A Ruined Girl: Q&A with Kate Simants

20 August 2020

Two boys loved her.

But which one killed her?

Kate Simants’ ‘breathless’ (Harriet Tyce) thriller won the Bath Novel Award and publishes 27 August. With a slew of rave reviews and Netgalley praise already in hand, A Ruined Girl will immerse you in the world of the foster system and forgotten children.

Viper Books publisher Miranda Jewess speaks to Kate Simants about her inspiration for the book and more.

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Kate Simants and A Ruined Girl

Miranda Jewess: A Ruined Girl explores the dark side of fostering and children’s homes. What inspired you to make them the setting for your novel?

Kate Simants: Back when I used to make TV documentaries for a living, I worked undercover on an investigation into children’s homes. I was struck at the time by the way the children coped without parents around to genuinely love them, and how badly that absence was affecting a lot of them. It was pretty tragic to see how they were acting out their anxieties in their behavior – nearly all of them had been in trouble with the police at some point. They were all teens so it was only a matter of time before they were off the state’s hands and had to make it in the world on their own. It felt like they had already given up, or had been given up on, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how that’s going to affect a person as they shift into adulthood.

MJ: The book won the Bath Novel Award before it found a publisher. Has it changed much since that original draft? No spoilers!

KS: Definitely, yes! I don’t think much in the way of the actual plot changed, but with the help of my editor it’s certainly been trimmed it back a lot so it’s pacier. There were some unnecessary cul-de-sacs that got pruned back too.

MJ: All your characters are incredibly nuanced and believable, especially those of Wren and Luke, his anger and frustration. Are they based on anyone in real life?

KS: Wren’s kind of my alter-ego – well, maybe I’d rather be a kind of mash-up between her and her partner Suzy, who’s a bit cooler, really! Between them they’re the kind of badass I wanted to be when I was a kid – a woman who really couldn’t care less what other people think of her, but who still retains a lot of compassion. Luke’s partially based on one particular boy I met when I was undercover, who refused to call me by my name: I think he didn’t want to form an attachment to me. But Luke is also a kind of composite of a few teenage boys I’ve known – two friends from high school were in care and even back then I could see that a lot of the monosyllabic anger of theirs was just a front, really. Not that they’d have appreciated me saying that back then, obviously! Of all of the characters I’ve written, I really care for Luke, actually. I so wanted to give him some joy but his job as the protagonist of crime thriller was essentially to have bad stuff lobbed at him. Poor boy! Maybe I’ll find him a nice cameo in another book where everything actually worked out really happily!

MJ: What have you found the hardest part about writing a crime novel? And the most enjoyable?

KS: As a crime writer your plotting has to be absolutely perfect – crime readers are smart as hell and incredibly voracious, and they know their police work! So if you mess up a plot point or try to fudge something about your crime scene or whatever that you haven’t properly researched, you won’t get away with it. I love that discipline, but it does make you worry! The most enjoyable part is piling on the conflict, making the characters suffer, letting them work out how to get themselves out of the holes I drop them into. Sadistic, right?! I also love digging around at the sharpest edges of society. I’m not interested in making people have interesting debates at cocktail parties.

MJ: Which crime writers most inspire you?

KS: That changes a lot as different things come out. I like finding authors who write completely differently to me because I’m always interested in developing my style – so for example I’ve recently really enjoyed Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald, who does an unbelievable line in dark humour, which isn’t something I’ve got much of into my own work yet. I’d say Gillian Flynn is probably my favourite crime writer because of what she does with female badness – I find everything she does incredibly thrilling and can’t wait for the next one to come out. I love being immersed in a world I know nothing about so recently I’ve got into Mick Heron’s books. I’m currently reading Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker which is a blinder of a novel!

MJ: Can you tell us anything about your next thriller?

KS: I can! It’s about shame, and the lengths people will go to in order to avoid it. I’m really excited about it!

Twitter: @katesboat / @viperbooks