Ruth Estevez author of Jiddy Vardy answers our questions
Q - When did you start writing?
A – I started writing stories when I was still in primary school. I was born near Haworth in Yorkshire and we used to go to the Bronte parsonage and the moors around the village quite a lot. I remember the tiny room where the Bronte children spent a great deal of time, making up stories that they wrote down in little books that they made so small because paper was precious. Their tiny books inspired me to make and write my own.
As well as making my own books, a friend and I made little fold up books which we called ‘The Adventures of Ruth and Clara.’ We aimed to write and illustrate a hundred between us. We divided up the numbers, I had the 30s, 40s, 60s, 90s for example. I’m sure you’ll have guessed that we never finished the series, but I still have the ones I wrote and I remember the fun we had making them. I also made up stories about my dolls, but I didn’t write those down. I acted them out, so I also became very interested in drama.
Q - What inspires you to write?
A – It can be anything, from a photo in a newspaper, something I have seen or heard or read. Yorkshire, where I am from, inspires me. The countryside, the coast and also legends about places. I have folders full of clippings I’ve collected as well. I’ll never get through them all! Jiddy Vardy was inspired by a few pages about a real life female smuggler who lived in Robin Hood’s Bay. A newspaper photo of a house on the edge of a collapsing cliff in Yorkshire inspired my book, Erosion.
A snippet of information can be the seed for a story. Dynamics of relationships also interest me. Mother – daughters is a big one! Personal feelings too, and how experiences are passed down through generations, which is why the theme of belonging is big for me.
Q - What do you think are the important things to think about when you write stories for young adult readers?
A - I think about what I liked to read at this stage and I still have those books on my bookshelves. Young adult readers vary hugely, but I think being honest and imaginative is highly important. I remember how intense emotions are and how many experiences are the first you’re going to have of something. Friendship, love, family, trying to find out where you belong and what you want to do in life. I still think about those things and explore those in my novels.
I also think it’s important to learn something new when reading a book, whether it’s about people who are different from you, a skill or way of life and that is the same for all ages. We can often feel isolated or misunderstood, so emotion and empathy are important so that you can see how other people deal with a situation, whether that is in contemporary fiction, dystopian, fantasy, historical or whatever genre. A book should show us choices so that we can make our own.
Q - Do you think that novels and books have a place in the ever-increasing digital world we live in?
A - Yes! We often learn facts more easily when they are part of a fictional story so novels are definitely necessary. Stories have always been with us in some format or other and we need them for entertainment, knowledge and to help us understand ourselves, others and the world.
Books in hard copy form are more than the words they contain, so again, yes, they are necessary on many levels. We need physical books.
People treasure books from childhood, ones that they have been given or even inherited. We can remember exactly where we were and at what stage in our life when we pick up a certain book. They remind us of people, places, situations and how we were feeling at that point in our lives.
The visual of a book cover is evocative. Books have a smell. We can feel and even hear them. I love flicking fast with my thumb through the pages of a new book and they stick slightly. The book can even creak. Very old books can have thin, almost see through paper which crackles. Love it!
Digital gadgets for reading don’t awaken these senses, only the story. It takes a physical book to transport us on these many levels. If you look at photographs of a novel, you don’t often see a photo of it in its digital form, like a kindle. It’s the physical book you see. Readers are creative, they place books in a carefully put together set for Instagram for example. You’ll see someone holding a book in an interesting way and it’s there to create conversation. This is actually interesting how reading and reviewing novels has turned into a digital art form. And that is something to celebrate. I love seeing how creative people are with a physical book!
And they are a talking point! See? There are so many reasons for having physical books. I sometimes choose a book purely based on its cover. People love to look at other people’s bookshelves. Didn’t Cicero say, ‘All you need is a library and a garden?’
Q - Can you tell us a little about your new novel, Jiddy Vardy?
A – In my story, Jiddy Vardy is snatched from a ship off the Yorkshire coast, after being born to an Italian mother and English father. Jiddy grows up, fighting to find her place and sense of identity amongst the pale locals of Robin Hood’s Bay. This area of the coast is home to many smuggling gangs and is a dangerous and secretive place where outsiders are treated with suspicion and traitors with death. Her best friend, a local farmer’s son, Jonas, is her confidante. She looks up to him but when the head of the smuggling ring lets her into the secret of how salt and other commodities come to the Bay, she gains a confidence he can’t at first share. There is adventure, fighting, friendship, betrayal, smuggling and kissing. And after that, violence, travelling, parties and choice and a scene on how to load a pistol. Jiddy has to choose a way of life and it’s not always an easy choice.
