Ruth talks to us about writing young adult fiction books and her own writing journey and process.
I grew up close to Haworth, in Yorkshire, where the Brontes lived. We visited the Bronte Parsonage museum and tended to go to the village quite a lot. It’s a special place, with mum having had relatives there that she used to visit as a little girl. In the museum, the little books that the Bronte children made inspired me to make my own.
I think lots of children like making things and taking ideas from what they see and experience. When I received the book, ‘Weaver of Dreams: the Girlhood of Charlotte Bronte’ by Elfrida Vipont for Christmas when I was 13, I was inspired to write more and more. I loved creating my own worlds and characters.
I wake up at 7.30 am – make a hot water and lemon, turn on the computer, check emails, facebook, write a tweet and post an Instagram post, though not every day! Some days, I’ll write a blog post as well and respond to other people’s posts too. I love the creativity of the Instagram posts for books, very addictive.
Then, depending on whether it’s a Portico Sadie Massey Awards day – I work part time for The Portico Library in Manchester, on their annual award for young readers and writers, or a Jiddy Vardy promotion day, or a writing day – I’ll start. And I tend to work or write for as long as I can. Usually finish when someone comes home for tea!
The best bit is hearing that readers love my writing and my characters, that they ‘get it’ and want to know more.
If I’m struggling, I will start editing what I’ve written. Editing is productive and needs doing and I will have accomplished something with the day. Otherwise, I’ll do some research. With historical fiction, there is always more to do and it always triggers ideas. In fact, most fiction needs some research.
Currently, I’m researching drowning. But, if my head is really going to explode, or I’m going to throw something, then I’ll walk away. Do the washing up, some gardening, go for a walk, tidy my desk or my study! If it’s evening, I’ll maybe have a bath. I think by relaxing, ideas come and I often find solutions to what’s been frustrating me in the story. I can often have a Eureka moment in the bath! I tend not to give myself a hard time any more as there is always something you can do. And that can even mean, opening someone else’s book and having a read…
I think YA fiction is important because readers are often going through a transition at this stage and it’s useful and reassuring to read about others going through similar dilemmas. It’s also a time when we can be looking to the next stage in life and it’s inspiring and helpful to read stories about other places and lives. That there are other possibilities than the ones you’re maybe being pushed towards.
It’s also a time when you can feel isolated when everyone else seems to be sorted and know what they want and where they’re going next. In reality, this may not be the case, but we don’t see that. YA fiction can bridge those feeling of isolation and feeling a bit lost. It can also be a release and escape and we all need that at times. It’s also interesting that many adults read YA fiction, which I’m taking as that adults still feel all those things they did as teenagers, and that they’re nostalgic about how they felt at this time. The strong emotions the characters feel in YA are what we all want to continue feeling in many ways, so YA has a broad reach and I think that makes it more important than we give it credit.
Jiddy Vardy is loosely based on a real person who became a loyal part of the smuggling community of Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire. Half-Italian, she is brought to the village by Pirates and has to learn to survive in a tight knit community with a dangerous secret.
It is about friendship, belonging, love, murder, kissing, smuggling, violence, jealousy, sewing, a prison ship, betrayal, a daring escape, stolen jewels, dancing, a bit more kissing and learning how to load a pistol.
Oh and salt. Did I mention smuggling? And the sea.
Research was so interesting it could have gone on forever and the fictional part might never have been written. There’s always more to know. And as I was writing, I needed to research certain factors on top of the research I’d already done. I have books on costume, about the period and about the local area, smuggling and of course there is always google!
Having stayed in Robin Hood’s Bay many times, the landscape came from experience which I don’t think you can beat when describing a place. The difficult part about historical fiction is not putting everything you know into the book. You can get so excited about what you find out, you want everyone to be as excited and interested as you. But describing someone’s outfit in detail would slow the story down too much and other people might not actually be as riveted as you, in how to make a leather bag to carry rum!
I tried to put in the interesting and useful to know facts only! What nearly caught me out was language. If it hadn’t been for the sharp eyes of the editors, I would have made some huge mistakes. It was a balance between being authentic while capturing the young characters’ voices and making them relatable for readers. I found some brilliant 1700s words but they sounded contrived so it was about striking a balance while rooting out the modern words that would not have been around at the time. Found some great words though! Like fustylugs and Beau Nasties but had to take out burp and stroppy!
Jiddy Vardy took years to become the novel it is now. I first wrote it as a screenplay, then an adult novel before it finally became the YA novel it should always have been.
I’m currently writing a contemporary, almost timeless novel called The Monster Belt. The Monster Belt is an area between two latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere where the majority of mythical creatures are found. It is part fantasy, part psychological, part mystery.
The story is set on the Balearic island of Formentera, just south of Ibiza and in a Yorkshire moorland village. There are two main characters, one is desperate that such creatures really exist, the other wishes above all else, that they didn’t. She knows they’re not confined to The Monster Belt. They are everywhere. Even inside us. I’m also in the very early stages thinking about a prequel to Jiddy Vardy, about Maria, Jiddy’s mother. May just have to visit Italy for that.
There’s a great Hemingway quote from a fictional film, Midnight in Paris. An aspiring author asks Hemingway to read his manuscript and give his opinion. Hemingway says ‘No.’ Two reasons: 1. He’ll hate it and won’t know what to say. 2. He’ll love it and so hate it because he’ll be jealous.
So, from that, I shouldn’t ever be reading other writers’ books! But of course I do. We all do. Some books make me question what I’m doing being a writer. So, yes, there are writers who make me want to fall at their feet. Those are the ones who write books that make my heart either soar or break. Those who write books I will re-read. George Elliot for Mill on the Floss. Ruta Supetys for making me realise the importance of Historical Fiction. Tracy Chevalier. Kate DeCamillo for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane for its story arc. Emily Bronte for firing my young imagination and showing me how layers of themes make up a book without you noticing it. That’s just for starters. There are many and I’m glad there are. Makes me keep writing so that one day, I’ll achieve that perfect book.
Thanks very much for asking me these questions, Writing NV and for making me think. Ruth X
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