Interview with Ruth McIver

In the lead up to Hachette: Debut Authors, we chatted to Ruth McIver, author of Nothing Gold and 2018 Richell Prize winning novel, I Shot the Devil.

Hey Ruth, thank you so much for chatting to us. What have you been working on recently?

My pleasure! I have been working on a new manuscript called 27 – which is another stand alone, international literary crime novel loosely based on true crime events – it’s sort of a Post-Colonial Gothic thriller set in the US, Bali and Australia. I usually tend to drop everything else when I’m in first draft mode, but I have paused for a few weeks and I’m working a on shorter piece which is inspired by a real case that I’ve been following and attending. I’ve also released a podcast with a friend called First Time Feelings, which is basically an exercise in audio memoir – which is basically just us telling micronarratives to each other about primary emotions.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about submitting to The Richell Prize this year?

Honestly, it’s a cliché but just do it. I already had a completed manuscript when I entered, but it’s not necessary. What I think is so wonderful about the Richell Prize is that it’s designed to give audience to promising voices and emerging ideas – and unlike the Vogel, which has an age cut off, it gives emerging writers an opportunity to be read. It’s free to enter, which I think is an issue for many struggling first time writers who are entering competitions. I think what they’re looking for is originality, enthusiasm and the prospect of developing and nurturing writers voices. I can’t count the number of unsuccessful applications that I’ve made over the years and I know from experience it takes a lot of courage and energy to enter competitions and can really deplete you. That said, the process them helped me become a better writer and made future applications easier. When I entered, I was really excited about I Shot the Devil –  I was refreshed, I had a lot of confidence and enthusiasm in the project.I  had really nailed my voice and I spent the whole weekend on the application and I really poured myself into it – I had a friend look over it and help me proof it so it read well and things like typos didn’t deter the judges. I already had an agent from being shortlisted for another prize, but until then, I couldn’t get a foot in the door. I know many writers who make the longlist and get an agent – so entering and not winning is not a loss.

You recently completed a PhD on true‑crime inspired fiction, congrats! What do you love most about that genre?

Thanks! I am very excited about true-crime inspired fiction because it gives us license to reimagine the past and explore the complexities and cultural and social contexts behind crime. I think it helps us t get a more comprehensive picture of crime and punishment and to understand the aberrant. I also think ‘storifying’ the truth makes it palatable for a larger audience, which means crimes that were low profile get attention – it raises awareness of miscarriages of justice and even helps solve cold cases

What did winning The Richell Prize in 2018 mean to you? 

It was extremely validating – it gave me confidence in my voice, my story and my decision to pursue writing as my primary career, which is extremely difficult in this current economic climate. it gave me so many opportunities to be read and listened to on multiple platforms. It got me a book deal. The money helped me finish my PhD, build a website, get headshots and multiple other expenses that are needed when you’re starting out as an author. The money is obviously great, but you can’t buy the prestige and accolade winning a prize like this entails. I love the fact that the Richell is set up to honour Matt Richell. I felt moved and grateful to be a part of this tradition.

If you could time-travel, what tips would you give yourself at the very start of your career?

I wish I could tell myself to be patient – to work through narrative problems by writing and not researching and or giving up. I would strongly encourage myself not put all my eggs in one basket. To hold firm to my voice and style. To have faith in myself. I would tell myself not take things too personally. I would remind myself to nurture writing friendships, but trust people who earn your trust. Also put your work above everything else – when you do that, others will respect your time. And stop getting distracted by interpersonal relationships or to prioritise them – that sounds a bit harsh, but I wasted a lot of time and made some bad choices based on being in partnerships that didn’t support my ambition. I would also advise myself not to get a corporate writing job/and/or get allured by big money jobs to pay the bills – they sap your energy and make writing a chore.

We love recommendations! What podcasts or books have you been enjoying lately?

Because my area of interest in true crime/memoir, I’m always reading to/listening to books/podcasts of this nature. I am always reading/listening to multiple things at once. When I’m writing fiction I really have a problem reading fiction, which sucks, because I can’t suspend disbelief and lose myself in story. However, I just read Don Winslow’s Broken, which is a series of shorts – very incendiary and brutal, I really enjoyed it. I just read two fabulous Melbourne debut novels: Katherine Firkin’s Sticks and Stones and Rita Therese’s Come. I am also listening to Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking can save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta. I love memoir and true crime memoir is my favourite – I just read The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, by Elizabeth and Molly Kendall. Podcasts I’ve been listening to about true crime are LISK (Long Island serial killer). Incidentally, Robert Kolker wrote a wonderful book called Lost Girls (and there’s a movie on Netflix about the book by the same name); I am listening to the Claremont Trial Podcast, and a new podcast about music called All Ears. I just listened to an audio drama called Passenger List –I am really scared of plane crashes, so I listen to/ watch things about them for narrative therapy, but I’m really just torturing myself, I think. In the same way I listened to Dr Death, actually, just before I had surgery.

Ruth McIver recently completed her PhD in the field of true‑crime inspired fiction with Curtin University. Her first novel, Nothing Gold, was runner‑up in the inaugural Banjo Prize (2018). I Shot the Devil won the 2018 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers and will be published by Hachette Aus/Tinder/Headline press in 2021.

Catch Ruth McIver at Hachette: Debut Authors on Friday 19 June, 7-8pm. Free and livestreamed directly to our website. 

You can read more about The Richell Prize and how to enter here.