Author Ruth Hogan discusses the process of learning a new skill in writing her new novel, The Moon, The Stars and Madame Burova.
Ruth Hogan was brought up in a house full of books and grew up with a passion for reading and writing. She loved dogs and ponies, seaside piers, snow globes and cemeteries. As a child she considered becoming a vet, show jumper, Eskimo, gravedigger, and once, very briefly, a nun.
She studied English and Drama at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she hennaed her hair, wore dungarees, and aspired to be the fourth member of Bananarama. After graduating, she foolishly got a proper job, and for 10 years had a successful if uninspiring career in local government before a car accident left her unable to work full-time and was the kick up the butt she needed to start writing seriously.
It was all going well, but then in 2012 she got cancer, which was bloody inconvenient, but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept her up all night, she passed the time writing, and the eventual result was her debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things. Since then she has published two further novels, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes and Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel, and for her fourth, Madame Burova, she learnt to read Tarot cards and developed a hankering for a traditional vardo and pony.
She is now living the dream (and occasionally nightmare!) as a full-time writer in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and her long-suffering husband. She describes herself as a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan. She still loves seaside piers, particularly The Palace Pier at Brighton and would very much like a full-size galloping horses carousel in her back garden.
Photo by Harpur Studio
In this post, Ruth discusses how she infused her personal interests in the writing of her new novel, The Moon, The Stars and Madame Burova, what she hopes readers get out of the experience reading it, and more!
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Name: Ruth Hogan
Literary agent: Laura Macdougall at United Agents Books
Book title: The Moon, The Stars and Madame Burova
Publisher: William Morrow
Expected release date: September 2021
Genre/category: Commercial Fiction
Previous titles: The Keeper of Lost Things; The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes; and Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel
Elevator pitch for the book: After inheriting her mother’s fortune telling business as a young woman, Imelda Burova has spent her life on the Brighton pier. Now, after a lifetime of keeping other people’s secrets, Madam Burova is ready to have a little piece of life for herself. But she still has one last thing to do—to fulfill a promise made in the 1970s, when she and her girlfriends were carefree, with their whole lives still before them.
What prompted you to write this book?
One of the great things about my job is that you can choose to write about things that you have a real passion for, and I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts, clairvoyance, Tarot, crystal balls, and palmistry. On a visit to Brighton (a place I love) I saw the booth of Eva Petulengro, a famous Tarot reader and clairvoyant who worked on Brighton seafront for many years, and whose clients included celebrities—even royalty.
It sparked the idea for the book, and I then read her two autobiographies, The Girl in the Painted Caravan and Caravans and Wedding Bands. Back home in Bedford, I decided to have some readings myself and I found the most amazing woman who had been reading cards and practicing clairvoyancy for over 30 years and had clients all over the world. She agreed to act as an adviser while I was writing the book.
I was also keen to write about a holiday park because it provides a wonderful opportunity to include a host of interesting characters—particularly if they are entertainers by trade! I wanted to set the book partly in the 1970s, in a place and time where I grew up, because I had experienced first-hand the cultural, social, and political climate that prevailed on the streets, in the playground, on the TV and radio, and in the press.
Society was openly racist and sexist, and attitudes and actions that were commonplace then are painfully unpalatable and rightly condemned today, and so it was an interesting and challenging time period for me to explore.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
It took about two years, which is longer than for most of my previous books. But my parents both died during that time and there was a global pandemic, so it wasn’t an easy journey. The central idea for the book didn’t change, but several of my characters developed in a way that I wasn’t expecting which certainly kept me on my toes!
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
The first draft was subject to several sensitivity reads because the book explores issues surrounding racism and discrimination of the grounds of both skin color and ethnic origin—one of my characters is biracial and two are of Romany descent. It was very important to me that these issues were dealt with sensitively but also honestly. This was a new process for me and a useful learning experience.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
As research for the novel, I not only learnt about reading Tarot, I learnt how to read Tarot to a professional standard. The lady who had agreed to act as my adviser on the book also agreed to teach me. I did a beginners’ course and found myself completely hooked, and so continued for several months to complete an advanced course.
In order to write the best book that I could, I realized that I needed to understand not only the mechanics of Tarot reading, crystal ball, clairvoyancy, and palmistry, but also what it feels like to do readings for complete strangers. I’ve done many readings to date, and I’m often surprised at how accurate they are. I can’t imagine that I will ever stop reading the cards now.
What do you hope readers will get our of your book?
Well, firstly I hope that they enjoy it! But at the heart of the book is the importance of friendship, family, enduring love, and the courage to keep living your best life despite loss and hardship.
We should never stop looking for the magic that is all around us in whatever form it takes. I hope as well that the book promotes inclusivity—the idea that we should accept, value, and even celebrate our differences.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Read your writing aloud to yourself. Not just dialogue, but narrative too. It really helps to get the rhythm and pace of the writing right.