Ruth tells us about the journey of The Monster Belt…
My YA coming of age novel, The Monster Belt started off as a stage play with a different title. I chose this format as I’d come from a background of theatre and television. As a stage play, I enjoyed imagining and working out the set and stage craft, because working in stage management and props making, I’d experienced first-hand how clever and innovative this could be.
However, as an unknown writer, a play was difficult to get taken on. I correct that, it was impossible! So, it was shelved for a while. Also, a friend criticised one of the themes, so it got shelved for even longer.
I loved the story though and I read more about mythical creatures, I’d changed in myself, and the story shifted. I definitely think our stories can differ greatly depending where we are in our lives, both physically and mentally, so it was morphing into a new story.
I moved the emphasis to the exploration of the area between two latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, The Monster Belt, coupling this with two teenagers finding their place in the world and in themselves. I also adore films and I was seeing wonderfully visual scenes and encounters in my mind. It needed more than a set on a stage! Instead of a collaborative medium, I opted for a novel. Unfortunately, and again, it didn’t find a home. Shelved again!
I concentrated on another book, Jiddy Vardy, loosely based on a real life smuggler from Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire. This time, my book did find a home and, although I had ideas for a trilogy, The Monster Belt kept luring me back. It was while attending the North West YA Lit Fest that I found a new avenue. Based in Preston, at UCLan, the host of the YA Lit Fest, I learned about UCLan publishing. I submitted The Monster Belt and although their publishing programme was full, they suggested I could submit it to their MA student programme where a small group of students work with writers on a manuscript, choosing titles at an acquisitions meeting after reading through all the submitted works.
I said, ‘Yes, yes, send it to the head of MA publishing, Alexa Gregson-Kenmuir!’
Another author I know, Susan Brownrigg from my local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators group had worked on her manuscript of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest with the MA programme the previous year and it was now being published by the publishing arm of UCLan. Susan praised the experience, so I was doubly excited….and nervous. What if none of the students liked it? What if no-one chose it for their MA project?
The acquisitions meeting was in November. The manuscript had been transferred to the MA course leader in, I think July or August. All writers know about that suspended time between submission and response. We try to keep busy, occupy our minds and hands, but the manuscript was constantly in my thoughts, or rather the verdict. And then it came; an email from the head of the MA course, Alexa.
The Monster Belt had been accepted!
One student, not a group, liked Monster Belt enough to want to make it their MA project, taking it from script to publishable book, complete with an AI sheet and marketing strategy. I will admit, I was a little disappointed that only one student liked my book…only one, not a group but then I shook myself. For goodness sake, one student liked my book! One is all you need, you numpty! One student likes your book enough to make it their MA project. Hooray! And I learned that this student, Emma, having joined the course late, chose to work on her own, not as a group, taking on every aspect of the project herself. Her vision and focus and love of my book appealed even more!
Writers are also told, that at the end of the year, we can keep the manuscript to submit elsewhere, or it will be read by the commercial publishing arm. There could be no promises that it would be published, but it would be considered. What sounded the most wonderful part of the programme, was to work with a student on editing the manuscript, so I was more than happy. What I wanted more than anything at that point was an editor.
When Emma and I spoke on the phone in the autumn of 2019, I knew it was going to be a brilliant experience. Emma (pictured left) loved The Monster Belt, more importantly, she got it. We talked about everything, about both being from Yorkshire, families, children, education, what our daily lives looked like, our work, and so we had a sense of who the other was, and how we’d work together.
Emma had a busy life, home educating her two boys and working at Leeds University Library as well as studying for the MA. She said she thrived on being busy. And she was professional. She responded to every email, every question, ever query that I made. She even sent me screen shots of how I should be editing the manuscripts while apologising if she sounded patronising. She didn’t. I learnt a great deal and she said she learnt a great deal from me as well. We were a team.
While editing was underway, we spoke about themes and ideas for the cover image after Emma showed me her original idea which she’d had after the first reading. I felt listened to and included the entire way and that made me very happy. Above all, Emma was committed to making the book the best it could be and I felt in very safe, loving hands.
And I will never forget the excitement of seeing the final cover that is the one used today.
That summer of 2020, in the middle of lock down, Emma submitted The Monster Belt for her MA deadline. I’d hoped we’d meet in person, but that wasn’t to be. I suppose in other times, not everything will take place online, but in reality, it worked out well. Emma’s turn to wait, but it was for a short time. She soon learned that she had gained Honours!
What a wonderful end to an extremely rewarding experience. There was only one final step to go. Would UCLan Publishing accept my book? I’d had such a positive experience, I wanted, no, I wished and hoped that UCLan would take it on.
That all too familiar waiting period began again and this felt even more important than the initial period the previous year.
Finally, Hazel Holmes emailed to say, ‘Yes, we want to publish The Monster Belt.’
I told Susan. I told everyone! I couldn’t quite believe it, but the follow up came swiftly. A contract, an advance and the process of editing began again.
The Monster Belt emerged into the world on the 2nd of September 2021. I’d highly recommend you submit your book to UCLan as well.