An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Ruth Hogan

The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel (William Morrow, 21 February 2017)

Ruth Hogan is the debut author of The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel, winner of the RICHARD AND JUDY AUTUMN BOOK CLUB 2017 and the perfect read if you want to switch off from the challenges of the day and dive into an enchanting tale about how seemingly innocuous objects hold magic and meaning in our lives once they are lost.

 AUTHORLINK: Ms Hogan, thank you for taking the time to speak to us here at Authorlink about your debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel. We loved it; it was thoroughly enjoyable. When you were writing it, did you love it too? In other words, did you enjoy writing it or were their parts that were tricky for you? 

I have to love what I’m working on otherwise I’m convinced it will show in the quality of the writing.

HOGAN: I have to love what I’m working on otherwise I’m convinced it will show in the quality of the writing. When I’m working on a book, I create my own little world – surround myself with objects and pictures which relate to the story, even create a soundtrack which evokes the atmosphere of the book. The part that was most tricky for me was Douglas’ death as one of my own rescue dogs died just a few days earlier (it was purely coincidental) and I wrote it through my tears.

AUTHORLINK: How sad; yes, we can imagine. What was the inspiration behind it and how long did it take you to write? Did you aim for a certain amount of words every day? 

 HOGAN: The Keeper of Lost Things began with a single sentence that came into my head on a train journey, but it took a while before the rest of the story came to me. It was inspired by two news articles – the first about the strange things that end up in Lost Property Departments, and the second about the fate of cremation remains that are never claimed from funeral directors. My leading man, Anthony Peardew, was inspired by a former neighbour of mine who, I was told, became a reclusive hoarder after the tragic death of his fiancée. I named him Anthony and gave him a house called Padua, because Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things. Peardew was a little joke that I had with myself. It is pronounced in the same way as ‘perdu’ – the French word for ‘lost’. Anthony’s fiancée, Therese, was named after Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was also known as Saint Therese of the Roses, which just happen to be my favourite flowers. The book took me about 18 months to write, but I don’t have a particular routine and I certainly don’t set myself a target number of words per day. For me, writing is a creative process and how much I do each day varies enormously. Sometimes I’m awake and at my desk at 4am, other times I’ll work very late into the night. Some days I’ll only write a couple of paragraphs. But I never worry about not getting on with on with it. I have a much bigger problem dragging myself away from my desk and doing something other than writing!

AUTHORLINK: For years you had clung to the security of a sensible, well-paid job in Human Resources. Your writing was just a hobby, even though you had studied English and Drama at Goldsmiths College, University of London. However, in your early thirties, you had a car accident which left you unable to work full-time and convinced you to start writing seriously. In 2012, you were unfortunately diagnosed with cancer and when chemo kept you up at night you passed the time writing The Keeper of Lost Things. What a remarkable journey you’ve had to reach this point in time. Can you tell us a bit more about this and how your novel developed in the time you wrote it?

I have quite an obsessive personality – once I start something I have to give it my very best shot – and I am absolutely passionate about writing.

HOGAN: I have always written bits and pieces, but never really took it seriously until after my car accident. I have quite an obsessive personality – once I start something I have to give it my very best shot – and I am absolutely passionate about writing. It’s a wonderful form of escape for me and I get completely lost in the world I am trying to create on the page. This was an unexpected blessing when I was having chemo and a welcome distraction. I had the beginning and ending of KEEPER when I started writing, but I had to work out how to link the two! It was also enormous fun living with my characters, watching them develop and seeing where their journeys led them. Whilst I was writing the book, I became The Keeper of Lost Things. I began gathering in lost items that I found and taking them home. I also posted pictures of them on Instagram.

AUTHORLINK: Would you agree your book is written with an omniscient point of view (POV)? What is it about this perspective that you like? What is tricky about it?

 HOGAN: Yes, I would agree, but it wasn’t a deliberate choice. When I’m writing I tend to just go with my gut instinct and that’s just how this story came out. I guess for KEEPER this perspective was particularly suitable, but it was a bit of a juggling act because of the number of characters involved.

AUTHORLINK: What had you written before? Other books and short stories? Diary entries? Blogs or articles? How would you say you had evolved creatively from say, university, up until you published The Keeper of Lost Things

 HOGAN: I had drafted a couple of other novels, but they were just raw material. I’d written a couple of short stories for competitions (I never won anything!), several best man’s speeches and a couple of funeral speeches. I never seem to have time to keep a diary, and I had no social media accounts whatsoever before I was signed by my agent. I think the main thing that has helped me evolve as a writer from university up until now is my own life experience.

