looking intense and glamorous!’
Inspired by a prison drama workshop, Ruth decided to train as a probation officer and always wanted to work with prison inmates. For over ten years her case load focused on offenders, including juveniles, deemed ‘high risk’; guilty of stalking, rape and murder. Ruth’s experiences as a probation officer make sense of her ability to write unflinchingly about mental illness, violence and the worst aspects of human nature.
‘If you’re going to be a writer, you’ve got to write. Everyday. Ignore the washing that needs to be done, the daytime tv. Give yourself deadlines. Do something every day. Just sit down and write”
So, how does one become a successful author? In Ruth’s case you use your maternity leave to write an award winning crime novel. Ruth’s first published novel, ‘The Woman Before Me” won the CWA Debut Dagger Award. However, despite her initial success, Ruth still struggled to get her book published and was frequently told that no-one would be interested in reading about a probation officer. Time and again she was asked to re-write the novel from the point of view of a lawyer, a policewoman or a journalist. Fortunately Ruth stuck to her guns and the book was eventually published in its original form.
In ‘The Woman Before Me” Ruth used her experience of working with convicted stalkers to frame the gripping story of Rose, a woman convicted of murdering the child of her partner’s ex wife. The novel introduced the central character of Cate Austin, a probation officer charged with deciding whether Rose should be released from prison. It’s a testament to the credibility of Cate’s character that Ruth has been contacted by Probation Officers thanking her for shining a light on the probation services pivotal role in the UK justice system.
‘My books explore the darker areas of human behavior and how long held secrets can affect the present.’
Ruth’s second novel was inspired by the German case of Armin Meiwes, ‘the Cannibal Killer’. ‘The Sacrificial Man’ tells the story of Alice, a woman who responds to an advert from Jenkins, a man looking for someone to kill him. After his death Alice finds herself charged with murder and Cate Austin is tasked with deciding how Alice should be sentenced. Cate is tested to the limits when it becomes clear that the case involves something more sinister than a simple suicide pact and Jenkins diary reveals that he may not have been all that he seemed.
I ask Ruth whether she might consider writing a book set in Luxembourg and she says that she is already considering a story which is inexorably entwined with the Duchy’s land locked status. So, if in future months you find yourself under the gaze of a petite red- head, be warned – you could be the subject of her next novel!