Ruth Estevez interview

I am delighted that Ruth Estevez, author of The Monster Belt has kindly answered some questions for Unicorns and Kelpies. Have a read, enjoy and, if you haven’t read The Monster Belt, go and get it. You will not be disappointed!

I read that The Monster Belt had a really interesting route to publication. Could you tell as a little bit about that?

Yes, The Monster Belt started off as a stage play, years and years ago. Mainly because theatre is my working background and I was starting a playwriting course. We were shown photographs to start us off with character, and I chose a man, which started a theme off in the book, which I later dropped, as I’m interested in coming of age stories, and so Dee evolved and over time, the story changed. When I read about an area in the Northern Hemisphere, called the Monster Belt, then the story changed again! I already knew how difficult it is to get a play taken up, as it’s such a collaborative medium, so I turned it into a novel. I submitted it to agents, and when no joy, direct to publishers, still no joy and I put it away, I think for several years. But I loved the story, and when I joined the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (North West group), who hold monthly critique groups, I resurrected it. So, for the YA sessions I took part in, I started sharing chapters of The Monster Belt, and rewriting along the way, which made me fall in love with the characters and the story all over again. With the group’s advice and enthusiasm, I submitted it to UCLan Publishing, which I’d heard about from attending the Northern YA Lit Fest which is held at UCLan. They were full up, but it was accepted by the MA Publishing programme and I worked on the manuscript over a year with a great student, Emma Hennigan. At the end of the year, the commercial arm of the company took it on, and it’s now in bookshops! I still find it hard to believe.

Where do you take inspiration from for your writing?


I get most of my stories from articles I’ve read, or photographs that catch my imagination and set off a list of questions. I’ve also written books very loosely based on my family and from local history books. For example, Meeting Coty is set in the 1920’s perfume world and very loosely based on my great grandmother’s family. It’s being rereleased next year. And the Jiddy Vardy smuggling trilogy came from reading a snippet about a real life female smuggler from Robin Hood’s Bay in a local history book. The Monster Belt was from a sentence telling about an area between two latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere where the majority of mythical creatures are found.
And then there is place. My home county of Yorkshire inspires me. It is vast and full of stories and inspiration, so it features strongly, almost as another character in most of my books.

I really love stories that feature mythological creatures. What do you think the appeal is?


I think what appeals most is that we don’t know for definite whether they exist or not, and that makes them fascinating. I’m also interested in where these myths start and who starts them and why. Which brings about a different element to the story. I’m very interested in mermaids and when researching The Monster Belt, I read about Beluga Whales and looked up images of them. They look oddly human, with what appear to be legs and knees, shoulders and ribs and round heads. You can see how people could mistake them for mermaids, so the question of do mythical creatures really exist or not, sprang to mind. I read about how creatures decay too, I know, not pleasant, but this makes animals appear different and myths about strange creatures can grow from this misapprehensions. I’m also interested in the different interpretations of creatures from mermaids and fairies to the Loch Ness Monster. Some interpretations show them as cruel, some kind, some enticing, beautiful sirens. I also like to think about the mythical creatures’ point of view, why they hide themselves, if that’s what they do, why they are rarely seen, and why there are so few and so isolated. Now I’m getting myself started on a different element I could add if I wrote more Monster Belt books!


Have you always enjoyed writing? What were your favourite books as a child?


Yes, I’ve always enjoyed writing. I used to make my own cut out dolls and made up stories about them. Then I made families of peg dolls and made up stories about them as well. I still have those, but the paper ones haven’t survived! With a friend, I makes a series of little books, inspired by the Bronte children’s little books which I saw in the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth. And in English at school, we had projects and assignments to write stories and poetry, which I loved and it went on from there, co-writing plays at university and then in my job.
My favourite books were Anne of Green Gables, The Little House on the Prairie books, the Wells dancing books by Susan Hill (I was into dancing) and also random books I found on our bookshelves, some written in the 1920s, some in the Victorian age. I love finding books that no-one else has heard of. When I was little I loved the Flower Fairy books and learned about flowers and trees from them, and when very young, I adored the Pookie books for their illustrations. Rereading them now, I see how before her time the author was, with climate change and homelessness. And of course, in my teens, I loved, loved Wuthering Heights. I still do, but for different reasons now.


