Thoughts on writing, from author Ruth Rendell

originally posted March 10, 2013
May 2021: reformatted; text revised as noted

I am totally envious of the information that Alison Flood gathered from octogenarian author Ruth Rendell in her recent interview. But, I certainly couldn’t have done a better job! 

For those not familiar with her work, Rendell also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, the pen name she uses in her latest book, The Child’s Child.  For the record, I just finished reading The Child’s Child  and willingly recommend it—even the book that’s within the book, which I particularly liked, unlike many of the reviewers at!  The book within the book is a reflective peek into one family’s history and the actions that a few members of that family felt they had to take to live within societal dictates of the time. In my opinion, the interior book provided an unusually comfortable look at everyday life during the period and how that life viewed homosexuality and out-of-wedlock motherhood.

Back to Flood’s interview “Ruth Rendell: A Life in Writing” . . . The piece was posted to the Manchester Guardian website on March 1, 2013, and guides Rendell into thoughts about using a pseudonym to change perspective; tackling social issues like domestic violence, pedophilia, and racism; and writing crime-based fiction.

Reflecting on the latter, she believes the force of her books featuring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford lies in knowing his personality, not in knowing the ugly, dark sides of people or life.

I just wait until I’ve got a character and I think why would anybody do that, what is it in their background, what is it in their lives makes them do it. Usually these things are just accident or impulse, or because people are drunk or on something. . . . It’s that people do these things almost by accident, or because of anger, their rage, their madness—and then probably regret it.

On the subject of her own writing, she admits that “I don’t find writing easy . . . I do take great care, I rewrite a lot . . . If anything is sort of clumsy and not possible to read aloud to oneself, which I think one should do . . . it doesn’t work.”

When talking about the writing of others, Rendell tells Flood, “The things they write, it’s as if writing dialogue is just a matter of he said, she said, thank you, yes, how are you, and so on, all this superfluous stuff nobody needs. It’s as if they don’t look at it and say, ‘Do people talk like that?’”

Please, follow the link and enjoy the interview, and its insights, for yourself.

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UPDATE:  While double-checking this post and rereading Flood’s article, I was also drawn to the following admonition from Rendell: “Some new writers will tell you everything in the first chapter, everything is thrown in, and so there’s nothing to wonder about, nothing to speculate about.” Rendell certainly can’t be accused of that tactic: Flood continues, “A Judgement in Stone, one of her most acclaimed novels, opens with the line, ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read and write.’” Yes, even the second time around, eight years later, this article held thoughtful insight.

image information: Featured image, via, a blog compiled by book reviewer and blogger Lynne LeGrow as part of a tribute to Rendell (who passed away in May 2015) that focused on her twenty-four full-length Inspector Wexford novels (which are listed in the post) and the many short stories featuring Wexford cases that appear in several of Rendell’s anthologies; many were also adapted (this is a partial list) for television.