AUTHORLINK: That’s interesting. Tell us how you found your agent, Laura Macdougall and how long it took?

 HOGAN: I had made submissions to several agents and been rejected before I contacted Laura. I approached Laura because she was looking for new authors and she seemed like a ‘good fit’ for me and my writing. She replied to my email submission within the hour asking for the full manuscript of KEEPER and within days we met in London and I signed with Laura on the day we met. It happened very quickly but I knew within minutes of meeting her that she was the right agent for me.

 AUTHORLINK: That sounds like a dream come true! When you finished writing The Keeper of Lost Things, how many times did you edit it? A manuscript is usually edited by the agent and again later, at the publishers. Did this happen to your book?

 I edit as I write. I write a chapter in long hand and then type it on my laptop – first edit.

HOGAN: I edit as I write. I write a chapter in long hand and then type it on my laptop – first edit. I then print it off and read it a couple of times, leave it overnight and then make any amendments on my laptop – second edit. When I’ve completed the whole manuscript, I read it through again, but rarely make any changes at that point. My agent helped me to polish KEEPER before it went out to publishers, and then of course there was a final edit with my publisher.

AUTHORLINK: Okay, great. How do you take constructive criticism? Do you take it on the chin or to heart? Who was your first reader?

HOGAN: I’m always seeking to learn and to improve my writing, and so I need to listen to constructive criticism (although it’s not always easy!). I trust both my agent and my editor completely, so I know that if they’re asking me to change anything they have good reason for doing so. My first reader is always my writing buddy, Peter, who also writes and owns an antiquarian bookshop.

AUTHORLINK: Did you have any input on the cover? It’s beautiful and fits perfectly with its charming warmth. 

 HOGAN: I was fully consulted about the cover but was happy to leave it in the very capable hands of the team at Two Roads. I was extremely lucky to have some amazing people working on the design including a very talented artist who creates sculptures from paper and made the beautiful roses on the cover.

AUTHORLINK: Do you have any ideas for who you would like to play the lead roles if it were ever picked up by a studio?

 HOGAN: Of course! Tom Hanks or Colin Firth for Anthony, Tom Hiddleston and Bill Nighy for Bomber, Emily Blunt for Laura, Helena Bonham Carter for Eunice and Tom Hardy for Freddy.

AUTHORLINK: Perfect! Tell us about your next book, The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes (Two Roads, 3 May 2018) What is it about? How long did that one take to write? What are you working on now?

My second book took me about 12 months to complete and tells the story of Masha . . . 

HOGAN: My second book took me about 12 months to complete and tells the story of Masha, once a spirited and independent woman whose life has been destroyed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls in her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain. But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a former convent girl and magician’s wife, now a seventy-something roller-disco fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again. Until the fateful day when the past comes roaring back…

I’m currently working on a number of different projects including research for my next novel.

 AUTHORLINK: That sounds intriguing! And one final question, just for fun, if you could invite any three people over for dinner, living or dead, who would it be and why? And what would be on the menu? 

 HOGAN: Peter Ustinov because he was a great raconteur, Tom Hardy because he’s a fellow dog lover and also because I could try and persuade him to be in the film, and Whoopi Goldberg because I think she’s amazing. We would eat Melanzane alla Parmigiana followed by salted caramel ice cream and drink champagne!

AUTHORLINK: Ha! Ms Hogan, it was brilliant talking to you today. We wish you all the very best in your career and for The Keeper of Lost Things.

HOGAN: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

About the Author Ruth was born in the house where her parents still live in Bedford. As a child, she read everything she could lay her hands on. Luckily, her mum worked in a bookshop.

She studied English and Drama at Goldsmiths College, University of London, then worked for ten years in a senior local government position (Human Resources – Recruitment, Diversity and Training) until she had a serious car accident which left her unable to work full-time.

It was then she decided to start writing seriously. In 2012 she was diagnosed with cancer, and when chemotherapy kept her up at night she passed the time writing, with the eventual result being THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS.

Her latest book, THE PARTICULAR WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES will be published by Two Roads on 3 May 2018.

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