What current MG/YA books and authors do you love right now?

I don’t tend to read MG books, but for YA, I found the verse books by Louisa Reid very powerful and I love books by Ruta Sepetys and Julie Hearn. I guess I like historical fiction and also a bit of a scare! There are some less well-known writers whose books I have really enjoyed too, like Lu Hersey’s Deep Water, about Kelpies and Catherine Johnson’s books. For humour and contemporary commentary, I’d say Anna Mainwaring is great and I was carried along by Danielle Jawandos’ And the Stars were Burning Brightly. On my tbr pile are A M Dassu, Susan Brownrigg and a few Frances Hardinge books.

Finally, why should people read The Monster Belt?


It’s been described as ‘Beautiful, bold and scary’ (@Richreadalot) and ‘Scary, thrilling and heartfelt’ by you, I believe, so I hope that is enticing enough!
But, in case readers need more….
It’s a coming of age story about finding our identity and where we feel we belong even if it isn’t where we are born.
There’s information about the signs and stages of drowning (I always like to learn something new when I read a book) and most centrally, it asks the question, ‘Do monsters exist?’
By asking this question, the reader is taken on an emotional, mysterious and exciting adventure with people I hope you will be rooting for.

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez

I am delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the #blogtour for the frankly magnificent, The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez. This is an absolutely glorious book, full of excitement, unexpected moments and adventure. A coming of age tale interlinked with stories of monsters and myths.

Synopsis

In the Monster Belt, discoveries are made. Some good, some bad, some life changing

Harris White is on a journey, one that takes him across land and sea in search of The Monster Belt, where he believes he’ll find the key to unravelling a mystery deeply rooted in his past.

Dee Winter, however, has her sights set firmly on a future away from The Monster Belt. When their paths collide, will Harris and Dee find the answers they’ve been looking for.” (https://uclanpublishing.com/book/the-monster-belt/)

Harris and Dee are two teens who have lost loved ones and are on a mission to find out what happened to them whilst navigating the mysterious Monster Belt where all manner of mythical creatures reside.

The Monster Belt is an adventure with wonderous characters that are both scary and delightful. It is also a story with a big heart, with the characters that get under your skin that you can really empathise with.

The Monster Belt is a powerful coming of age story filled with myths, mystery and adventure. Scary, thrilling and heartfelt, it is a beautifully atmospheric and an unputdownable read.

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez is out now.

You can follow Ruth Estevez on Twitter at : @RuthEstevez2

You can follow Uclan Publishing on Twitter at: @publishinguclan

Thank you to Ulcan and Graeme Williams for the review copy.

Scaredy Bat by Jonathan Meres and Anders Frang

I am very excited to be hosting the first day of the blog tour for the stunning, funny and endearing story of Scaredy Bat!

It’s morning and Little Bat can’t sleep. Are Middle Bat and Big Bat right when they accuse him of being scared of the light? There’s only one way to find out! Little Bat sets out on a journey out of the old oak tree and into the light to prove to them and, more importantly to himself, that he is not a ‘Scaredy Bat’. Or is he?

Scaredy Bat is a gorgeous wee tale about being brave and about conquering your fears, no matter what others may think. Although Little Bat sets out to prove to the others that he is not scared, it is really about him discovering himself and proving to himself that he can overcome his fears.

I just fell in love with the characters in Scaredy Bat and children will adore Little Bat and his adventures. The illustrations are fabulous, full of life and little intricacies.

Scaredy Bat would be a brilliant book to read with children at home, or at school. It is a perfect little picture book about being brave, about having the courage to step outside your comfort zone and to discover the beauty and adventure that the world has to offer.

A great little story!

Thank you to Little Door Books for the review copy.

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler #UltimateBlogTour #TheWriteReads

I am delighted to be a part of day 2 on the Ultimate Blog tour for Fireborn by Aisling Fowler! Thank you to The Write Reads for letting me be a part of the Blog Tour and to Harper Collins for the proof copy.

This is a book that I knew I was going to love before I had even turned to the first page. The stunning cover with the exquisite illustrations and embossed lettering, and the blurb that draws you in but yet doesn’t give too much away, meant that Fireborn already screamed ‘I am epic and magical and you will love me!’.

