Ruth Estevez on The Monster Belt and her favourite books inspired by myths and legends
This month our Macaw subscribers are heading into deep water with the mysterious, imaginative and hugely original The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez. We loved this book when we first came across it – it’s unlike anything we’ve read before and we’re excited to share it with our older subscribers this month. Here we quiz Ruth on what inspired the book, what she learnt about mythical creatures from her research, and which books inspired by myths and legends she would recommend you read next:
What prompted you to write The Monster Belt?
I attended a writing course years ago where we were shown pictures of people. I chose one and questions asked about the picture made me think of my school climbing club. Not sure why, but it did! At a similar time, I read a few sentences in a Readers Digest book called Strange Stories, Amazing Facts that mentioned a ‘Monster Belt’ and it being an area between two latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere where the majority of mythical creatures are found. I love legends and myths like that of the Loch Ness Monster and I began to create the character of Dee. She loved climbing, and she lived right at the centre of the Monster Belt. I decided she didn’t feel that she belonged there though, (a theme in many of my books) and so the story grew from there.
Are any of the characters or their experiences inspired by real people or events?
Dee’s background is very similar to my own, so I’ve unashamedly used the village in Yorkshire where I grew up. Then, I met someone who grew up in a hippy community on the Mediterranean island of Formentera and he told me about the amount of freedom he had, growing up. I was fascinated by the island and visited twice, and I fell in love with it and wanted to write a story based there. It is so different to Yorkshire and my/Dee’s upbringing, which made me think about two characters and two locations that were the opposite to each other. One seemed too beautiful and sunny for anything bad to happen, so I wondered how people would react if anything did. Yorkshire is full of nooks and crannies where your imagination can run riot, so Yorkshire always inspires my stories and fiction works best when there are contrasts and these are huge contrasts! I’m usually inspired by locations and local legends, so my characters come from those places and I use aspects of myself. The events involving mythical creatures are all made up I’m afraid!
What research did you do while you were writing the book and did you discover anything that surprised you?
I read all about different mythical creatures and where they are found, which I loved doing. I read records of findings and an account of how the way certain dead fish rot, making their skeletons look like unknown creatures – which people thought were monsters. That made me ask the question of what makes something into a monster and that went on to inspire one of the themes in the book. I also studied Formentera, and places around it. I was surprised at a tiny clump of rock by Ibiza, called Es Vedra and myth has it that Homer based the legend of Circe there. It’s also a place like the Bermuda Triangle near Florida in the Atlantic, where planes and ships have disappeared without trace. This surprised me, that there was a place like that in the Mediterranean. I didn’t have space to follow this storyline through, so I only mention it, but I’d like to develop this place and idea further, in another book.
I also researched drowning; the signs, what happens when you’re drowning and the effects on bodies. I was surprised that someone could be drowning right next to you and you may never know. That shocked me in fact. I like learning facts while reading, so I wanted to put these facts about drowning into the story, so we’d all be aware of this.
Who do you relate to more, Dee or Harris, and why?
I suppose I relate more to Dee as I used my childhood and growing up when building her character. I’ve never seen a mythical creature though! And I can get my words muddled up sometimes, so I know her frustration at that. I’m drawn to Harris though, because that feeling of not fitting in and of wanting to prove something, is also what I have felt. I’m not sure I could write a character I didn’t relate to in some way, whether they are a main one or background. Ask me that again in my next book!
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Dee and Harris?
That’s a sneaky question! I’d say that you have to read the next book to find out! But, Harris follows his destiny now as a cryptozoologist and has further adventures in The Monster Belt. For Dee, I’d suggest rereading the last page of the book and deciding if there is more than one meaning in those final lines. Is it clear, or is it ambiguous?
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I was told to! As my characters are usually in their late teens and are ‘coming of age’ this seems the right age group to write for. It’s a funny thing in some ways. When I was about twelve, I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and many adult books in my teens. I know people in the 40s, who loved the Twilight books when they first came out, as well as Harry Potter. I like to think the books I write can be read by all ages.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have different favourite places for whether I’m writing long hand in a notebook or on the computer (I tend to use a desktop). The sun moves around my house during the day, so in the mornings, it’s at the front of the house, in the afternoon, it’s in the back of the kitchen. So, if I’m writing longhand, I follow the sun. If I’m working on the computer, I’m in the study upstairs and that gets the sun in the late morning and afternoon. You’d think I was my cat, Sushi! She follows the sun! Of course, this plan falls apart on rainy, dull days, so then, it’s the kitchen or study! And sometimes, sometimes, I stay in bed with Sushi cuddled up and write. There, I’ve admitted it!!
Separately to this but also associated, I’d love to spend a few months writing in the place where the book I’m working on is set. Now that really would be my favourite place to write!
What other books inspired by cryptozoology would you recommend our subscribers read next?
The very first book that got me interested in myths and legends and which scared so much, was one I read at Primary School – A Book of Ghosts and Goblins by Ruth Manning-Sanders, with drawings by Robin Jacques. It still gives me shivers.
In my research, I read Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, 20 Chilling Tales from the Wilderness by Hal Johnson and illustrated by Tom Mead. It even has glow-in-the-dark Monsters inside! It describes all sorts of creatures found in America, like the Squonk (which is in The Monster Belt) to the Snoligoster! It is darkly funny too.
Any ghost stories as well, by M R James, Elizabeth Gaskell and Daphne du Maurier. These are great for picking up tips on building up tension and creating chilling atmosphere if you want to write your own stories.
Copies of our The Monster Belt pack are now available for individual purchase here. Grab a copy while stocks last!