Interview: Vanessa Cervantes, Local Author
We talk to Kingston author Vanessa Cervantes, aka Ruby Ridgeway
This month’s hot read is An Unwelcome Obsession, by Ruby Ridgeway, a pen name for Kingston writer Vanessa Cervantes. Her previous book, An Imperfect Perception, was set in North Kingston. She also writes children’s books.
Tell us about your writing journey – when did you start and how?
“I’ve always read a lot and I was living in Spain with access to a very limited library of horrible books and thought I can do better than this. Which of course I couldn’t, not for a very long time and after years of courses and practice. Then when my kids were born, I turned my hand to children’s picture books and began selling The Unbusy Bee and later the rest of The Miniworld of Minibeasts series in Kew Gardens and gift shops in various national parks and lavender farms. As the kids got older, I returned to adult fiction (which always sounds racier than it should) and that’s when I began writing under my porn name Ruby Ridgeway (first pet, first street). I don’t actually do porn but it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality and I wanted to use a different name to the one I’d written the children’s books under. The nice thing about writing is that anyone can do it, anywhere and at any time so there’s no good reason for putting it off.”
What inspired your latest book?
“My novels are always inspired by a mixture of my personal life and news articles or documentaries that have resonated with me. I like to take a perfectly normal happy family and drop a bomb on their lives to see how they react which is probably why people seem to recognise themselves or people they know in the characters.
An Unwelcome Obsession is about a young woman who is swept off her feet by someone who ultimately becomes very controlling and emotionally abusive, leading her family to intervene to stop him – permanently. Unfortunately, I do have first-hand experience of helping a loved one survive a toxic relationship (although I stopped short of murder) and I really wanted to show the effect it has on victims as well as their friends and family by writing each chapter from the perspective of the protagonist, her mother, her sister and occasionally, the boyfriend.
I also like to weave as much humour into my books as possible so despite dealing with some harrowing themes, as with life, there are a few laughs along the way. Except for the children’s books. There are no harrowing scenes in the children’s books. Unless you don’t like spiders.”
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How do you develop your characters?
“I initially start with an outline of who the characters need to be to suit the story but gradually they grow and develop into their own people with their own personalities and all I can do is point them in the right direction and see where they take me. I always know approximately where a story is headed but a lot can change along the way and that’s really down to the strength of the characters interactions with each other and their reactions to the events that take them from A to B. Sometimes they skip B altogether and we end up at F, which is exactly where they belong, although I don’t know it until we get there.”
What’s your writing process?
“The short version is that once the dog’s walked and the kids are all at school, I sit down and dedicate the next six hours until pick up to writing. The long version is that I get up at the crack of dawn to get all the boring houseworky jobs like emptying the dishwasher out of the way. Then I feed the cats and dog, make the kids’ packed lunches, get ready, walk my youngest and the dog to school, get back, hunt down my coffee and reheat it for the ninth time, let the cats and dog in and out of the back door repeatedly, look for my coffee again, explain to the dog we aren’t going out for a walk because we’ve just had one, move the cat off my laptop and write for about twenty minutes before the postman sets the dog off again and I have to take her out for a walk just to settle her down. And then when we’re back and she’s finally tired enough to fall asleep on my lap, I sit awkwardly on the sofa with the laptop at my side trying to write down everything I thought of on the walk earlier. Until the Amazon man knocks on the door and sets her off again.”
Any local locations feature in your work?
I set An Imperfect Perception in Kingston and loosely based the primary school and park on Latchmere School and the rec, but none of the characters are based on real people even though everyone who knows the area tries to guess who they are.
The second book is based in Brighton and London, where I lived before we moved here, and is a mixture of real and imagined locations.
What’s next for you?
I’m working with this amazing voice actor, Tonia Thorne, who is bringing the children’s picture books to life in a really beautiful way so I’ll soon be able to introduce The Unbusy Bee and the rest of the minibeasts to a whole new audience of audiobook listeners. Once we’ve finished, we’re going to start recording the Audible versions of the Ruby Ridgeway novels. It’s slightly unnerving but wonderful to hear the voices in your head come alive and Tonia is so talented, she has done all the characters proud.
I am also working on a third novel which was inspired by the secret world of the dog walking community, which is an exclusive club you don’t even know exists until you get a dog and suddenly you have a license to start chatting to anyone as long as they’ve got a dog too. If they don’t, they’ll think you’re mad and start backing away slowly, but as long as you’re armed with a cockapoo, you can say hello to anyone.