Header collage featuring the cover of Life Ruins by Danuta Reah (writing as Danuta Kot)

Life Ruins

Who do you turn to when there is no one to trust?

“I couldn’t put it down… Set firmly in the real world and populated with characters who feel completely authentic.” – Sheffield Telegraph


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In a run-down seaside town, homeless girls are disappearing, but no one is paying attention. Nineteen-year-old Becca thinks she knows the answers, but no one is listening.

Seal: Nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger award
Seal: Nominated for the CWA Steel Dagger award

Life Ruins

Life Ruins and its sequel, Someone Who Isn’t Me, brought me back to Yorkshire and closer to the world of Only Darkness, Silent Playgrounds, Night Angels and Bleak Water.

Life Ruins is set in Bridlington, Whitby and on Kettleness, that part of our coast that is crumbling away, and contains the remains of old mines and abandoned railway tunnels, a largely unexplored world of secrets and dangerous places.

Urban explorers

These places are not completely abandoned. Life Ruins moves into the world of the urban explorer. Jared Godwin is a man with a death wish. Addicted to the adrenaline rush, he lives his life exploring the hidden landscapes that exist all around us: the rooftops, the tunnels, the underground spaces, the towers; until the inevitable happens. A serious fall leaves him seriously injured. Still healing and addicted to the pain killers used to treat him, he has moved into a caravan on a run-down site on the east coast, determined to return to the life that almost killed him.

‘Fill an area with prey and the predators will come’

Kay McKinnon has been recently widowed. Mourning her husband Matt, she is living in an isolated cottage outside Whitby. Without Matt, the life they planned for their retirement is gone, and she has to find a new direction. For much of her adult life, she and Matt fostered troubled teenagers, and her knowledge about these often-damaged children makes her very uneasy about the practice of housing such children in empty holiday accommodation in Bridlington over the winter months. She knows how vulnerable they are. As she says, ‘If you fill an area with prey, the predators will not be far behind.’

Homeless children

Becca Armitage is just twenty, and was fostered by Kay and Matt McKinnon. They helped her put her life back on track, but she is young and angry, and things have gone badly wrong for her. Thrown out of college in Leeds, she is now working in a drop-in centre for homeless young people, a resentful and rebellious member of the staff. But Becca knows how these young people live, and she is worried about them. Something dark is happening at the centre, and the manager seems oblivious.


Becca has befriended Paige, one of the young girls who frequents the centre. She is also challenged by Liam, one of the male users who, despite his youth, seems sinister and threatening. One night, Paige gets into a car driven by strangers, and vanishes.

Close to death

Later that night, Jared witnesses the aftermath of an attack on a young woman that leaves her close to death and horribly mutilated. The girl can’t be identified, but there is reason to believe she may have used the drop-in centre. Becca is certain it must be Paige.

Jared and Becca meet at the police station where they have gone to give statements. They recognise something lost in each other and when Becca is sacked from the centre, she teams up with the nomadic Jared.

Lethal attacks

But something is wrong. Becca and Jared become the focus of potentially lethal attacks, almost as if someone is trying to silence them – but they don’t know anything. Kay also becomes a target. What is happening at the drop-in centre and what is happening in the area as a whole? Becca receives a mysterious video and she and Jared go in search of the truth that may lie in the old mines and tunnels that riddle the coast. She learns quickly that she can’t trust anyone, not even the police.

Can Becca save the people she cares about, and if she does, can she save herself?

How I wrote Life Ruins

How to carry out a life ruin

I first came across the concept of a ‘life ruin’ when I was doing some research on the dark web, and saw how easy it was to ‘dox’ someone; to publicly identify them, and how this could ruin someone’s life. It also gave me the idea of three people whose lives had been ruined in different ways – by bereavement, by trauma, by abuse – and the ways these people were coping.


In my life as a teacher of adults and young adults, I have encountered the effects of severe childhood trauma and abuse, and also the effects of trauma in adulthood. Several of the people I taught were coming to terms with abusive backgrounds or trying to get their lives back on track after they had been derailed by events.

When words don’t work

One of the challenging things about writing is that you can identify the theme of a book, the central core of what the book is about, but it can be hard to identify and create the story that will work with this. Once characters start appearing on the stage, they develop personalities of their own and can’t be made to do things that go against this. Most writers have come up against the book that suddenly stops working, the words that are dead on the page, and that’s often because you are trying to force your characters to fit your theme, rather than going with the characters as you have created them.

Abusive background

Becca, when she finally arrived in my head, was a gift. She’s angry, hostile and reckless. She comes from an abusive background; she has never been able to get a hearing and has been betrayed over and over again. Kay and Matt manage to pull her back from the brink, but her stability is tenuous. Her impulsiveness crashes her life again and again. I have met several Beccas in my life, and not all of them have had happy outcomes.

Dangerous pastimes

Jared was harder. He started out as a bit of a cypher and I struggled to find him, then I thought about urban exploring and caving. I have done a little bit of caving – the simple, very easy kind – and I knew that it is, even at my level, a potentially dangerous pastime. Gradually, I began to understand what was driving Jared. This led me into writing what is possibly one of the most frightening scenes I have ever written as the young Jared has to come to terms with the nature of something he had taken on far too lightly. I began to realise what had happened to Jared, and understood that his life too had been ruined by experience.

Older women in fiction

I thought it was about time older women could be represented in crime fiction as the active, vibrant people they are. Kay, who is as much a part of the narrative in the book, is at the opposite end of her life to Becca and Jared, but she has the wisdom and the life perspective to carry the fight to where it belongs. Her foster children call her Special Kay, and the authorities wince when they see her heading their way.

East coast landscapes

I also love the east coast. I have been to Whitby many times, and visited the bleak and lonely coast of Kettleness. I have even been on the beach there, a difficult scramble down a steep slope where you have to hang onto ropes to stop yourself falling. It’s not a good place to injure yourself, and it’s certainly not a place to get caught by the tide.

Dangerous mines

I also found an account – since removed – of a visit to an abandoned alum mine that lies more or less on the cliff face now, illegally dug out by urban explorers. I also found a collection of maps of the mines in the area, and one is a map of the mine that Becca and Jared find. The link, sadly, no longer works. The mines are dangerous and are best kept away from.

Life Ruins was originally published under the name Danuta Kot, as was Someone Who Isn’t Me.