I met Ruth in the pink and cozy atmosphere of Kathy’s cupcakery on a sunny Wednesday morning. She is a lovely and easygoing person and we got the opportunity to talk about Luxembourg, her book coming out this week (“Nowhere girl”) and her expat background in Luxembourg.
So, as we usually start. What is your name, where are you coming from, what are you doing and how long have you been in Luxembourg?
I am Ruth Dugdall, I am an English crime author and I have been living in Luxembourg for two years now.
That is already pretty good. Do you plan to stay any longer here?
No, we are leaving next year, my husband had a two-years contract. For me it was good to know it was limited: on one side, I did not say “no” to anything during this period, we had lots of travel, things to do, but on the other side, yes, it was just fine knowing we would have came back home after a while.
Didn’t you enjoy being in Luxembourg?
Actually I didn’t want to leave home. I love my home: I am coming from Suffolk, on the East coast of England, a sea-side town. My family lives there, I am sort of “known” in the town, it is a quite small town… So, at the beginning I did not want to leave at all, I didn’t even know where Luxembourg was, to be honest! And I don’t speak any languages, so I was very scared!
But, at the end, we made the best of it and it has been much better than I thought it was going to be. But I am not someone who wants to live away from home. I am a communicator, and I find it difficult if I can’t communicate.
So, you don’t find that, being Luxembourg a very international city, it is easy to live here even if you don’t really speak any official languages? This is often one of the most common comments from expats.
Well, you can get by, but the fact is I like to chat with people. In the gym, yesterday, I made a joke and nobody around me got it. It is not that I cannot make myself understood, but if there is a problem, like being in the hospital or a technical stuff, it sounds like a real challenge. Even though they speak English, there is an understanding gap. I know a lot of people who don’t worry about that, but for me it is all about words.
So you were kind of forced to move here because of your family.
Because of my husband’s job, indeed. Obviously I can work anywhere and my publisher, when I told her we were moving, was enthusiastic, because I have always written about Suffolk, and they said this was an opportunity to settle a novel somewhere else. And honestly it gave me a purpose for being here. You know, we came with Andrew’s job but I knew it was an opportunity for me too and for the kids.
So, would tell us a bit more about “Nowhere girl”?
When I arrived, I had two book deals: the first one I knew what was going to be.
The second book was still a question mark, but my publisher wanted it to be settled here in Luxembourg. So, I didn’t know what the story was until I have been here a couple of weeks and I was dropping the kids to school. There were these posters around saying “be sure children aren’t arriving at school without parents”. I was being curious about it and I went up to a security guard and said “what is this about” and he said “oh you don’t need to worry”. Actually, in Belgium, in that period, there have been three attempted kidnappings. Almost immediately I started to Google it, trying to find what I could, which wasn’t a lot.
I guessed if I child has been taken in Luxembourg, he could be anywhere within few hours, in Europe. So I decided to write about a girl who has been missing: she is an expat and the police is not taking it very seriously because of her age and because she has gone missing before with her boyfriend. I contacted my publisher, asked what about this idea and they said, go for it. But I still had a big problem because I didn’t know how things work in Luxembourg. If an expat went missing, will the British embassy be involved, how the police would respond, do they wait 24 hours, do they act immediately… I needed to know.
So did you do some research about it?
Yes, I was really lucky by how willing people were to talk, I spoke with police, social workers, and I got a view of crime in Luxembourg, because it is very hidden in the press, you can’t find it.
And this is what is quite apparent: Luxembourg doesn’t want to talk about what is going on. Actually all the cities have problems with crime. I am from a small town and we have still murders. It is crazy for Luxembourg trying to pretend nothing happens. And then, of course, I started to come to place like this (rue de Strasbourg) and I found this other side of Luxembourg, with the refugees, people who are here illegally, trying to get by, who can’t get healthcare, who can’t get the papers they needs, and this was their story.
Were people available to talk? Did you find any difficult about that?
I met with Algerian people, people from Serbia, I also volunteered to work at the prison and managed to visit the refugees’ center, so I was actually able to speak to people who really had failed to survive here, had committed crimes. Coming back to your question, no, I did not find any resistance, what I found was the opposite: people needed and wanted to talk about it, because, you know, everybody talks about how beautiful Luxembourg is, and the designers’ shops, luxury life, and nobody is talking about the other side. I think it only changed in the last few weeks, with the Syrian crisis. People are now saying how can we help, what can we do and I think there’s an awareness now of people who are struggling, it wasn’t before then in this city.
So your novel will describe this hidden world compared to the posh Luxembourg everybody tends to talk about. When “Nowhere girl” is going to be out?
