Nina Allan is joining us today to talk about her novel, Ruby. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Ruby tells the story of Ruby Castle told in snapshots and fleeting glimpses and secret histories, in tales repeated and reinvented by those who fall under the horror film actress’s spell: her childhood sweetheart, an antiquarian bookseller with a passion for magical artifacts, the mistress of the poet who was once Castle’s lover, a young girl in a future Russia who dreams of the stars. Worlds collide, and the boundaries between the real and the fantastic begin to break down.
Is Ruby Castle a living person or a collective fantasy? By the end, the world that Castle created through her films has become dangerously indistinguishable from our own.
What’s Nina’s favorite bit?
The stories in Ruby are all standalone stories – you could read them in any order and enjoy them without prior knowledge of any of the others. But they were written in the order you find them here, and were always meant to be read together, not as a collection of stories but as a fragmented novel. As both writer and reader I have a particular fondness for the mosaic form. I like its flexibility, its invitation to the reader not only to draw their own conclusions but to fashion their own worlds. One of the aspects of Ruby I have always loved is the sense that there are other stories from this sequence still out there, waiting to be told.
Ruby was originally published as a limited edition hardback in 2013. When Titan approached me about issuing a brand new edition, I was excited; not only would this be an opportunity to bring Ruby to a wider audience, it would also give me the chance to look at the book again, to refocus its attention around the titular character.
The fictional horror actor Ruby Castle has always been central to my conception of these stories, yet in the original version of the book she remained a shadowy presence, flitting in and out of the action and never quite revealing herself. In the book’s central novella The Gateway, she has not even been born yet, while in the alternate-future section Stardust she is long dead, only recoverable through the images she has left behind.
Of course, this kind of games-playing is central to the purpose of Ruby, which is a book about image and artifice, costume and masquerade. Ruby started life as a novel about the dreams, dramas and disillusionment of life with a travelling circus, and those roots remain a prominent part of the book’s structure. Ruby Castle, born into a generations-old circus family, finds herself constrained by the pressures of living and making her art within a small community. While her childhood friendships and family relationships remain precious to her, teenage Ruby makes the decision to run away from the circus. The struggles she faces in fulfilling her dreams of becoming a film actor prove even more exhausting than the strains of living inside the community, and her fall from public grace is both tragic and bloody.
Yet I have always been sorely aware that this was not the end of Ruby’s story. When the publisher asked me if I could write a new story to celebrate the publication of the new edition, I knew immediately that ‘Red Queen’ would be centred upon Ruby Castle herself, and what happens to her after her film career comes to an ignominious end. I wanted readers to think about why she does what she does, what kind of person she is really, the sense of oppression she was forced to endure for so many years.
The story – and the book – now ends on a hopeful note, incongruous though that may seem given where Ruby winds up. The Ruby of ‘Red Queen’ is older, wiser, and in a strange sense, freer than she has been through the bulk of the narrative. As a reader, the stories I tend to prefer offer open endings, the sense that the life of the story is still continuing, even after the final page is turned. In its opening up of Ruby’s private world, ‘Red Queen’ now stands in some ways as my favourite bit of the book. I trust that readers will each have their own individual conception of what might happen next…
Nina Allan’s debut novel The Race was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the BSFA Award and the Kitschies Red Tentacle. Her follow-up The Rift won the BSFA Award and the Kitschies Red Tentacle. She has won the BSFA Award for Short Fiction, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, and the Aeon Award. She has been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award four times and was a finalist for the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award. She blogs at ninaallan.co.uk.