Book Review: The Things You Didn’t See by Ruth Dugdall

 

the things you didn't see

Ex-probation officer Ruth Dugdall won the CWA Debut Dagger award for her novel The Woman Before Me and also won the Luke Bitmead Bursary in 2013, her experience within the prison system heavily informing her highly successful crime novels. In her new standalone suspense novel The Things You Didn’t See, Dugdall’s skill at creating mystery and intrigue continues.

In the farmhouse where she grew up, Cassandra Hawke wakes one morning to find her mother has been shot, the apparent victim of a tragic suicide attempt. Called to the farmhouse as part of the emergency response team, paramedic Holly realises that she knows Cassandra from the past. The two women becoming allies, they set about trying to unravel the mystery of what really happened to Cassandra’s mother, Holly using her rare condition, synaesthesia, to gauge who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Did Maya really want to kill herself? Or, with the authorities and her family fighting over her inherited farmland, is there more to the tragic event than at first appears?

Unlike in Dugdall’s crime novels, the plot in this one simmers rather than explodes, the reader taken down a number of twisted paths, not unlike the narrow lane that leads to the book’s rural farm setting.  This book is very character driven, the questions that Dugdall sets up for the reader possibly not so much about who is behind the tragic events of the 31st October but what their motives are, how the tragedy links to events of the past and who exactly knows what. Bringing in unusual subject matters like synaesthesia and sleepwalking also add a unique edge to the book that makes what perhaps could have been quite a traditional murder-mystery into something much more original. Dugdall’s use of setting in this novel is excellent and highly authentic, with the atmospheric Innocence Farm and its surrounding rural village perhaps akin to the small-town claustrophobia of a Stephen King novel.

If you like a traditional suspense novel with a unique twist, The Things You Didn’t See is definitely for you.

 

 

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Things I wish I’d known…

While scrolling through Twitter recently (ever the procrastinator!), I have noticed a number of tweets that have referred to the difficulties that a debut author might experience after he or she has signed a publishing contract or been offered representation by an agent. Of course, achieving what you have worked towards, perhaps for many years, is exciting and something to be celebrated, but the path to having your novel or short story collection published can also be paved with huge amounts of anxiety. Indeed, Jade City and Zeroboxer author Fonda Lee recently summed up her own experience in a series of tweets:

Perhaps, for a new author, being prepared for the sometimes-stressful journey to becoming published is the answer, so I recently asked a few authors what they wish they had known before they were published that might have made their experience a little easier.

Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger and Luke Bitmead awards Ruth Dugdall stressed how important a social media presence can be for a new author. She said, “I wish I’d known just how important social media is. The relationships an author has with book reviewers and bloggers can make all the difference to the success of a novel, and I didn’t realize this initially, so I didn’t devote as much time to Twitter and Facebook as I should have done.”

Ruth also stressed that a debut author can make connections in other ways, for example in their local community: “I also wish that someone had told me just how important it is to contact local groups and try and build a local following. WI (Women’s Institute) groups are my all time favourites, and, once they get to know you, more invites will come. Every opportunity to meet a potential reader should be cherished.”

Much as a debut author might relish the idea of signing copies of their beloved book, Ruth stresses that bookshop events can often have a downside: “Book signings suck! Standing next to a whopping pile of books in Waterstones is the most demoralizing experience, and some of the stores won’t even offer you a cup of tea!”

Ruth’s seventh novel, The Things You Didn’t See, is out on 24th April.

Daniel Culver, whose debut novel White Midnight has recently been released by Manatee Books, agrees with Ruth about the importance of becoming involved with social media and of making connections with readers: “I never realised the value of having your book reviewed and rated. I don’t know if this would have changed anything, knowing how important things like Amazon and Goodreads (and Twitter, of course) are beforehand. I never did social media before, so only signed up to Twitter because of the book.”

Daniel also stressed how debut authors need to factor in how promoting an already published book might impact on writing the next. He said, “I always thought once the book is done and out there, that would be it, but the work to promote it is endless.”

Author of Between You and Me and Tell Me No Lies Lisa Hall agrees that signing a publishing or agent’s contract is just the beginning: ” The real work only starts after you have signed a book deal, what with editing, polishing, tweeting, promoting, writing articles…”

Lisa also stresses that debut authors shouldn’t be put off by negative reviews, “One-star reviews are not the be all and end all” and that authors should always remember that their agent or editor is on their side: “Your editor is your best friend. Ditto, your agent, if you have one.”

Lisa’s new novel, The Party, will be released on 26th July.

Finally, Manatee Books author James Stansfield, who has recently released his debut novel Anaconda Vice, and Orenda Books author Louise Beech nicely sum up a writer’s experience after signing a contract from different perspectives:

James said, “One thing that has surprised me is how much having a novel published has messed with my sleep patterns. I’ve not had this little rest since my daughter was a newborn.”

Whilst Louise states, “I only wish I’d known that it would happen for sure, then I could have been as excited as hell…”

Book Review: My Sister and Other Liars by Ruth Dugdall

my sister and other liars

Ruth Dugdall is a former probation officer turned novelist who lives in Suffolk. Her works include the Luke Bitmead Bursary and Debut Dagger Award winner The Woman Before Me, Nowhere Girl and Humber Boy B. Ruth has a BA in English from Warwick University and an MA in Social Work. My Sister and Other Liars is her sixth novel.

The book tells the story of 17-year-old Samantha Hoolihan, who, due to a severe eating disorder, is currently residing in the ‘Ana’ unit of a Suffolk hospital. The subject matter of this book immediately creates a novel that is, by no means, an easy read, Dugdall’s portrayal of the unit and its inhabitants brutally honest and often heart-breaking. The author’s obviously detailed and thorough research into the impact of anorexia is clear on every page; as the girls hide their food, idolise those patients having to be fed with a tube and even ‘water load’ before weigh-ins, the reader is very much drawn into life on the ward, feeling hopeful for the patients we think might get better and extremely sad for the ones we think might not.

Life with an eating disorder, however, is not the only focus of this psychological crime thriller as, using flashback, the author takes us back to the traumatic events in Sam’s life that led to her being hospitalised. With the help of Sam’s therapist, Clive, and a box of treasured family photographs, we learn how, eighteen months before, Sam’s sister Jena was attacked and severely injured, the incident leaving her family broken almost beyond repair. Taking it upon herself to rescue all she holds dear, Sam sets out to discover the identity of her sister’s attacker, her actions subsequently leading her into the darker side of Suffolk and towards a truth which could completely shatter her world.

My Sister and Other Liars is a challenging novel, the details of life on Ana Unit and of Jena and Sam’s often horrific experiences certainly not for someone looking for a light-hearted read. As she successfully drip feeds the plot to up the suspense, however, what Ruth Dugdall creates here is a page-turner, forcing the reader to keep going until the end so that, alongside Sam, we can get to the bottom of this mystery and found out who attacked Jena and, perhaps more crucially, why.

With a string of successful crime novels behind her, it seems that mystery and suspense is what Ruth Dugdall does best.

The Kindle version of My Sister and Other Liars is available now from Amazon and other good retailers. The paperback can be ordered ahead of its release on 1st May.