Get to know… Ruth Guthrie

Hey, I’m Ruth. R-U-T-H. Bit of an ‘old’ name, bit of a biblical name. I didn’t know any other Ruths growing up. Then suddenly I met two, in my twenties, and – wait for it – we shared a birthday! Yes, all three Ruths, born on the 15th of August. How crazy is that? Actually it’s not that unusual – to share birthdays – statistically it only requires 23 people in a group for one pair to share a birthday. What about you? I’m sure you know people who share yours. I’m talking about the same day and month.

So I’ve been writing for a long time. Not commercially, not professionally, just for me. I journaled a lot as a teen, then read English and History at university. I’m not the fastest reader, but I really immerse myself in stories which makes them hard to put down, and to finish. I just don’t want it to end, especially if the characters are well drawn. I finished Douglas Stuart’s Shuggy Bain two weeks ago. I’d bought it when it was published, but never got further than chapter one. I was determined to read it in a week, and I did. What a story! Douglas has inspired me – it took him ten years to write that Booker Prize-winning novel. I’ve been working on my historical novel for seven, and I just want it finished now. It feels possible.

I joined Writing Room eons ago – in April 2016 – for a course entitled “Ways into Novel Writing” with Sara Langham. I’d seen it advertised in a local coffee shop, and my career as a graphic designer was tapering. I’d been working for twenty years as a freelancer, and had lost the joy of it. I’d blogged all through the early 2000s and on into the ‘teens, and it was where I put all my pain and disappointment, my frustration and loneliness. The internet can be a dark, sad place sometimes and I didn’t feel connected or part of a community despite the blogging.

An editor friend had regularly read my blog, and reached out to me, encouraging me to write more. She really praised my work, and it was as if a light went on. It reminded me of others who’d encouraged me to write, although I’d never listened. But now at this moment, I was open to it, and eager to try. Starting with that first course, I began chipping away at all manner of genres and styles. I’ve lost count of the courses I’ve done at the Writing Room and every one has been a joy and an encouragement. It’s been a demanding time too – Gio and Kate motivated me to do an MA in Creative Writing. I began in 2019 at Royal Holloway, and that’s what kept me busy during Covid, while I wasn’t being a Mum to hungry teens, and the other million tasks women do. I graduated in 2021.

Being a Writer – calling myself that – has been so empowering. I have a voice. This is such a profound thing. I felt invisible before. Now, I’m aware that words are everything. They’re the ink in the pen, the blade of steel, the silence, the dawn, the cry, the song.

I admire many different writers because I’ve been exposed to their work and the craft involved in bringing it to print. Writing has given me a community of friends (yes, friends, not just people) who are on the same literary path, part of an international company of wordsmiths, diverse and opinionated. I feel connected to them through their stories and their toil, as if we know one another and what this ‘writing thing’ is. Beyond the commonality which is our human experience, I’m sure there are a few shared birthdays.

I’ve realised after 51 years that I am a multi-faceted creative person. I love the arts, I love music, I’m a photographer, I cook, I paint, I draw, I make pottery. I love being part of the Writing Room. It offers so much to students and practitioners, in coursework and guidance, support and inspiration. I recommend it everywhere I go, and I can of course, because everything is online now. I imagine in years to come, that the number of published authors who claim some connection with WR will be substantial.

Come with me now, into one of my stories.

Extract of a work in progress

     As the train surged above ground in Whitechapel, Poppy wondered about it all: the baby and the fifteen-thousand-pounds, her Mum’s health, her job, Mark, Cockfosters. She needed that ‘away time’, where she could just walk in the countryside, surrounded by spaces that demanded nothing of her. She wondered if she’d made a mistake with Mark, been unwise in her job. Should she have said something bolder to Iris just now? It felt too late.     

     She worried as the train rocked, how bad are things with Mum? Her diabetes was really awful. She believed if they could stay on top of it, manage the condition, take the doses at the right time, it would preempt these incidents. But – and it was a big but – that would mean living with her Mum, 24/7. She’d have to police her routine, keep an eye on her, but she hardly wanted that now. Her Mum was a young fifty-something in many respects, but the disease had had an impact. Yes, she was carefree by nature, but it often felt like recklessness to Poppy, as if she was dealing with a silly teen, rather than her middle-aged mother.

     The doctors and the NHS had been more than kind – she had regular check-ups with the team at her local GP-practice, one of whom was specialising in diabetes and related illnesses. But it didn’t address the underlying ‘Mum-ness’ of the problem. She just didn’t want to be told what to do. Not unlike someone else in the family! thought Poppy. Sheesh.

     She felt like she was saddled with being the responsible one. The boring, responsible one. The one who never does anything reckless, or out of the ordinary. Ugh! Poppy cringed at the description of her life. This was not what she’d envisaged.

     She stared out of the window, watching the train snake through Canary Wharf, twisting and turning south again as it headed for Lewisham. The quiet people in suits got off and loud teens in denim and black got on. They passed the superstore near Mudchute, then dipped down for a glimpse at the gentrified, pretty, war-time cottages, before darkness engulfed the train as they swept beneath the Thames.

     If she’d had time, she would’ve got off there and walked through the foot-tunnel to Greenwich. The damp scent of the underwater thoroughfare felt special to her. She didn’t feel at all claustrophobic despite the low ceiling, and the stalactites of limescale that persisted through the length of the tiled-tunnel. She liked the echo, she liked that cyclists balanced with one foot on a peddle as they free-wheeled downhill, brazenly disregarding the ‘no cycling’ signs. Ha, maybe there was a bit of the rebel in her after all. She’d have to come back.