Tarot cards, a threatening stranger and a mysterious will propel Hal, a young vulnerable orphan to spend her remaining cash for a railway ticket to the funeral of a woman who solicitors believe is her grandmother. Hal, who makes her precarious living reading Tarot cards, a skill she learned from her mother who was killed in a hit-and-run a few years earlier, thinks she knows better. But still, when she receives a letter indicating she is an heir to the moneyed estate, she decides to see if the same skills she uses to tell fortunes can help obtain part of her “inheritance.”
Atmospheric and compelling, The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Gallery/Scout Press $26.99; 2018), is the fourth novel of English author Ruth Ware, author of the best- selling The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game.
Ware, who is on a book tour throughout the United States, took time out to answer the following questions.
What inspired you to write The Death of Mrs. Westaway?
I can’t put my finger on one single inspiration, but probably the key thing that defines the book for me is Hal. Having written three books about women who stumble into events more or less through no fault of their own, I wanted to write a very different kind of main character this time round – one who brings the events of the novel down upon themselves. Hal sets out to commit a crime – and in doing so sets of a nightmarish set of dominoes. That was a very conscious choice on my part!
Were you familiar with Tarot cards before you wrote this book or did you have to learn about them? And why did you decide to make them part of the story? In that vein, have you always had an interest in fortune telling?
I’m super skeptical and don’t really believe in any kind of supernatural forces so I had never had my cards read, though of course I was familiar with some of the images on tarot cards and found them very beautiful and inspiring as visual images. I had to research the meanings from scratch as I knew nothing about fortune telling, or the different kinds of tarot spreads. I really enjoyed the research though and found myself quite swept up in the different meanings. I suppose I made them part of the story because I wanted Hal to be someone who was practiced in reading people and telling them what they wanted to hear. So I tried to give her a job that fitted with that and was in some way a preparation. Making her a cynical tarot reader – one who doesn’t believe in the power of the cards but uses her skills to deceive – seemed fitting.
Your books create such a sense of foreboding–do you ever get caught up in that and experience those feelings?
Of course! Writing is like reading – you get just as caught up in the atmosphere you’re creating. But I find it’s quite hard to scare myself when I’m writing, because I know when the jump scares are going to come. I get immersed in the atmosphere, but the sense of terror I get sometimes reading other writers’ work just isn’t there, because I’m in control.
Do you plot your novels and your characters or do they evolve?
A mix of the two – I usually have a skeleton structure in my head, and I think about the characters for a long time before I start writing, so they are usually quite evolved by the time I put pen to paper. But I write very little down – they exist mainly in my head so they tend to be quite fluid and evolve as things develop on the page.
What writers have influenced you?
For this book, particularly Daphne du Maurier. I love her work.
What’s next for you?
Another book of course! I’m writing it now, but it’s too early to tell you what it’s about…
What: Ruth Ware
When: Monday, June 4th at 7 p.m.
Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 26 S La Grange Rd., La Grange, IL
FYI: This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, from Anderson’s Bookshop. To purchase please stop into or call Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange (708) 582-6353.