The launch is October 24th at 2 pm at Chapter 1, the English speaking bookshop in Merl/Belair area and I will also have an event in Ernster (English branch, near Gran-Duchy’s palace) the following month, on the 21st of November at 5 pm.
The thing I am nervous about is that I am saying this controversial thing: when I talked to most of people about this “hidden” Luxembourg, everybody agreed with my view. It’s true, things are happening in Luxembourg but people don’t talk about them. At the same time, I am still aware that should be a response from people that are saying we shouldn’t be talking about crime in Luxembourg, because it will have effects… what will it affect? Tourism? What about larger cities like London or Paris? So, there is a resistance to talking openly.
Did people who helped you in the research read already the book? What was their comment?
No, they haven’t’ yet. And, you know, people who helped me in the research, they are not necessarily responsible for the associations they are working for, they aren’t responsible for what in the book. So that’s a tricky one, because for example police has been incredibly helpful with the research but, of course, this is a crime book, so for example, in the book, at the beginning the police is not taking the kidnapping seriously, but I am not saying Luxembourg police was not helpful – this is the fiction of the book.
In particular, the person who helped me the most was a local social worker and I talked with her a lot about the idea in the book and I think that, although she hasn’t read it, she is very supportive. I focuses on this refugee’s family who cannot get healthcare for their child – and I contacted her and asked is this accurate and she told me: “I have a family at the office right now who has a child and they are going in every hospital , struggling with the papers for his care”. It was important for me to hear that, but I am sure there are people in Luxembourg who doesn’t know about this kind of situation.
And you think someone will be disappointed by this view of the book, the view about the fact that in Luxembourg everything is not perfect how it seems to be?
That comment is going to come. I had the same problems indeed with my crime books settled in Suffolk; I had people at that time telling me I did not like Suffolk that much. I love Suffolk, but I am a crime writer, I am not writing about cottages and roses and romance, I am writing about the hidden corners. But this does not mean I don’t love places… My main character is a probation officer, that is what I was, and I have a huge amount of respect for that career, but my probation officer has made bad decisions, personally and professionally, because she is a character in a novel, so she can’t be perfect. But I am not saying all probation officers are corrupt, we are humans.
I am definitely nervous about this launch, definitely more nervous that previous books. If you compared this book with “The Expats” – the other famous novel that takes place in Luxembourg -, The Expats is a spy story, a bit remote, not something that can really happen, not something related to how Luxembourg sees itself. Everybody knows what I am talking about.
So, so far it has been clear what you did not really appreciate about Luxembourg (laughing). Now, moving on the other side, what do you like about Luxembourg?
I like where it is placed, the fact that you can travel quite easily to France, Belgium, Germany, so I find it a great place to go and visit. I am really interested in history, especially World War II, so it has been ideally for going into Belgium. The things that we really like doing IN Luxembourg is “cinema”, because in England they have really strict rules about ages on films, and here they don’t and then as a family we were able to go and see a lot of films that otherwise we would have not been able seeing in England. So, probably every fortnight we go to the cinema and it is just wonderful not to have to worry about the restrictions and I really appreciate it.
And about Luxembourg as city, do you have a favorite restaurant in the city?
Well, I am vegetarian, so eating out here is always a challenge, especially at top-level restaurants. The higher level I go, the most likely I am getting a simple plate of vegetables. I like the restaurant “Himalaya“, we take away from them almost every week and it has great Indian food. We like “Sobogusto“, because of the ambience, and recently I have been going to “Beim Siggy“, because the service is so good, very friendly and if you eat on the terrace, there is an incredible view. I am really excited about the new vegetarian restaurant what opened in town, “Beet“, so I am going to try it soon. I think restaurants here are overrated, if you go to Belgium you have so much more choices for vegetarian!
So, if I am asking what your favorite place in a range of 200 km would be, I suppose it will be in Belgium?
(Laughing) Yes, I would say Bastogne, but not because of the restaurants, because of the incredibly huge materials of the World War II they have. The War Museum they have there, I have been there four times and it is the best museum I have ever been to! But I also liked the Ardennes 44 Museum, they serve beers in American military hat at its bar, so much to see and a lovely atmosphere.
What would be then for you the best adjective to describe Luxembourg?
Accessible – you can get to places easily and you can get by with whatever language you speak.
So what will you miss about Luxembourg when you will leave?
I will miss the opportunity to go to interesting places every week-end. Every week-end since we arrived we visited something interesting.
If you want to meet Ruth, head to Chapter 1 bookstore this Saturday at 2 pm or follow her Facebook page to learn about new events. Her new book, “Nowhere girl” , settled in Luxembourg, will be out in shops on October 31st.