Other than the fortune-teller booths she encountered on bracing walks along the Brighton seafront, British author Ruth Ware knew little about psychic readings when she began work on her latest thriller, The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Gallery/Scout), which published this week.
That didn’t dissuade Ware from giving the protagonist, Hal, a job as a tarot reader. After researching the world of clairvoyance, including faux mediums, Ware says that you don’t have to believe the cards are imbued with occult power to embrace tarot as an opportunity for self-reflection.
In fact, it’s the same kind of soul-searching that led Ware to pursue a writing career after working as a waitress, a bookseller, and a teacher of English as a second language.
“I scribbled stories as soon as I could write,” says Ware, who remembers telling her mother at the age of five that she wanted to write books when she grew up. Her practical-minded mother told her that writing can be a difficult way to make a living. To which the precocious Ware replied that she would write book jacket copy instead.
Years later, as a publicity assistant at a book publishing company, Ware says that it was “especially hard to go home and look at your own writing efforts.” But once she became a mother, she reached a turning point. She knew she would stop writing unless she had a reason to justify carving out the time.
Five years ago, Ware began publishing YA fantasy novels under the pseudonym Ruth Warburton, beginning with the Winter trilogy and followed by two Witch Finder titles. But it wasn’t until 2015, when she published her first crime thriller for adults under her own name, In a Dark, Dark Wood, that Ware’s writing career took off. That was quickly followed by two more dark whodunits, The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game.
In all three bestsellers, danger is thrust into the laps of her protagonists. But Ware chose a bolder approach for The Death of Mrs. Westaway. “I wanted to create a character who precipitates a nightmare upon herself. She’s the one who sets the story in motion by embarking on deception,” she says. “What psychological thrillers do so well is combine an emotionally charged personal journey with a clever puzzle. If you can do both, it’s such a satisfying book to write.”