Ruth Dugdall at Luxembourg’s fun fair in September
Photo: Julien Becker
Interview: Just 18 months after arriving in Luxembourg, author Ruth Dugdall has written her first book set in the Grand Duchy. “Nowhere Girl” is the fourth psychological novel to feature probation officer Cate Austin.
It is rare to discover an English language novel set in Luxembourg, never mind one that delves into the “dark heart” of the country. But that is what Ruth Dugdall’s “Nowhere Girl” does, and then some.
The tale of a teenage girl who goes missing at the Schueberfouer, “Nowhere Girl” takes the author’s familiar heroine, probation officer Cate Austin, on a journey into dangerous territory involving human traffickers and other unsavoury characters. “I am interested in the gritty places,” Dugdall says. Her own journey to writing novels has been rather roundabout via what seemed to be a lifelong commitment to a career in the British probation service.
But a hobby investigation into a famous historical murder in her native Suffolk eventually led Dugdall to turn her meticulous research into a novel, “The James Version”. Dugdall’s next novel, “The Woman Before Me”, won the 2005 Debut Dagger prize awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association and had literary agents chasing her with the promise to change her life.
That was enough for Dugdall to resign from her job to focus on writing. “Which was stupid. Because you can’t make any money from writing, and why nobody told me that, I don’t know.” She was repeatedly told that her books were too dark. “I realise now that this is every writer’s story, it takes ages to get the recognition.”
Her perseverance paid off and another Cate Austin novel, “Humber Boy B”, appeared earlier this year. Meanwhile, husband Andrew had been offered a transfer to Luxembourg with his work and the family moved to the Grand Duchy.
A couple of random incidents got Dugdall thinking about how easy it would be to kidnap someone in Luxembourg and be across the border in the direction of France, Belgium or Germany within minutes.
“I thought, which way would you even start looking?” But her trademark is unearthing the psychological underpinnings of why people commit crime, and so she started to investigate the struggle of illegal immigrants and the problem of human trafficking in Luxembourg. The result, “Nowhere Girl”, is out on 31 October.