Set in the fantasy world of Ember, Fireborn follows the tale of Twelve who has given up her identity and life to become a part of the hunter’s lodge, a group who train to hunt the monsters that roam this magical world. She is a complex character and we soon discover that Twelve’s deep and dark motivations are rooted in her desire to seek revenge on those who took her family.

However, when the lodge is attacked everything changes and Twelve is catapulted into a journey where the future of her world is at stake.

One of the things I loved so much about this book were the characters. Identified by a number, they are written with depth, warmth and empathy. The relationship between Twelve and Five (enemies at the outset) as they begin to understand each other is beautiful to watch. Likewise, it was fascinating to watch Six and Seven as their characters developed as the story went on. I was left wanting to know more about the smaller characters and the ones on the side of evil as they were that perfectly written.

The world of Ember that Aisling Fowler has created is a perfect land of fantasy, a world that is so vivid and full of life that it is easy to get lost there. The writing is so perfectly pitched that I never wanted to put this book down and I was always eager to know what was going to happen next. I was there with those characters in this magical world at every step of the way.

This is a story that will appeal to fans of big, other world fantasies, both young and old. It is an absolute unputdownable delight.

Fireborn is an absolutely epic tale that felt like only the start of the adventure. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

Fireborn is published 30 September 2021

Aul McDonald hid a Fairm in Doric, wirds and picters bi Aaron Gale

I was so excited to receive this beautiful wee copy of Aul McDonald hid a Fairm in the post this morning. Written in Doric it is an absolutely stunning book that should sit pride of place in any home or classroom.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Doric, it is a distinct dialect of the Scots language which is spoken in North-East Scotland. Doric Books was brought about by author/illustrator, Aaron Gale, and storyteller, Jackie Ross. They had a dream to share stories and pictures books in Doric that could be enjoyed within families and beyond, and to promote the value of Doric as a dialect of Scots.

Aul McDonald hid a Fairm in Doric is one of their first publications and it is an absolute delight, perfect for Doric speakers as well as those just beginning to explore this diverse and unique Scots dialect. The classic song is interspersed with a mini tale about Aul McDonald and each of the farm animals.

The combination of the stories and the illustrations gives each character the most wonderful personalities. The illustrations are just pure joy and the animals’ facial expressions are just perfect! From the bemused looking yowes, to the cheeky and rather unfriendly looking rubbits, to the delighted looking grumphies in the mud and to the weary looking cuddy and more. Every charcter shines, none more so that Aul McDonald himself.

This is a wonderful introduction to Doric and it is a book that will delight both children and adults alike. It is the perfect picture book to share at home or in the classroom, as a story in itself or to compliment a focus on the Scots language. As a familiar story with gorgeous illustrations it is not too tricky to follow along and identify the meaning of any unfamiliar words. There is, however, a comprehensive glossary at the back to check on if needed.

Doric Books, as I have discovered, also have a superb website which, among other excellent Scots and Doric resources, has an activity book and flashcards to accompany Aul McDonald. If you are interested in Scots and Doric it is well worth checking out.

I absolutely adored this book. It is funny, beautifully illustrated and the perfect way to enjoy a story in Doric.

To find out more about their books and resource please check out their website at https://doricbooks.com/ and follow them on Twitter at @BooksDoric

Spider by Linda Strachan

I was delighted to be gifted a copy of Spider by author, Linda Strachan, and to be given the opportunity to read and review this uncompromising, intense novel which hits you full force and leaves you gasping for air.

Spider and his friends have a thing for joyriding. The speed, the adrenaline and the danger has them hooked. But Spider is on his last warning. He knows if he is caught again he will be sent straight to prison. However, when his girlfriend, Deanna, and mate Andy convince him to take them out on one last run, everything starts to unravel and their lives quickly start to spin out of control.

Spider is told through multiple perspectives, with each of the main characters telling their side of the story throughout the book. I love how this gives a real insight into the thoughts and feelings of Spider, Deanna and Andy. We may not agree with their actions but we are given the chance to understand their motivations.

I could not help but think what a fabulous book this would be to use with a secondary school class. There are so many opportunities for discussion around choice and personal responsibility as well as the difficult issues that are raised.

