An Interview with Rory Ridley-Duff:
How would I describe myself to your readers? I’m a 49 year old university lecturer from England, married with two daughters, who enjoys writing fiction to explore social issues in an accessible and creative way.
In terms of upbringing, my mother is Austrian and my father was Irish. I was born in 1962, and raised in West Wittering - a small seaside resort on the southern coast of England near Chichester (an old Roman town). Despite a childhood disrupted by my father’s death and my mother’s illness, I have many happy memories. Growing up with my sisters meant that I enjoyed freedom and independence that most children do not enjoy.
I met my wife, Caroline, in 1987 through a mutual friend while studying music at London University. We married in 1989 and initially lived in Ashford (near London Heathrow). Our two children, Natasha (17) and Bethany (13), are central to a happy family life. We eventually decided to move to the north of England and settle in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from Sheffield (where The Fully Monty was filmed). We’re now a few miles from a national park – The Peak District.
2 - You have a PhD, worked as an educator and written non-fiction books on various subjects. What motivated you to become a novelist and write fiction?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. My wife and I were pen friends before we started to live together – we would write to each other several times a week. I began writing fiction over 20 years ago, but could not pursue it after starting a family. I found the time to take it up again while studying for my PhD. After completing my studies, I had a few months before taking up a job as a university lecturer. I used the time to complete Friends or Lovers.
Friends or Lovers is an exploration of ambiguities in our relationships inside and outside work. The story is told from the point of view of Penny, a Director of Human Resources intent on climbing the corporate ladder. Penny likes to be in control. When she meets a consultant (John) on a business trip, and has to conduct an investigation into sexual misconduct at work (Mike), her control starts to ebb away. As the investigation progresses she gradually realises that the only way to regain control is to change the way she thinks about men.
4- Why did you write this particular book?
In the 1970s and 80s, many men changed their outlook in response to the women’s movement for equality. Something similar is happening today amongst women as men become more conscious of the way they are affected by negative stereotyping. The equality issue for men is being stereotyped as a sexual predator, not a sex object. There are many academic studies that cast doubt on the popular perception of men as sex obsessed, and which reveal how much power women now have over sexual matters. As a result, there is a growing interest into the link between stereotyping men as sexual predators and women’s power – a form of matriarchy if you like. So, the ‘hook’ for this story is Penny’s journey of self discovery as she comes to understand this world while investigating a claim of sexual misconduct.
I wanted to write an emancipatory novel that supports those who want more intimacy and sexual freedom in their relationships. There are many good films/novels about bad or stupid men who become more human as a result of facing up to an extraordinary situation. It seemed to me that there are only a few portrayals of women who transform themselves in a similar way.
I enjoyed films like Born on the Fourth of July (Tom Cruise), about a young man who gradually realises how societal pressures had predisposed him to fight in wars, and who later becomes a campaigner for peace. I also remember Rain Man (Tom Cruise / Dustin Hoffman) where a cocky young businessman becomes aware of his selfishness, learns to love the brother he never knew he had, and becomes a fully rounded human being.
I wanted to write something more like ‘In Her Shoes’ (Cameron Diaz), which explores how a selfish young woman becomes a caring adult by facing up to her own prejudices. Friends or Lovers has a similar theme: it peels back the superficial bullshit we call the ‘real world’ and takes a look at life in the raw to uncover how intimate relationships are crucial to our well being.
In some ways, it was a therapeutic activity, exploring issues that are generally regarded as taboo in academic writing on organisations. The novel was a good outlet.
5- Who do you consider your intended audience?
Based on feedback, I think this novel will resonate most strongly with men who are conscious of the way they are affected by sexual stereotyping at work. However, I suspect that the main audience – given that this is a quirky romance novel - will be progressive women who are willing to think about the legacy of feminism, and the way it has affected their relationships with men. Those who get to the end of the novel, I hope, will come to see Penny as a kind of modern-day antihero – able to confront her own past and the barriers that popular culture create for those seeking passionate loving intimate relationships.
There is one professional group who might enjoy this novel – HRM officers and managers who have had to deal with human relationship issues at work. Those who have had experience investigating sexual misconduct claims will find a great deal to discuss after reading this novel.
6- What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
b) Advancing a new gender equality argument without being labeled a misogynist...
7- Do you have any advice for those thinking about taking the writing plunge?
Keep going. Keep writing. Craft your works as best you can. Make sure your friends read it and that you respond to any constructive criticisms they have. Don’t be too quick to publish. Let the manuscript mature by making many revisions (and leave a few weeks between each round of revisions to reflect on each draft). When ready, waste no time in finding someone to publish it and be prepared to do so yourself if nobody else will. Success – however modest and in whatever form it comes – is always satisfying.
8- What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love going to the cinema with my daughters, and having trips to the countryside and seaside with my family (particularly the Scottish Highlands).
9- What’s next for you?
Enjoying the summer holiday with my family. On the writing front, I recently re discovered Fallen Angel (my first novel, still unpublished and which we thought had been lost in a house move 13 years ago). On re-reading, it seems more relevant today than when it was written so my next project is to update it for our times and get it published.
You can find out more about Rory and his books at his website: http://www.roryridleyduff.com/