Author Interviews

Interview With Ruth Tunnicliffe

You couldn’t make this up, you really couldn’t, and when thinking of a title for her shocking, engaging and all too relatable memoir there was only really one that Ruth Tunnicliffe could use. Because the mum of three has lived quite an eventful life, and by putting pen to paper this work of pure liberation will be sure to help other women treading similar paths of enforced agreeability.

A fault in society is that women are effectively conditioned to please others, to not shout too loud and not to complain. Ruth’s life which is documented so beautifully in You Couldn’t Make This Up, is a demonstration of how ‘putting up and shutting up’ can result in the most catastrophic and bizarre situations. Ruth said: “I always wanted to make people happy, and doing something that would make someone unhappy, even if it was for the best, was unthinkable and the worst thing ever.”

Ruth predominantly wrote the book as a way to explain her life to her three children, her eldest boy and girl she was forced to leave behind in an urgent police-backed escape from her abusive first husband. She said: “I was never frightened leaving the children with him because that’s all he wanted. As soon as I had given birth to those kids he wanted rid of me, he wasn’t interested in me but he would never harm them. He would have harmed himself if I’d taken them and I knew that much 100% so I couldn’t do that. People said to me ‘You need to write a book’ because of all the things that happened, and I thought I would start writing things down. Just to get them out of my head and on paper. With leaving the kids I could never get over it. Emotionally I couldn’t let it go. I was constantly grieving.

I was living with that guilt and beating myself up constantly and it was just driving me mad. I had tried counselling and it didn’t work and it just made me cry it just made me feel even more guilty. But then I started to write, and I want the kids to read it so they will understand why I did it, and that I didn’t leave knowing I was leaving. It wasn’t planned it was a necessity. When I started writing I got to that point in my story and I just stopped, I couldn’t write anymore, I was getting too upset whenever I tried to think about it. But with the lockdown, I thought ‘I should pick up that book and try and finish it, even if I just print it off and give it to the three kids that’s the most important thing.’ So I made myself finish it.”

In Ruth’s life story, a second marriage followed which Ruth almost drifted into, not wanting to disappoint a man who liked her a lot more than she liked him. But this man was also paranoid and frightening and forced Ruth to go to live in Cornwall even further away from her children in Yorkshire so that she could care for his ageing father and he could claim the inheritance. The situation came to a head years later when Ruth, her third son, and daughter who by that time was living with her, were forced to go into hiding when he began stalking them and behaving erratically and dangerously.

After both of these incidents, Ruth set about cheerfully building back her life but faced prejudice from friends and acquaintances who naturally thought they would have done things differently. Ruth said: “Their dad got away with it Scott free and everyone was pitying him and he was going around getting all the sympathy, and I was ashamed because I let him treat me like that. Also because he was their dad I didn’t want them to have a dad who would do that. But what the book shows is how these things can and do happen so naturally, that before you know it you are in a perilous situation!”

There is also a lot of humour in the book, and Ruth is not afraid to laugh at herself and focus on the humour in a situation. Particularly when her daughter is involved. She said: “Some of it is funny, especially with my daughter, she can see the funny side even in the worst of tragedies! There is a bit in the book where we are in hiding from my second husband and racing around putting all our stuff in bin bags, and I have just got a call from a social worker to say that they have found a place for us in a hostel. I turned to tell the kids and she immediately said ‘HOSTEL I’m sorry?! Don’t you mean a hotel?! And we all fell about laughing! She can just make anything funny within an instant!

We did have some fun, I have had a lot of fun in my life it hasn’t all been misery and I hope that comes across in the book. No situation was more perilous than the final adventure in Ruth’s book. A transatlantic hell ride from Nashville to New York in the clutches of a mad Facebook scammer who had promised to start up a business with Ruth and get work for her daughter.

This man, as well as physically abusing Ruth, drained her credit card. By the time she finally managed to escape and run to a Brooklyn police station, she had nothing but a small suitcase and the clothes on her back to her name. Ruth said: “I just knew I had to get away from him, he was a psycho, and I’d clocked the police station down the road and thought ‘I’ve just got to get there somehow’. My legs felt like jelly and I can still feel it now. When you write you go back to that situation, and I hope that’s come across in the book because every chapter that I write in the book it was like going back there.”

It is safe to say that Ruth’s story is a page-turner, a book you read in one on two sittings and can’t put down. Written as Ruth speaks, reading the book is like sitting down with a friend as they tell you the best ‘real life’ stories ever. But it has also served as a very cathartic and healing process for the author, who has been through so much and rebuilt her life more times than most people will ever have to. As a final thought, she added: “When I finished the book I just thought ‘That’s it, I’m almost clean again’ It sounds cheesy but that’s how it felt. In each chapter, I was getting rid of all the upset, all the guilt.

My life has been guilt from the minute I left the kids and everything seems to be down to that, and I have now released myself and know me now. More than I ever did before. I am now 150% me, I do care about other people, it’s in my nature, but now I have put everything in its right place. All my ducks are in a row and I can relax now.”

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