Just as a wee note, there are some really hard-hitting themes tackled in this book so it is definitely one for mid to older teenage readers. Car accidents, life-changing injuries, teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse and attempted suicide are all touched upon.

I absolutely loved this book. It is fast, breath-taking, forceful and powerful. Just like real life, none of the characters are perfect and their decisions leave lasting consequences but I didn’t feel like any character was demonised, nor celebrated. Rather, the multiple narratives show us that nothing is ever absolute and finding a sense of empathy and understanding towards others is essential.

This is teenage fiction at its best. Definitely a must read!

You can find out more about Linda’s work by following her on twitter at:

@strachanlinda

The Race by Roy Peachey

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour today for The Race by Roy Peachey. The Race is a brilliant, very cleverly told story about running, family, perseverance and being true to yourself. With the Olympics in full flow, it is the perfect book to read between watching the Games. This morning Roy has shared his thoughts about the challenges of writing a dual narrative. Have a read and be sure to get your copy of this fantastic, original and inspiring story.

The Race is a dual narrative, middle grade novel, featuring Lili, a young Chinese-British sprinter in the modern day, and Eric “Chariots of Fire” Liddell, star of the 1924 Olympics. Lili and Eric have many things in common: they were both born in China and grew up in Britain; they both love running fast; and they both believe in doing the right thing even when put under great pressure. 

However, the challenge in writing The Race was not finding similarities between the two protagonists, but ensuring that they had their own distinctive voices. Lili had to sound like a twelve-year old girl and Eric had to grow through the book. When we first meet him, he is only five-years old and when we leave him he is in his forties. 

It was also vital that the historical sections sounded right. Period dramas often pay great attention to tiny details of clothing and food, while serving up horrid anachronisms in the script. I have a history degree, so maybe this bugs me more than it does most people, but I wanted to ensure that Eric genuinely sounded like someone who lived in the first half of the twentieth century. 

However, getting his voice right caused problems of its own because I also had to remember my audience. My first novel, Between Darkness and Light, was written for adults. I spent many months, if not years, doing my research and I was able to use the full resources of the English language when doing so (as well as a little Chinese, French and Breton!) But I was writing The Race for a different readership and so I had to adapt. 

That wasn’t quite as difficult as it might sound for three reasons. Firstly, my own children are the age of my target audience, so I tried out The Race on them. Secondly, my day job is teaching in a secondary school, so I had my students in mind when trying to pitch the book at the right level. And, thirdly, I tapped into my own inner child. We lose our child-like qualities at our peril, especially if we are children’s authors, and can sometimes be too grown up for our own good.  

What does this mean in practice? It means that I laughed at my own jokes quite a lot. I figured that I might as well enjoy my book, even if no one else did. Fortunately, The Race has been well reviewed, so it seems as though my sense of humour isn’t as quirky as I had feared. Maybe Lili – if she really existed – might have enjoyed the book. I sometimes even dare to hope that Eric Liddell might have approved as well. Which makes me wonder if liking your own characters is, in the end, the key to writing a good dual narrative. I certainly like and admire Lili and Eric, and I hope you will too. ‘ 

Follow Roy and Cranachan on Twitter:

@roy_peachey

@cranachanbooks

Scottish by Inclination by Barbara Henderson

I am so excited to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Scottish by Inclination. I absolutely adore Barbara’s books that are mainly steeped in Scottish historical life and are aimed at young folk. But this is something different. This is a book that is charming, funny, informative but overall, downright important.

Barbara is a natural born storyteller and Scottish by Inclination is her tale of how she made Scotland her home. Set against the backdrop of the 2016 EU referendum she shares the tales of fellow European Scots and outlines why so many have added ‘Scottish’ to their identity.

As I say, Barbara is something of a master of storytelling and her retelling of her own experiences is full of warmth and humour, whilst remaining factual and thought-provoking. Barbara left Germany at the age of 19 and over the last 30 years has made Scotland her home. In Scottish by Inclination she lovingly retells her experiences of being a student, teacher and mother in her adopted homeland. This is contrasted by her forced journey to citizenship following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

But, as I said, Scottish by Inclination is not just Barbara’s story. She spent time interviewing 30 Europeans who, like her, have made Scotland their home and each individual has their own story to tell. Their own story of how they became ‘Scottish by Inclination.’

