Ruth is the author of Jiddy Vardy, a historical novel that follows a young woman, Jiddy Vardy, as she tries to find out who she is and begins to fall in love, all the while growing up in a seaside community that is hiding one big secret. A secret that could easily get you killed...
I don't want to go any further in depth over this as I don't want to give away spoilers.
As you guys know, I'm not much of a historical reader, but I wanted to try and read outside my comfort zone more. So, when Emily from Zuntold Publishing/Corker Communications emailed, I jumped at the chance to try something new! Plus, I was intrigued what Ruth would write as a guest post!
And now, I get to share with you guys! But, before I do, I just want to thank Ruth for finding time to write this guest post! And thank you to Emily for asking if I wanted to be involved!
Also, if you want to check Ruth out, you can pop over to her website - artgoesglobal.wordpress.com - or say hi to her on twitter at @RuthEstevez2. Now, with all that out of the way, over to Ruth!
I would never say my novels are issue led but that they explore issues within the narrative. They’re also not autobiographical but they do contain themes that are personal to me.
So, the issues of belonging, death, what constitutes crime and the question of a community’s right to govern itself are usually present in my work.
The latter theme; a community’s right to govern itself, is explored in Jiddy Vardy. Jiddy can’t understand why a government, many hundreds of miles away in London, which knows nothing about the fishermen and women who live in Robin Hood’s Bay should tell them how to live their lives. And the local people have no voice in what the government does, or so it seems to a remote coastal settlement that doesn’t see the necessity to send soldiers to fight French or American soldiers. Certainly not when they have to pay for it through taxes on goods when they are struggling just to feed themselves.
This issue has been on my mind from a young age because of where I lived. From the age of two, I was brought up in a small rural Yorkshire village called Hawksworth. I went to the village school, village Sunday School and played on the local farms. I lost a tooth jumping into mounds of hay at harvest time. Scared ourselves silly hearing a huge noise and thinking a giant was coming for us when we were building dens in the local hall’s grounds. We had freedom. Nobody was telling us what to do.
But we did listen to what was going on in the adult world. My mum was a central part of a mutiny. She and many women in the village were members of the W.I. (Women’s Institute) I remember the debates and talk and decisions now. They started to rebel against the Head Office of the W.I. because Head Office wanted to divide the county up, as part of the re-organisation within the Women’s Institute movement.
This isn’t the only occasion ‘central offices’ have wanted to divide a county they saw as becoming too powerful.
Well, Hawksworth said, ‘No way.’ This was huge. Mum’s friend, Audrey Totty led the Hawksworth group to open rebellion. They terminated their membership and the Hawksworth group set up Yorkshire Countrywomen in response. From relatively small beginnings, the group grew, so that, by 2013, there were over 4,000 members and 107 groups in Yorkshire.
I also remember Yorkshire talked about devolution. The North doesn’t like being dictated to by a centralised government. The Brigantia of Roman Times is still rebellious. Oh …I feel the Yorkshire lass in me rising up!
I’m passionate about Yorkshire and its people and I won’t have them messed with without talking about it! So. Jiddy and Jonas have that voice and they use it!
I’m working backwards here! Crime. What is the definition of a crime and who dictates the criteria? This is linked to who makes the rules, especially when rules are made by a distant power. The Bible’s 10 commandments have a list of rules of life for Christians. Other religions have similar rules, but being brought up going to a Methodist Chapel, I’ll stick to what I know.
So. Though Shalt not steal.
Fair enough. I agree with that. We should not steal. But that ‘steal’ does tend to get a little hazy sometimes. Are you stealing if you make rules that result in poverty and even death? Lives are stolen. Lives are taken. Who is the thief here?
Jiddy Vardy explores this, through Jiddy and Jonas questioning the taxes that are levied, not only on luxury goods, but also basics, like salt. In a fishing and farming community, salt is necessary to preserve fish and meat. Taxed highly, that means fishermen and farmers can’t afford salt. Without salt to preserve fish and meat, they rot. If they rot, people starve. Is it right to tax salt? Desperate, the locals smuggle in salt and other goods. By doing so, they avoid paying tax and so the government funds are short.
