Interview: Ruth Eastham

Hello Ruth,
welcome to Miss Page-Turner’s City of Books. Would you like to introduce yourself to Miss Page-Turner’s City of Books’ readers first? Give us five facts characterizing you best!

• originally from Preston, in the northwest of England 

• loves spending time in Italy 

• keen on photography 

• mum of two 

• a writing addict

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Your debut novel THE MEMORY CAGE was published in January 2011. Have you always dreamed about becoming an author or was it a spontaneous idea?

Ever since I was young, I loved to write stories and poetry and always dreamed that one day I might get a book published. I don’t think it’s easy to decide one day to become an author. In my experience it’s a rocky road and something you have to keep working at and striving towards.

THE MEMORY CAGE is about a grandfather who keeps forgetting things, being affected by Alzheimer’s and his grandson who wishes he could forget about his past and the Yugoslav Wars. How did you come up with the story around Alex and his granddad?

I had an idea to write about a boy who was very close to his Grandad, and a question popped into my head one day: ‘What’s your earliest memory?’ Then I came up with the interesting parallel between Alex and his Grandad, if both had things they wanted to forget from a traumatic past involving war, with Grandad’s Alzheimer’s blurring the boundaries between what he tries to remember and what he pretends to have forgotten.

Which importance do you attach to the double-sided memory cage metaphor and the relationship between a grandfather and his grandchild?

A lot of people have asked me about the book title, and I’m fascinated to hear other interpretations of it. My teacher friend, Sarah Brennan, wrote Study Guides for The Memory Cage, and I’d like to quote what she says because I think the relationship between Alex and his Grandad is central to the story and I like how Sarah sums things up:
“…Alex talks about ‘trapping memories.’ For Grandad this would mean being able to recall memories at will so that he retains his self identity, defies the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and stays out of the care home.  For Alex, trapping memories enables him to suppress the horrors of his past so that he can fit in to his present life.   However, this is at the expense of acknowledging who he is and where he came from.”

Including serious topics in MG and YA novels is an important part of educating children and forming their personality. But why Alzheimer’s?

I agree that children’s books can tackle difficult issues, if handled sensitively. Kids who’ve read The Memory Cage have told me that they did learn lots from the book, although I didn’t set out to educate as such, but tell a story where you could really feel for the characters and want to keep turning the pages. Exploring Alzheimer’s was a natural choice because the disease affects memory, and memories are central to the plot – Alex’s memories and Grandad’s memories. I only realised later how very many families are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and how widespread its effects are.

Did you decide to write a MG novel because of your job as a teacher?

No, it was more a case of becoming a teacher because I liked to write! Starting life as a MG teacher meant I got to teach all the subjects, and could truly indulge my passion for books and writing. Since then I’ve taught English to kids and young adults from five years old to sixth formers, but being a teacher is certainly a great training ground for being a writer as you can absorb yourself in the world of your audience and see the kind of stories that really appeal to them.

Just like you I really enjoy travelling, a walk on the beach always inspires me. Do you collect inspiration and new ideas on your trips?

Definitely! I always keep a notebook and pen in my pocket. I think all writers are rarely ‘off the job’.  Inspiration can strike any time, and perhaps especially in places where you’re experiencing landscapes or cultures for the first time because of their richness and newness. By the same token though, I think you can be inspired by, for example, looking out of your window at home, or driving down the street. In fact the other day I was having trouble imagining what a character would look like for my new book, and suddenly there she was at the bus stop, waiting for the number 22!

What do you like most about being a writer?

The chance to be creative and use my imagination. Coming up with a story and getting absorbed in that other world. Having to craft the language so that it flows right and sounds right. Being able to spend hours in libraries ‘doing research for work’!

A typical day in your life would include…?

When I’m not teaching, I walk my daughters to school then have a forty minutes cliff top walk to collect my thoughts. Then some solid hours of writing before lunch with family or friends (or a quick spaghetti by the keyboard if I have a really pressing deadline!) and then more writing in the afternoon and catching up on work e-mails. Being a writer is actually quite solitary so I also try to plan in some more sociable writing-orientated activities, such as bookshop signings or running workshops in schools or going to literary festivals, or maybe giving interviews!

What are your favourite novels? Do you have authors or novels that inspired THE MEMORY CAGE?

There are so many great, inspiring books out there! I was a real bookworm as a child and I think this gave me a lifelong love of reading. It’s difficult to pin down exactly the books that might have inspired The Memory Cage, but on the children’s fiction side I certainly love work by Geraldine McCaughrean, Alan Garner, Philippa Pearce, Anne Fine, Philip Reeve, Sarah Mussi, Michelle Paver, Frank Cottrell Boyce… Anything you read can teach you something about what makes books tick; an exciting action scene, a believable character, a vivid description, a piece of dialogue with an authentic ring, an emotion nailed, a story that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading… What did Philip Pullman once say…?  Read like a butterfly, write like a bee!

THE MEMORY CAGE is your debut novel, are you planning to continue writing in future? Already any new projects planned, ideas or genres in mind?

Well, as I said at the start, I have to admit to being a writing addict. I have several ideas on the go at the moment. I’m up for any genre that lets you tell an exciting story with some depth.

Thank you a lot for the interview Ruth! I really enjoyed THE MEMORY CAGE and cannot wait to discuss it with fellow bloggers. Now I would like to encourage every participant of the Debut Author Challenge 2011 to consider this UK debut a possible read!

Thanks so much for the interview, Miss P-T!

4/5 **** The Memory Cage- A meaningful debut about the delicate balancing act between present and past, fear and courage, loosing or finding oneself!

You can read my review of THE MEMORY CAGE here!  

Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of THE MEMORY CAGE here!
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