Working with Words: Ruby J. Murray
Ruby J. Murray’s first novel, Running Dogs, was published (to a warm critical reception) this month. Ruby has written for several Australian magazines, newspapers and literary journals; she will be a guest at next week’s Debut Mondays.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
When I was 11, I won my district’s round of the Nestlé Write Around Australia competition, which published all the districts in a little book. My short story was a one-and-a-half page epic struggle between good and evil based in space, entitled ‘Blood Angels’. The girl who won the regional round wrote a story about an immediate family member dying. I was outraged. I felt it was extremely tacky of her to use this unfair advantage. Then I decided that I probably objected to Nestlé for political reasons, anyway.
What’s the best part of your job?
Writing. And, very occasionally, getting paid for it!
What’s the worst part of your job?
Writing. And very occasionally getting paid for it.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
There are some passionate, incredibly hard-working people in the Australian literary community who are really pushing for an arts landscape that is diverse, progressive, and ambitious. Meeting them along the way makes it all feel worthwhile.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
My mother, who is a young adult author, gave me the best advice, which was: you can’t edit a blank page.
Strangely, I think one of the worst, or at least most misunderstood, pieces of advice people give is: ‘write what you know.’ I think it should probably be: ‘know what you write.’
If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I was going to continue working in international development before I stopped to write Running Dogs. I was thinking of going on to Haiti, so I’d probably be there. I am also an accomplished Myer Santa Elf. If you could do that all year round, then …
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I have mixed feelings on this. Ultimately, you are the only person who can really teach yourself to write. That said, it can be difficult to give yourself time and permission. And communities of writers, whether formal or informal, can do that, as well as provide those other essential things: readers. Feedback. People to share your rejection letters with.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Read. Read. Read. There are no magic underpants. And: you can’t edit a blank page.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. Mainly in bookstores, because I like the feeling of a community of minds I get inside them.
Do you read your reviews? If so, how do you approach them? If not, why?
Yes. I try to keep a level head. I try to keep my lunch down. I tell myself that next time I won’t read them.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?
Loki. We wouldn’t talk so much as drink bottles of whiskey and set fire to our own hair.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
This is always a difficult question. There is no one book. They all have their own impacts. While I was writing Running Dogs, I was thinking a lot about the work of Lawrence Durrell, Angela Carter and Armistead Maupin, who are strange bedfellows but … there you go.