Samuel tells us the consequences of the governments’ funds being short. And Jiddy begins to see the other side of the argument. Not paying tax is stealing. Not paying tax means other suffer. But people suffer if they don’t have the money to pay tax. Feels like there’s a bit of a vicious circle going on here.
I think it’s important to give all sides. This is why there are different characters with different experiences coming together to help Jiddy. By knowing all the facts, she can make an informed choice about the way she wants to live her life. She has to be confused before she can be sure.
And I want readers to ask themselves what they’d do if driven to the edge. I explore this theme more in another novel, ‘Erosion’ that is about a collapsing way of life as well as a crumbling coastline.
Death and belonging are themes again from childhood.
My grandparents all died just before and after I was born. There were a great many older women around in Hawksworth and in Bradford that my mum took us to visit and of course, being elderly, they died during my childhood. I went to a funeral or two. I was aware of spaces in our family life. All my friends had grandparents, I didn’t remember ever having one, only being told about them later and that my dad’s father moved from Bradford to Hawksworth with us and after 10 days, he died too. I can’t say ‘my grandma’ or ‘my grandad.’ They don’t exist for me. I don’t remember my dad’s dad being in our cottage in Hawksworth. That bedroom, where he died was blue. It was to become mine. It’s weird how you can feel loss without consciously knowing it. As I said, it’s there being a gap, a space, a black hole.
Many, many years later, when my mum was ill, I witnessed the act of dying and death first hand. It is something that has to be written and talked about. I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t hide it away, but share it for the comfort of the one dying and for those who remain. It’s a saying goodbye, for both and a transition for everyone and a getting used to the fact that this person is passing away and during that time you are part of their journey too. And for the dying, knowing they are not alone as they go into the unknown. It’s definitely not easy and it definitely doesn’t stop you from grieving when they are gone. Ha! I’m in floods of tears writing this!! Writing never ceases to amaze me, how it brings up thoughts and emotions, that we may think are from nowhere, but volcano like, they are always simmering under the surface. I try to use these experiences in my writing. I think it’s called ‘transference,’ when you transfer an emotion you have felt to one you need to play as an actor or use as a writer. I wrote a death scene for Jiddy Vardy, but decided the character wouldn’t die. I will use that scene elsewhere. It’s important.
And finally, belonging. This theme is explored in all my books. It’s important to me too. I’m not sure if it’s because of how my mum felt about being the odd one out much of the time, or from my own experiences. I do believe that ‘baggage’ for want of a better term can be passed through the generations. Philip Larkin spoke about ‘They f**k you up your Mum and Dad and then you bring your own.’ He goes on to say, it’s not their fault; their parents did the same to them.
Damage, experience, whatever you want to call it can be passed on, through gestures, lack of physical contact, stories, attitudes, sub-consciously and consciously. It seeps into our psyche without us realising and suddenly we are that parent or thought. I’m aware of it in myself. I’m trying not to pass too many of my beliefs and quirks onto my children. Again, this is explored through Jiddy. She hasn’t met her birth mother, but she is drawn to luxury, like Maria and the life she was born into. She looks like her birth mother, with dark hair and eyes and she yearns to travel as her mother did.
However, she has been brought up in a tough, Yorkshire coastal village. This part Italian girl speaks with a Yorkshire accent. She knows how to fight and how to break the law. Whose attributes has she taken on and is that possible when that parental influence isn’t physically present? The nature versus nurture debate. Finding where we belong, whether it’s an actual place or feeling we are amongst people we can be ourselves with and be accepted, is I think, what can bring us peace. I’m all for that and it’s what my characters strive towards.
I didn’t actually think about darker themes being in my work, but they appear to seep in. I remember telling my students at MMU that even if we all wrote the same scenario, it would be different because we are all different. We bring our baggage, positive and negative and that makes us unique. It makes our stories unique and long may that continue.