In this month's Inspirations from the Bookshelf, Ruth Estevez talks about the long-lasting influence of L. M. Montgomery on her as a child and as a writer ...

I think the age of twelve going on thirteen is a magical time, the step from childhood to the next stage, moving from the relative safety of Primary School to the unknown world of High School. I was the only girl who moved from my small village primary to the secondary school two miles away. The three boys I knew were in different classes to me and I rarely saw them in the busy corridors. I felt alone, but not afraid, although it was a new world to negotiate with different people who had different ways of doing things. A strong learning curve!

The books that I treasured at this time of transition were the Anne books by Lucy Maud (L. M.) Montgomery, starting with Anne of Green Gables. I think it’s quite important to travel a character’s journey at the same age as them. Anne is twelve when the book starts and she is thirteen by the end of this first book. All my grandparents were dead by the time I was two, and we moved to Hawksworth village where we knew no-one. My aunt had emigrated to New Zealand as a young woman and my uncle to Canada for a few years. Our little family was like an orphan family and I know this was hard for Mum, feeling alone and making her way in a new place; but it gave me plenty of time to dream.

Re-reading the books now, the language seems flowery, but at the time I loved it. It did lead to my writing flowery language myself, but this is how we learn, and I was learning to develop my own style. Language has always been important to me in a book, maybe because of this. Plot alone isn’t enough. Plot is the bare bones for me. I adored phrases such as

When the calm night came softly down over Green Gables, the old house was hushed and tranquil.

... and I sought to emulate L. M. Montgomery’s style. Place and atmosphere fascinated me and still do ...

And over the river in purple distance the echoes bided their time.

Isn’t that sublime? These books deeply affected the language I used. Although my dad did comment that I needed to calm it down a bit!

The Anne books are less about plot and more about characters and world-building and this has always been my focus of interest. People and place. It hasn’t left me.

Ruth Estevez from her own blog
Being brought up in a village where everyone knows everyone felt very like Avonlea. I was surrounded by old, strong women, as Anne was. Well, they seemed old to me – Yorkshire women with grey hair and perms. Our Mrs Brown was Anne’s Mrs Lynde. The men were silent types like Matthew Cuthbert. The list of women who influenced me through my childhood remains with me. And being surrounded by older people, I knew from a young age people who died. So when Matthew dies, I could recognise that and how it affected the characters. Again, seeing our own experiences reflected in a book is so helpful at any age, not just when we’re young.

The cottages and houses in Hawksworth felt very like the cottages and houses I read about. Mrs McCallum’s Wood Nook, where I spent a great deal of time, was Anne’s Green Gables. All the friends I made at High School lived out of the village, so I felt I was always in a little island in comparison to the estate where they all lived close to each other. Many a long walk home alone in the dark – not telling my mum!

But what drew me to the Anne books above the Wells books (which I also loved, as I loved dancing) was that Anne had red hair and freckles. It seemed a revelation to have a main character who reflected my red hair and freckles. Later, when I could pin this down, I realised how important it is for every child to see themselves reflected in a book.

It’s funny looking back, and thank you Philippa for this opportunity to look back, but I can’t work out whether I was like Anne, or whether I modelled myself on Anne Shirley. I was ambitious, I strove to be the best. I was hot tempered, which flared out when I slapped a boy who consistently teased me at school. I’m not a good loser. It was wonderful to read about Anne’s competitive streak and her intelligence and that it was applauded. Ambition was deemed good and I thrived on that knowledge. It was more important than any boy!

But then there was Gilbert Blythe. I’ve had my own Gilbert Blythes who have spurred me on to be my best self. That competition between Anne and Gilbert to be top of the class still gives me tingles. And when romance crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways at the end of book two, Anne of Avonlea, I wanted to stay with them on the Stone House’s flower-filled, leafy drive on that summer evening!

These books accompanied me through a stage in my life, which I think the best books do. I still have my original copies on my bookshelf. They bring nostalgia because they remind me of the twelve-year-old I used to be, but I also see how their influence has stayed with me in many different ways and I am grateful for that.

*Header image and second book cover c/o Ruth Estevez


Ruth Estevez is a member of SCBWI North West and she used to write for Bob the Builder. Her most recent YA/Crossover novel is Jiddy Vardy, set in Robin Hood's Bay. She was brought up in Yorkshire and now lives in Manchester. Yorkshire features a great deal in her writing and she continues to visit frequently. 

Ruth's website: Art Goes Global
Follow her on Twitter: @RuthEstevez2


K. M. Lockwood writes, reads and edits in The Garret. Once downstairs, she runs a tiny writer-friendly B&B/retreat or wanders off looking for sea-glass on the Sussex coast.
Twitter: @lockwoodwriter

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