We hear the stories of a politician, an artist, professors, sportsmen and many more. Every tale is perfectly and honestly shared and I loved reading every single one.

This book is hugely important. Although told in a wonderfully positive manner it forces us to reflect on the decisions the UK made back in 2016 and the impact it has made on our hugely important immigrant population. It reminds us of our commonality, our shared passions and our shared humanity.

This is a really personable, enjoyable and accessible read. It is told with wit and charm, each story shining a light on a European Scot’s journey to settling in our country. It is a beautiful collection about belonging, positivity and hope for the future and it is an absolute must read.

What If, Pig? by Linzie Hunter

What If, Pig?: A wonderful wobble of a story, all about worries - and the  friends who get you through them!: Amazon.co.uk: Hunter, Linzie:  9780008409500: Books
What if, Pig?

Pig is kind, friendly and thoughtful. Everyone think so, especially his friend Mouse. One day Pig has a great idea. He will throw a party for all of his friends! He carefully plans all the details and sends out the invitations.

But as the party gets closer Pig suddenly becomes overcome with self-doubt and anxiety. He imagines all the things that could go wrong and that, actually, nobody really likes him at all! It turns out that Pig is a massive worrier.

Fortunately Pig has some wonderful friends like Mouse who understands how to help him.

What if, Pig? is an absolutely gorgeous picture book, perfect for worriers young and old. It provides a great prompt for discussions with children about anxiety and self-esteem, how we can overcome these feelings and how we can help others who may be feeling overwhelmed by worry and self-doubt.

Ultimately this is a beautifully positive book with a wonderful message that it’s okay to worry and it’s normal to feel sad but things don’t stay that way forever.

This has got to be one of my favourite picture books. The illustrations are wonderful and the facial expressions are just perfect. It would be a great book to read with young children at home or in the classroom to provide a discussion prompt around mental health.

I loved it, make it a must read!

You can follow the author on twitter:

@linziehunter

A Polar Bear Called Forth by AP Pullan

I am so excited to share my review of the delightful, thought-provoking, A Polar Bear Called Forth by AP Pullan. I am so pleased to have stumbled across this gorgeous story. It is a simple beautifully told tale, that highlights the importance of friends and family and the overwhelming need to belong.

Caitlin McGill is a 10 year old girl who lives in South Queensferry. Her mother has long sinced abandoned her so she lives with, and cares for, her elderly gran. When she unexpectedly finds a young polar bear cub washed up on the shore one day she names him Forth and he quickly becomes her best friend. With her new friend by her side, Caitlin spends her time between school, out sailing and cooking and cleaning at home. However, when her gran’s health starts to deteriorate it becomes clear that her life is about to change for good.

The story is really about the central character of Caitlin and about how, through her friendship with Forth, she is able to deal with the uncertainty and trauma that is going on in her life. It is about her journey to discover a place where she belongs, where she is cared for and where she is loved. There are parallels throughout between Forth and Caitlin and their stories and it is through her imagination that Caitlin is able to discover a way to cope.

I really like how we are given such an insight into Caitlin’s feelings and responsibilities as a young carer for her gran. She is such an independent wee girl who has had to grow up beyond her years but, as the story goes on, we are reminded that she is still just a child, desperately in need of nurture, love and a place to call home.

As someone who lives in central Scotland who regularly visits the beautiful town of South Queensferry, it was lovely to read a story set against the background of the three Forth bridges and the settings are definitely one of the things I loved about this book. The brilliant Highland Wildlife Park, near Kincraig, which has its own polar bears, is another one of the fantastic settings.

I have to mention the stunning front cover which features the iconic Forth Bridge. The author got local academy students to run a competition to contribute artwork and the cover was the winning entry by Cliona Riach.

A Polar Bear Called Forth is an absolutely unexpected joy. It made me laugh, it made my cry and it made my smile. It is a gorgeous, magical tale about friendship, self-discovery, belonging and, ultimately, hope.

You can order A Polar Bear Called Forth from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Polar-Bear-Called-Forth/dp/B08SGG953P

Children's Book Reviews

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