Q - What inspired you to write Jiddy Vardy?
A – I was looking through the local history shelves in an old bookshop in Robin Hood’s Bay and read about an illegitimate daughter of a rich Count and a Lady’s companion who became a smuggler. She had dark, glossy hair and dark eyes and was strong and passionate and fiercely loyal to the local people. Her story isn’t widely known and I think historical fiction has a huge part to play in bringing stories about unknown or forgotten events and people into the light.
Fleshing out her character, personal thoughts and feelings about belonging came up and this inspired me to write about the theme of belonging. This would have been huge for Jiddy and I’m interested in what makes us search for this idea of ‘fitting in’ and when we have searched for it, is it what we want? And who is it with?
So, personal experience also inspires my writing. I remember at secondary school, being the only redhead with fair skin in my group of friends and how that made me feel different. I was the only girl from my primary school to go to this secondary school and how that felt when others were already in a group. There are other examples from my childhood, passed on from others, so the theme became very important to explore alongside Jiddy.
Of course, it also comes down to smuggling and writing an adventure. Robin Hood’s Bay is riddled with tunnels and hidden corners and although in reality smuggling was messy, dangerous and violent, it was also a necessity for some and that dilemma is fascinating. I wanted to write about smuggling and the adventurous side of it. That heart stopping fear in the middle of the night! Spending time in Robin Hood’s Bay definitely inspired that.
Q - Was it hard writing about someone who lived so long ago?
A - No! I love research. So much that I could spend forever reading about a different place or time. I read that one writer writes his book then researches any parts that need it but I have always researched first as it gives me story ideas. I wanted to write about Robin Hood’s Bay and smuggling and I wouldn’t have found out about Jiddy if I hadn’t researched first, so this story would never have existed. And that would have been a real tragedy.
Also, people are people and we will always have similar wants and needs. Jiddy is eight years old at the beginning of the book, she wants friends and she has a best friend, Jonas. Like many eight year olds today, she wants to play, have fun, eat when she’s hungry, sleep when she’s tired. Later, at sixteen, the girls talk about love and they all go for the same part time job. They all want to know what a kiss is like. And they are all involved in smuggling. Jiddy has the same emotions and desires as a sixteen year old who lives now. It is the way life is lived, no phones, no cars, the outside mechanics that are different, that’s all.
Q - What message would you want to give to young people who want to write but maybe feel too scared to, or ‘not good enough’ to?
A – There is no ‘not good enough’ when you begin writing. You can write as much as you like and you don’t need to show it to anyone. If you write about what interests you or how things make you feel, and the more you do it, you’ll grow in confidence. And try not to change the way you speak. Write as you talk and think. You don’t need to ‘put on a voice.’ Be you. We could all write the same story but they’ll all be different if we all write as ourselves. So, I’d say, practice writing and being you.
At the same time, read, whether it’s comics, novels, factual books, or listening to songs, audio stories, snatches of conversations, things people tell you. Watch people, observe the world around you. What do you like? What do you hate?
And when and only if you’re ready, show your writing to someone you trust. And try to take any criticism as constructive. We grow through feedback, if you look at it factually and decide whether you agree or not, rationally. This is something we learn to do.
Writing is like most things, the more you do it, the more you relax and the better you become at finding the words that will express what you want to say. So, take off the judgement hat and let yourself be you and write and enjoy it.
Of course, there are technical rules and suggestions about structure and format, many of which you can find online, but first, find out who you are in your writing. Write as you think and speak about things that matter to you.
Use all your senses and write about everything in your heart and around you, in your world without forgetting you have an imagination. What do you dream about? Let that imagination fly!
Q - Parting words?
A – Happy reading and writing. If you have any questions, about Jiddy Vardy, writing, anything, please get in touch. And if you want to be a writer, then the very best of luck. Keep writing, exploring and expressing who you are. That’s the most important thing – finding out who you are, however long it takes.