Ruth Louise Symes
How many books have you had published?
I’ve had three novels published - The Master of Secrets, The Mum Trap and Frankie’s Romeo. Plus I’m waiting to hear back on a couple of novel manuscripts that are out with publishers at the moment. Three younger readers - The Twelfth Floor Kids, Chip’s Dad and Play - if you Dare. And three picture books about to be published - The Sheep Fairy, Floppy Ears and Floppy Ears and Little Tail.
So I’m working in three’s at the moment but hopefully it’ll be fours soon and then fives and then....
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
I wrote for fun when I was at Junior School, stopped when I was at Secondary School and started again at College. When I was at Junior School I had a whole term off school because I had whooping cough and spent all my time reading and when I went back to school we did a test and I’d gone from near the bottom of the class in English to near the top - after that I kept on reading!
Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else
have you done/do you still do?
I haven’t always earned my living as a writer. I’ve also been a teacher of children with special needs - both in the UK and in Singapore. I’ve acted in the pantomime Mother Goose - I played Jill Goose, Mother Goose’s daughter. Sang in four operas. Been an aerobics instructor, worked on Camp America, been a Saturday girl in a clothes shop and worked for a fast food restaurant (only I got the sack).
When was your first book published and what was it called?
My first book was published in 1997 by Puffin. It was a novel and called The Master of Secrets. It went on the long list for the Carnegie and then Puffin wrote to say they weren’t printing any more. I couldn’t stop crying when I heard but it meant that I started to diversify the types of books I wrote and to write for a range of different publishers and also to write for TV and film rather than just concentrating on novels.
The Master of Secrets is available through my website www.ruthsymes.com
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
It took a very long time for me to tell anyone I wanted to be a writer. I think I was scared someone would say I couldn’t (although I don’t know who!). Then I went on a one week Arvon course and found that I could. After that first course I went on a one day course with Louise Jordan who was the reader for Puffin, and after that course I sent a story to Puffin and Louise passed it to the Editor Lucy Ogden (sadly no longer at Puffin - she was brilliant) and Lucy phoned to say they couldn’t use my story but liked my style and would I like to come out to lunch to talk about my writing. That was in March 95 and six months later, in September 95, they bought The Master of Secrets and it came out in 1997.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
It always used to be The Master of Secrets but now I think it’s The Sheep Fairy - to be published by Chicken House in October 2003.
Which is your favourite children’s book written by someone else?
My favourite novel has to be Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones. Its sort of like a comfort blanket book for me that I must have read about six times and lent to loads of people.
My favourite picture book is Bad Day by Jeni Couzyn and Horton
Hatches an Egg by Doctor Seuss
And I’d better stop answering this question as I keep thinking of more favourite books.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends on the book. Hard to say really - it varies so much - from a few weeks to a few years for one book I put aside and then picked up and started writing again.
Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I write in long hand. I love writing in long hand.
Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when you feel like it?
I try to write for a minimum of 30 hours a week - but let myself do those 30 hours whenever I like. And because those 30 hours are anything related to my writing career they can include talks and reading and research.
Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
I don’t think of it as rewriting, it’s just making the book/script as good as it can possibly be before I send it out into the world.
Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group? If so, did it
I went along to writer’s critique group once for a few weeks and didn’t find it helpful at all. The people were quite scary in fact and seemed to want to destroy each other’s ideas. But I do have some great writing friends and I found the Arvon courses very helpful and supportive. I also like going along to writers’ groups that don’t critique each other and are more like social events.
Do you have an agent?
I have an agent for some of my work but send out most of my manuscripts myself. I think direct contact with publisher’s editors is important. You don’t need an agent to sell your books - most of mine, including my first one, I sold without an agent. But you should join the Society of Authors when you get your first contract and don’t sign it until they’ve checked it through.
Why do you like writing for children?
I like the variety - working on a picture book one day, a novel the next, TV and film. Writing for The Hoobs was fantastic. I’d love to do some more writing for puppets and animation. Plus there’s the talks for adults and children. School talks are really good fun and the kids are so enthusiastic . Luckily I have books for all age groups to talk about and do workshops on. And earlier this year I was able to write over in America for 5 weeks and email the work back to the UK. I am already starting to plan where to go to write for a few months next year - New Zealand is top of my list at the moment.
Then of course, there’s the unexpected things that happen. Recently I was the Writing Coach on Channel 4’s Richard and Judy show and one of the judges for their Write a Children’s Short Story competition.
How do you get your ideas?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. Ideas aren’t ever a problem. I just think what shall I write about? And hundreds of ideas come pouring into my head.
Do you draw the pictures for your books? If so, which comes first
- the words or the pictures.
No - but I did do an illustrator’s course for a term at the City Lit - which I found very helpful for when I write picture books.
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Do an Arvon Course. Or come to my Summer School course at Middlesex University. Try to write for an hour at least everyday. Read absolutely tons of children’s books.
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Yes I regularly do visits to schools. Contract me through my website www.ruthsymes.com.
Have you won any awards or prizes?
The Mum Trap was voted in the top 100 books for 2000. I won a Paws TV Drama award for the treatment of my novel Frankie’s Romeo in 2000 too. My screenplay for The Mum Trap, titled Pizzas, Pimples and Polly was runner up in the 2001 Sir Peter Istinov Screenwriting Award.
I was a finalist in the Cosmopolitan Women of Achievement Award in 1999.
For a list of Ruth Symes books in print, visit Ruth's website, www.ruthsymes.com.